Over the past 6+ years interviewing authors there has been some great tips shared in answer to “Are there any writing tips you could share with new writers?” It’s a shame that they’ve been languishing in the shadows when there is an array of awesome writing tips for beginners that might make a difference to someone starting out on their own writing journey.
I’ve spent time going back through my interviews and if an author has chosen to answer this question, you’ll find them in this series of posts.
The interviews go back to when I first started interviewing in 2013 (the interviews in this series start with the most recent). I’m sharing the author’s Twitter, Facebook or Goodreads link so that you can see what they’re up to now.
Of course, what has worked for one writer may not work for you but if you read through the tips, you will see common themes (as well as some conflicting advice – bear in mind that these are things that have worked for individual authors). If you’re looking for inspiration or a boost then you might just find it!
There is a lot of snobbery in poetry – as with a lot of other things in life! If you feel passionate about something then just do it. There will be a market for it somewhere. Keep going, keep writing and keep sending your work out. Don’t let anyone discourage you or tell you something won’t work.
Don’t give up. If you have a voice and a tale to tell, you’ll eventually be heard.
Since publishing my book, I’ve met a lot of people who say that they have been secretly working on a novel, a short story, a memoir, a coffee table book, or a screen play and they tell me why they’ve stopped writing or sometimes they don’t even know why they stopped. And I tell them all the same thing- write it! No one is going to write the story in your head for you, if you’ve got the urge to do it and the idea keeps knocking and you feel guilty for not writing, then you’ve got to write. Get it out and down on paper. So my best advice to any writer is… to just write.
Technical books on writing have helped me greatly. I’m nerdy enough to make loads of notes to refer to later on. Meeting up with writing friends to discuss aspects of the craft can be useful and certainly keeps me motivated. I was also lucky enough to have a mentor for a year and learned so much from her. Her engagement with my novel, and her feedback, proved invaluable.
Never say never. I said I would never make my book free again, but I am starting to believe the few thousand downloads for free are just as important as the fifty paid ones, at least as far as ongoing visibility goes.
I believe good reading makes for good writing. Read as much as you can, and seek out unusual and challenging books as well as the familiar. You can absorb almost everything you need to know from the pages of a good book. Then practice, practice, practice. Take joy in writing: write to hear the beauty of language and your soul expressing yourself. Don’t listen to the inner critic. He’s only speaking from fear, and fear is a small place. Don’t be afraid to be big—write like no one else has ever written before.
I could write a book on this! I’ll give a few brief tips. The main one, I think, is to realise that this publishing thing is a long game. I’ve seen some new writers become huge sellers overnight, but hardly any. You might not start to gain a band of regular readers until your third or fourth book, which is why it’s good to keep writing. Some writers push the same one book on Twitter, etc, for years; there’s only so much you can promote a lone publication. Understand that using social media to promote your work doesn’t mean an endless churning out of advertising tweets/Facebook posts and retweets/shares of other people’s, with the occasional rather self-conscious posting of a news item because you’ve read somewhere that you mustn’t only tweet about your book! It’s about interaction, appearing on blogs, reading other people’s blogs, genuinely enjoying what you’re doing on Twitter or Facebook or whatever. Get involved. Oh, and never skip the professional proofread. I learned that one the hard way!
1) “I’ve always wanted to be a writer, but…” Over the years I’ve met people who go to workshops and conferences, who study the craft of writing, who read all the ‘How To’ books, who think about it, and talk about it, but put off picking up their metaphorical pen. One day they will be better equipped, one day they will have the time…. My advice? One day will never come. If you really seriously want to write, stop thinking about it and finding reasons to delay. Just do it! Now! 2) I am useless at telling jokes, but I recall one about a driver stopping his car to ask a pedestrian the way. “Well, I wouldn’t start from here,” is the unhelpful answer. In fact this is a useful way to think about writing fiction. A linear route may be the quickest route from Go to Finish, but it’s not always the best way to tell your story. A story always has a beginning, but it’s not necessarily the best place to start. 3) Who am I to give advice? My head is covered in bumps and scars from the brick walls I’ve hit it against over the years. So my final point is about character. If you want to succeed you need two things above all others (even above talent). You need self-belief and perseverance. If you are like one of those wobbly men – give him a bash but he bounces back upright, even after rolling around on the floor for a bit – you’ll survive the knock-backs. I know the industry has changed a great deal since I started out. I now believe it is a little easier to be published. There are a great many small publishing houses around because producing a physical book no longer requires the same investment. Printing is cheaper and there’s Print On Demand. There are also E-only publishers, and, if all else fails, the aspiring author can publish independently, something that was way beyond the reach of the ordinary person years ago. But even given all these new and exciting outlets for your book, you will still need resilience. Getting published – getting a book out there – may be easier these days, but selling the book in any number, is quite another matter!
