I thought I'd do something in honor of my one thousandth twelve hundreth subscriber. My choice is a predictable one, but there you go.
When I did my FAQ, I got a lot of questions about writing. A few of these were asking "What are the 3 most important things to write [x]?" If you asked those questions, I extend an apology. I don't think I should have. Writing has no such rigid building blocks. I gave good advice, I hope, but not likely my best.
I believe writing can be broken down into five simple tips. Here they are.
Now, you're probably rolling your eyes and saying "Yeah, no duh, I thought you were supposed to really teach us." But think about it: how often do you see fics unfinished? The answer is: too often.
The key to learning how to write is to just do it. Pull out the keyboard and start writing. Your first story will be terrible. When I wrote before coming here, my works were terrible. I don't like to think about them. In fact, I don't like a good deal of what I've written under this name, either. But I needed to write them so I could actually learn. I never had a teacher or a mentor, I just wrote. And as I did, I learned. I grew. I matured. And so will you, if you keep pushing forward.
Set aside some set time every day you can (every day) to write, until it becomes a habit. I try for about a thousand words a day of fanfiction, which usually takes me an hour, if I'm into my story. If you're having trouble focusing, block your internet access, unplug your TV, and hide your video games until it's habit.
The best advice I can give you is to not see writing as a job. If you approach writing as a chore, it will become one. Treat is as a hobby at least (which, if you only write fanfiction, is what it is), and a lifestyle at most. If you don't enjoy writing it, it won't be much solace if people enjoy reading it.
This is a "do as I say, not as I do" tip. I have this problem, as you can see by how late this it. I like to write 2000 words a day: a thousand of my novel, five hundred each of whatever fics I'm working on, plus my writings with TheMyth. Have a goal like this in mind when writing. 21 days until it becomes a habit.
Years ago I read a Danny Phantom / Teen Titans crossover on Fanfiction.net. I'm declining to link to it because the crossover of these shows made up approximately 5% of Danny Phantom fics back when it was still on the air. The point is, the author skimmed through the fight scenes because, in his own words, he wasn't good at them.
Do not do this. If you're having trouble writing something, write it anyway. Is it no good? Revise it, again and again until it looks good to you. If you're going to try and gloss over an important part of your story because it's too hard to write, you might as well give up writing altogether.
You learn mainly by doing, but let it never be said you can't learn by watching as well. Set aside time everyday to read. Not fanfiction, no sir. Published authors, the ones who get paid to do what they do. Read anything, good or bad... in fact, read the bad, and learn what not to do. If you want to write romance, go read Twilight, then do the opposite of whatever Meyer does. And remember: if you've read a bad published novel, and you know you're work is better, there's hope for you.
Just about every writing rule (show, don't tell, etc.) becomes clear by seeing those rules violated in print. Read and observe, it will get you far.
Whatever you read is going to seep into your writing. I think there's influence of Dave Barry and Yahtzee Croshaw in my humor, and hopefully I can one day write an epic like Robert Jordan and Terry Goodkind, only cutting out all the prose BS for the former and diabolic torture of every character in the latter.
Read during your free time. Get audio books and listen to them. I read or listen to four books at a time: one to read on the road (currently H.P. Lovecraft: The Complete Fiction), one before I go to bed (Different Seasons, by Stephen King), an audio book at work (The Metamorphoses by Ovid), and an audiobook in my car (The Casual Vacancy, by J.K. Rowling).
I like books because they’re a medium untainted by the internet. Part of the problem with the internet is there’s no twist in this show that hasn’t been spoiled for me. Back when I was a kid, there was a joy in entering a video store or a video game shop and digging up some obscure gem I’d never heard of. Now, even the most obscure of these mediums is bound to be known by someone on the internet. For books... walking into a used bookstore is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re going to get
Sorry, tangent over!
3. Treat criticism with care
You're going to be criticized. Mother Teresa has been criticized, Ghandi has been criticized. People on the internet look for things to complain about. You have no chance of not being judged. When you put something out to the public, you are giving them the right to critique your work.
Now, I'm going to tell you something: I have a temper. A bad one. I hope that's a surprise to you, because it means I've kept it off the internet before I said something stupid. So I get criticism is hard. No one really likes it. Heck, if I wanted criticism I could drive back to my college campus. There was always someone standing with a sign of everyone God hates, shouting that I was going to Hell because I think He has better things to worry about than sexuality.
So I get it, criticism can be hard to take, but you're going to get it. Your knee-jerk reaction will likely be to find some reason to dismiss it as not valid And the good news is that not all of it will need to be taken. My works tend to be favored more than disliked, even Wedding Bell Blues, thought I must say I see a lot of criticism directed toward that as valid. Since the upvotes far exceed the downvotes, I don't worry too much, unless there's an aspect everyone is commenting on.
When you get criticism, take the time to weigh it. Do you believe it's valid? If yes, take it into consideration. If not, ignore it. You can't please everyone, and it's unlikely you can change their mind. Let them have their opinion, and continue to work.
4. Remember that story is king.
Just so you know, Stephen King puts a lot of this better than I did in his book On Writing. Pick up a copy. But I was using the same techniques before I read it, and I'm glad I'm on the same page as such a talented writer in that regard, at least.
Story is not plot. You want plot? Go to Wikipedia, look up a book's page and read the synopsis, you'll get plot. Story is the characters and the situations they're in. Plot springs from that. Now you need the situation. Except for Post Nuptials, and even that to some degree, all my works started with me thinking up a situation. Sometimes more than one. A realistic look at Scootabuse and Spike's dealings with being an orphan (Families), two characters accidentally getting married (About Last Night), Scootaloo being an orphan because she was made, not born (Project: Ascension), and Chrysalis having been impersonating Cadance throughout Shining Armor's courtship (Wedding Bell Blues).
Where to get these situations? I don't know. Just think about things, and situations will come. Once the situation is in mind, the characters will react, and a story will begin to form.
Characters are complicated. You might think this part is done for you, you're writing for pre-existing characters, aren't you? But you're putting these characters in a new situation. How would Twilight and Applejack react to being married? Or Rainbow Dash react to finding her favorite filly is homeless or being abused? You don't know.
Characters don't always act the way you'd expect. When I was writing the first chapter of About Last Night, I wrote the scene where Rarity was talking to Pinkie and Big Mac. Then, suddenly, Rarity refused to go any farther. She refused to get drunk, it was unladylike. Then, Pinkie popped in and had the perfect way to fix that problem: the funnel and some puppy dog eyes.
Then Rarity woke up in Blueblood's bed. This was meant to be a mere running joke throughout the story, Rarity and Blueblood doing things while the camera stayed on the newlyweds. But Blueblood refused to let me. When I only mentioned him in The Nuptialverse, he was easy to dismiss. But the camera was on him now, and he refused to let me remove it. He did things that required observation, and he become fascinating to write about, a mix of sleazeball and competency. And I found that him wanting attention was a good thing, because he was an important piece of the overall story, I simply hadn't realized it yet.
The final note is to keep one thing in mind. Characters are the protagonists of their own story. They don't think of themselves in terms of archetypes. Even Discord's mad actions made perfect sense to him. Remember that.
You'll learn dialogue by listening to people talk. You'll make ideas come easier to you by trying new things. You'll get your situation through long walks with your thoughts and hard contemplation. So get out there! Have your fun! Meet a girl (or guy, whatever), go on a hike, have fun! Ideas will come to you all the better.