Author Advice: From Writers for Writers

Street view of the large Hamersly Library, a three-story building with many windows.

To celebrate National Author’s Day on November 1, we sought advice from campus authors (fiction, poetry, academic work, etc.) to feature, in order to highlight writers’ accomplishments and passions, as well as stoke the interest of newer writers. Here is what they had to offer.

Plotting Advice:

  • “Make an outline first – then add by writing whatever comes to mind in each section. Next go back, move sentences/paragraphs/ideas to different sections and add in details. It takes many rewrites/editing sessions to complete a paper. Then I send it to a few trusted folks to read over and give feedback.” Kristin Latham-Scott, Biology ProfessorWOU sign at the front of campus, glossy black with gold lettering, greenery behind it. Campus appears wet from rain.
  • “I think this very much depends on the individual. Some people like to plot out their entire story from beginning to end before beginning the actual writing. For longer works, some people will work chapter by chapter. Others prefer to just write, see where it goes and then utilize the editing process for structuring. Personally, I do a little of both.” Christina Gentilini, administrative program assistant in the College of Education
  • “Try to get a sense for whether or not there are common beats. Depending on the genre, beat sheets can be a great way to plot your story or use it as a structure to revise it. It’s also great to experiment with your own style to find out whether you do better in plotting your stories in advance, plotting some core elements and writing whatever comes between each of those milemarkers, or completely writing by the seat of your pants. There’s no right way to do it and all of our brains work differently.” Lisa Catto, assistant director of marketing and communications
  • “Conventional story structure is hardwired into our brains. Mess with that at your own risk. Your reader wants the story to work. She expects a rise, a climax, a fall, a conclusion of some kind. She is on your side. You can decide to betray your reader’s expectations, but do so with great care. People like to be surprised; they do not like to feel cheated.” Benjamin Gorman, who published The Sum of Our Gods, Corporate High School, The Digital Storm, and Don’t Read This Book


Researching Advice:

  • “I’ve always found ‘Know what you write’ to be more useful advice than ‘write what you know.’ Check primary sources if you can, or reputable secondary ones otherwise. It’s just as important to know when to stop researching, though. It’s important to be as accurate as you can, it’s more important to acknowledge the impossibility of the task. Fiction is never going to be 100% accurate. I would say non-fiction isn’t, either.” Stewart C Baker, systems librarian in Hamersly Library (a recent story of his that’s free to read is “Three Tales the Rivers Told,” in Nature Magazine)
  • “Research your topic thoroughly and from multiple sources. Track your sources as you work and find some system of organization that works for you so you can focus your energy on the writing rather than frantically retracing your steps or digging through heaps of data. Don’t get too attached to a particular thesis or perspective early in the process as new information may surface in your research that could alter the direction of your writing for the better.” Christina Gentilini
  • “Reach out to experts in the field. People are generally interested in talking to writers, especially if it’s to help their profession get portrayed in an accurate way.” Lisa Catto
  • “Be thorough. Don’t decide where your piece will end up until you’re done with the research and have let your subject speak to you.” Emily J Plec, Communication Studies professor


Advice for New Writers and Those Starting Out:

  • “Failure is the key to success. Out of every 100 poems I have written, only one or two emerge as worthwhile and resonant (to me). Another piece of advice is to write for its own sake; do not feel like you have to ‘wow’ others for writing to have a meaningful place in your life and for you to have a meaningful place in the world of writing.” Keegan Gormally, academic success adviser in the Student Success and Advising office, who published work in Issue 39 of this magazine
  • “Become involved in a writing group. This will both inspire you and help you learn to connect with an audience and see your writing as others see it.” Rob Troyer, associate professor of Linguistics 
  • “A lot of writing advice is very prescriptive, very narrow, and based entirely on the author’s own experienceby all means try things out, but do yourself a favor and ignore things that don’t work for you! That goes double if anyone says the words ‘You’re not a real writer unless you…’ In my own experience, I’ve found it helpful to develop consistent writing habits. Whether that means some time every day, every week, or even just once a month depends on what works best for your schedule and circumstances, but sooner or later you have to get words down on the page. Defend your time!” Stewart C Baker
  • “Don’t get too caught up in comparing yourself to other writers (particularly very accomplished writers). You are a unique human being with a unique perspective; utilize that and be true to who you are. What and how you write may be different than someone else, but that doesn’t make it less valuable. Understand that your writing is going to improve over time the more you practice your craft, regardless of where you start. Be open to feedback and critique without taking it personally, but also recognize that writing is subjective and ultimately YOU are the author and you get to make the decisions. Learn ALL the rules and learn them thoroughly; once you do, don’t be afraid to break them. Lastly, write what you know. This doesn’t mean anything is off limits; it means you need to do research if it’s something unfamiliar.” Christina Gentilini
  • “There is no one-size-fits-all writing advice. Pick what works for you and ignore the rest. For a lot of years, I thought I had to write every day to be a ‘real writer.’ Once I learned I didn’t, I became much happier and much more productive.” Lisa Catto
  • “Learn to read like a writer. If you can think of every piece of written material you come across as the work of a peer who has something to teach you, you’ll greatly magnify the amount of time you are studying writing and what makes it effective (or ineffective). Every text you receive, every tweet you scroll past, every play of Shakespeare’s you go see, every movie you watch, every song you hear: These are all the products of your fellow writers, and you can learn from all of them.” Benjamin Gorman
  • “Write without fear. This can be one of the most difficult things to do for writers of all levels of experience, but finding ways to let go of your fear can clear your mind, free your spirit, and allow you to connect with that part of yourself that wanted to writeto communicate with other human beingsin the first place. Whether it’s meditation or exercise or music or dancing around the room, whatever it takes to release your fear and your inner critic, find it, use it, and soar.” Tobin Addington


Advice for the Writing and Publishing Process:


  • “Look at other publications in the places you want to publish and/or ask people who have published in those locations.” Kristin Latham-Scott
  • “Read, read, read and look carefully at what is similar and different among works by different authors within a genre.” Rob Troyer
  • “Know your topic! Also, collaboration is key! Work with other smart, amazing, people!” —Debbi Brannan, assistant professor of Psychological Sciences


  • “Focus on the characters, let them drive the story.” Eric Dickey, Research Development Manager
  • “Learn all you can about the chosen genre so you can break the rules properly. What I mean is that you should have a sense of where the genre has been, but do not feel like you have to let the convention dictate what you should write. I would argue you should do the opposite whenever possible. As Claude Debussy writes, ‘Works of art make the rules; rules do not make works of art.’” Keegan Gormally
  • “Genre can be such a cool tool for your writing. The trick, I find, is not letting the genre get in the way of the characters. For those of us who write fiction (or movies or TV or narrative podcasts), the characters really and truly are the key. A fascinating, deeply-understood (by you, not necessarily the audience/readers) character can refresh a genre and keep people engaged in your writing.” Tobin Addington
  • “Never be afraid to share your writing with peers. The process of sharing one’s writing and receiving critical feedback is essential to one’s growth and success as a writer.” Joshua Schulze, associate professor of Education-ESOL
  • “If you’d like to learn more about writing in a specific genre or field, try reaching out to people published in that area for advice. They may be able to share things they wish they knew when they were starting out. Also, check to see if there are writing organizations in your genre or locally.” Lisa Catto

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