I am probably going to flip a popular notion on
its lid here. I think early on in writing a novel, especially your first novel,
it is best to avoid reading in the genre in which you plan to write. I am sure
there are plenty of people who would tell you the exact opposite, and suggest
reading widely in your chosen genre. But I think it is very important in being
able to establish your own original voice, that you do not start
second-guessing yourself about what is your voice, and what might just be a
watered-down version of someone else’s voice. Obviously I now have a mountain
of chicklit to
catch up on …
One of the most useful bits of advice I’ve had is to find out what works for you personally, which might be vary widely from one person to the next! That said, here are three tips I’ve found really helpful: Writing’s all about creativity, but don’t be afraid to look at the nuts and bolts of your novel too. Sorting out things like how long you want a section to be, and when you might have a crucial turning point, can give you control, and make the project less intimidating. For suspense, in order to get readers to turn the page, keep asking questions, and don’t answer them! Lee Child gave this advice on Radio 4’s Book Club, saying: “People are hard-wired to seek those answers.” Have a deadline, tell your friends and family, and stick to it. Decide what reward you’ll give yourself when your work’s done. (I’ve taken this last bit of advice very seriously. You should see the amount of chocolate I get through…)
Apart from don’t give up your day job! Right, build a readership before you publish a book. You are the best person to sell your book and this advice applies whether you are indie or traditionally published. Make sure you have a few Facebook friends, get the hang of Twitter and set up a blog or website. It doesn’t have to be brilliant but you need to get in the swing of promoting your writing or your ideas. I set up a blog about horses six months before publishing The First Vet and have gained a following. It helps. And remember that every social situation is a chance to chat to potential readers – you won’t be boring, loads of people talk about their work, so don’t be shy and forget to talk about yours.
Just write as much as you can. It doesn’t matter about starting to write a book – just write something every day. Even if its just describing a part of your day. The more you write the better you get at your craft.
Don’t write alone. Meet other writers, swap ideas, support each other, learn to give constructive feedback to others, and learn how to accept feedback yourself and look at your own book objectively. And write every day.
The great Ray Bradbury once said – through one of his characters – write a short story every day for a year, because no-one can write that many bad stories. In a way he’s right. The more you write, the better you will become. Try your hand at different styles – write short stories; write for children; write romance or crime. When you find yourself writing something that touches your own heart – then you are on the right track. I quite often have tears in my eyes as I write. That’s a good thing. If what I am writing touches my heart – it will touch the readers’ hearts too.
If you love to write, go for it. If you are tackling a novel straight off then write the first draft before anyone sees it. They might put you off. Then let people in when the second draft is under-way. Get some trusted, critical readers who will give you honest opinion. You may have to join a writer’s group to find that and I would strongly suggest you do.
As someone who has both traditionally published and self-published, I think I’ve experienced the best of both worlds. My top tip for those thinking of self-publishing is to be professional. Hire an editor and a cover designer if you can, and treat your venture like a business. It’s fine to engage in promotion, but don’t overdo it.
Just this: Imagine they’re reading your story on the radio. No, don’t just imagine it—put it though a text-to-speech program and force yourself to listen for more than a minute. Like it?
Write what moves you to tears; write what you are passionate about and let your heart guide you and be as honest as you can. This can be painful but for me it’s the reason for writing. There’s a quote about this that I think sums it up. ‘writing is easy. You just sit at your desk and open a vein.’ It’s been attributed to several people, Red Smith, Hemmingway and Gene Fowler, amongst them, but I don’t think it matters who said it. I’d like to add a bit though. After you’ve done the writing, then begins the really hard work. Craft your story until it is as good as it can be. I think we use a different part of our brains for this bit. It is the moulding and shaping and editing that can turn a great piece of raw material into something beautiful. But the emotion does have to come first.
Social media is the self-publisher’s friend. You have to use it properly and not just as a hard selling tool and when you get it right it can be amazing. I glean so much knowledge from Twitter & have even been approached for book signings on the strength of it.
Kate Lord Brown
Write every day. Read books that inspire you to be a better writer every day. Gather a group of people around you who are supportive – whether that’s in a real writer’s group, or online through forums or social networking. If you really want to write, the only way to do it is to carve out time each day – whether that’s when your babies are asleep, or getting up an hour early before work (trust me, I’ve done both and it works – the words add up). You can do it!
If you believe in your story and your characters, then go all out for them. Don’t wait, don’t listen to the handful of people who might shoot you down. Is this your dream? Then you must go for it, or suffer the consequences. There is nothing worse than regret.
Thank you to all the authors who I have had the pleasure of hosting. You rock!