In my last post I talked about writers conferences being valuable for what you can learn, so I thought I’d pass along a small (and pretty random) sampling of some of the tips I picked up at the recent annual conference of the Canadian Authors Association.

More than one presenter pointed out that writers need to read and write. This seems like the most obvious and unnecessary advice, but so many writers still don’t get it. If you aren’t reading everything you can get your hands on in your chosen genre, you can’t know what’s already been done (so you don’t repeat it and come a poor second), nor what publishers are looking for. You need to read good writing and bad writing—often you can learn more from the bad, because it’s too hard to see the method behind good writing. It looks like magic. And you can’t get away with only writing when the muse inspires you. Writing is a craft—you have to write every day to keep your skills sharp, in the same way that professional musicians and athletes need to practice every day. When they don’t, their performance suffers. Why would writing be any different?

Especially with a novel, the more thoroughly you outline the plot and characters, the easier the writing process will be. Barbara Kyle spends six months outlining her novels! The benefit is that the actual writing might only take her four months. And since she plans every major scene, she can not only see if a change in the order of the scenes would improve the story, but also make those changes much more easily than can be done with a written manuscript. There are lots of other benefits, too.

If inspiration is a problem, try doing completely new things that are out of your comfort zone, like studying an exotic language, or learning ballroom dancing. Our brains make connections in strange ways sometimes.

To clarify your writing (and other) goals, try writing your own obituary, and then work backward from there to make it come true. Only make sure that it’s true to your own life and circumstances—write your obituary, not Stephen King’s. (Both of the above tips thanks to Lynne M. Smelser.)

To keep this in digestible portion size, I’ll save some tasty morsels of advice for next time.