Tips for Writers: By What Authority

Written by Charli Mills

Charli Mills, a born buckaroo, makes literary art accessible at She writes about the veteran spouse experience and women forgotten to history.

February 11, 2014

During NaNoWriMo* 2013, a fellow Wrimo** wrote a tweet along the lines that by 2015 every person on Twitter will have published a novel. That’s probably because writers were tweeting #NaNoWriMo  and #mybook like starlings garbling in a copse of cottonwood trees. It seemed that only novelists or aspiring novelists existed in November.

As one of the starlings, I think that’s swell; I’m not alone. How terrific it is that so many people are writing. If people are writing, people are reading, and I’m of the opinion that books cement important pillars of humanity, including imagination, critical thinking and life-long learning.

However, to those standing beneath the cottonwoods, it sounds like chaos–too many starlings.

Go beyond November’s gathering of novelists and we still have busy writing tweets, many linking back to blog posts such as this touting, “Tips for Writers.” What to read? What to write? By what authority? Tweet, tweet, tweet, all the birds sing.

The answer to the latter question is that there is no governing body that certifies a post as worthy or not. It all comes back to you. You, as writer, are the one to declare authority over what you read and what you post. Let’s break it down into a few guidelines that can help.

What to Read:

  • Recognize Quality. You’ll know it. It’s that post that captivates you with practical information, entertains you with humor or beauty, startles you into realization. As a writer, you want to be filling your head with good writing like a balanced meal.
  • Prioritize.  Avoid anything that doesn’t serve your purpose–sure kittens are cute, but unless you’re writing about a kitten-toting hero, posts on “My Cute Cat” might be a waste of your time. Instead, read that post on character development. Know what is important, and start with the important stuff first. Fluff can wait for a rainy day.
  • Seek Authorities. If you’re writing YA, read the blog posts of established YA authors. If you are looking for inspiration or encouragement, read posts from those you find inspiring or encouraging. Interested in traditional publishing? Follow what lit agents or publishing houses have to say to writers.

What to Write:

  • Think Process. Unless you are writing a book on sales, don’t start writing to sell. Share your process. What have you learned so far? What milestones have you achieved and how did you get there? You are the authority of your own journey.
  • Your Voice. In a tree full of starlings, your voice needs to be uniquely different. By writing everyday, you practice your voice, like a piano player warming up with scales. Give your voice an outlet. Write about the things you know and love. Maybe you do write about kittens because you have a barn full of them. Exercise that voice daily. It’s the one you are authorized to use.
  • Be an authority. Maybe you decided to write a book because you’ve read thousands. That’s makes you a book authority. What has your experience reading taught you about books? Maybe you’ve spent the last 10 years as a dental hygienist. You must certainly have something to say about teeth and people’s fears. How can you relate that experience to your writing?

By what authority am I even tapping at my keyboard tonight? As a student, my only saving grace was that I could write lengthy responses. My first attempt at a novel was writing about a girl named Silver who lived in an old mansion beneath a Comstock mine. Stories got set aside for newspaper writing. Small-town stuff like council meetings and obituaries. I had to try college twice before I nailed it the second time. Most of my successes have been because of the failures that proceeded.

Because I wasn’t afraid to fail or get rejected–oh, but I hate how it makes me feel like being kicked by a horse–I started querying editors before  graduated with my BA in English–Writing. What I learned is that regional editors were more likely to take on a new writer. 22 years later and I’ve had my by-line in regional and national publications hundreds of times. Nothing huge like “National Geographic,” but a solid sub-career as a freelancer.

Marketing became my actual career. It taught me to apply skills and experiences to a new application. It also taught me the value of seeking a mentor. I learned that my perseverance equated to leadership and not only did I get to build brand strategies I also got to build teams that worked together strategically.

Now, I’m semi-retired in that I still freelance some and I still take on a few marketing communications clients. But I’ve returned to that old binder that harbored my dreams of writing fiction. So, I’m pooling all this swath of experience into reflections to help cultivate me and other emerging novelists into successful starlings.

And that’s what you can expect from me: tips that cultivate, ideas on how to be professional as a writer, and stories that relate to my experiences and processes.


  • *NaNoWriMo = National Novel Writing Month
  • **Wrimo = One who attempts to finish a 50,000 word manuscript project

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