Read inside and outside your genre(s). Writers love reading, it’s why we write, we want to add to the great grand canon of books and stories out there. Reading outside your genre can inspire you and ensure you don’t just read, and therefore just write, one kind of thing. It helps keep your writing fresh.
Ensure you follow presentational rules. Or everything you do will be automatically dismissed and sent back to you. Everyone gets the thud on the mat as their work gets rejected so at least make sure yours is turned down due to publishers and not to anything you’ve failed to do, which you should’ve picked up on.
Get into the habit of writing regularly even if is just ten minutes daily. Regular writing means you are writing. The more you write, the better you get as you find better ways of doing things to make the most of the time you do have. To become a professional writer, you need to “ape” them in the nicest possible way and they write regularly enough!
Outline your work. It’ll keep you on tangent. It isn’t necessary to go into everything. For the novels, I outline what has to happen in each chapter but not necessarily what leads between each scene unless I have thought of something immediately. I like a novel plan to be flexible enough to allow for ideas as you go (that should happen, as it shows your story’s “alive”) so you can fit them in but to give enough of a structure to prove (a) I have one (!) and (b) I know where the tale’s going to end up even if I don’t know the exact ending. For short stories, I outline the character and focus on one point of change (there’s generally not enough room for more given the limited word count).
Keep a copy of all you send out. Never send precious originals (this is even more pertinent for artwork and photos). Items getting lost, postal strikes and spilled coffees happen! •Keep a record of what you send where and results. Useful for accountancy purposes and to make sure you don’t send the same story to the same person twice (unless, of course, they’ve asked you to resubmit it, highly unlikely).
Also I’ve found using the Mslexia diary helpful – for one thing I’ve been overcome with the urge to fill the blank pages and the only way to do that is to get work out there. The more work out, the greater the chances of success but it then becomes more vital to be able to track what you’ve sent where.
Read your work out loud (to yourself, a friend, a recording device) Vital for poetry, it’s also useful for prose, particularly dialogue. If you trip over words so will your readers and then it’s time for the editing pen again.
Have an up to date Writers and Artists Yearbook to hand.
Have subscription to Writers’ News/Writing Magazine. For good advice on all writing issues, for competitions and news of markets, especially short story ones. To learn something of what is going on in the industry (though for more details it would pay to subscribe to The Bookseller or as I do visit their website often). There are other writing magazines out there but this is the one I read most often. Mslexia is useful for their wonderful diary, short story comp and writing from a women’s perspective but Writers’ News gives a wider range of markets.
Don’t expect to get your work right first go. Nobody does. Practically everything writing wise is improved by a darned good edit!
Have reference books to hand – dictionary, thesaurus, Brewer’s Phrase and Fable, Chambers Book of Facts, a history, book of proverbs, Bible and so on. Obviously for checking facts but also for direct inspiration. Many a short story has come out of an old proverb! Bible stories like Samson and Delilah can inspire a modern take on that – the themes of love, jealousy and betrayal are universal. Brewers makes for a wonderful read given it gives the source of phrases and fables.