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!
(Please note, this is part four in the writing tips for beginners series. You can read all the posts here).
I would say read, read, and read some more – as many different genres as you can to get a rounded feel for what appeals to you and why. I’ve learned as much from reading crime novels as I have romance. I’d also suggest getting some feedback on your writing early on from other writing buddies, reading groups or friends and family. When I started writing, I didn’t know any other writers and wasn’t established on social media or anything, so I attended as many author events or library talks as I could. It was daunting at first but I soon got talking to people and everyone I met was as friendly, welcoming and helpful, as they are online. This was how I discovered the RNA New Writers’ scheme which is brilliant as it not only offers you the chance to submit your full or partial manuscript for critique but opens up a whole variety of opportunities to network and form bonds with other writers which is hugely beneficial.
Everyone is different but, for me, writing takes discipline – when you are starting out you need to be quite single-minded and give it the time it needs. That can be tough. It is no coincidence that my first novel came out once my kids left home: creativity takes time and space and long hours, it needs you to be selfish. The best tip I could give is make relationships with bloggers – they will be your best friends when it comes to getting the story out about your book and the good ones know the publicity process backwards. Find out what works for them, make sure you meet their deadlines and be grateful for their help – it’s a great community and they will give you so much support if you respect their time.
Don’t listen too closely to the voices in your head which tell you that you’re useless, a fraudster and a charlatan who couldn’t write a shopping list. We all have them. At the beginning mine used to whisper that I have no imagination. My primary career has been as an academic lawyer – I lecture in the subject at Cambridge University – and lawyers, the voices told me, are famously boring and pedantic, who can analyse and reason but never make things up. Even now, with five novels and a short short collection behind me, the voices tell me with each new book that this time I’ll be found out, and exposed for the impostor I am. So my advice would be to close your ears to these naysaying demons. What do they know? Put them behind you, sit down, and write!
I think the main thing I would say to new writers is to learn from rejection, take on board what is said and come back stronger. Get a writing buddy that’s honest and perhaps join a writing group. Having said that, getting published and then moving on to the next step in your career has a hell of a lot to do with luck. Don’t give up if your luck is out sometimes. Just keep believing in yourself, try your hardest and never ever give up.
Patricia Marie Budd
There is no shame in being a self-published author. Believe in your work enough to give it the best possible care. Save up enough to hire a professional editor and take that person’s advice. Do not be foolish enough to think that you can do this all on your own. Professional editing is critical for both polishing and development of storyline and character depth. Trust me on this! Do not send anything to print until you have had it professionally edited at least three times! Do not fall for the claptrap that your book will sell itself. You have to sell your book. Book signings, go to trade shows and markets. Stand, don’t sit. Sitting is suicide. Greet people, offer them a bookmark, guage their interest in your novel’s topic; this is how your books will sell. And, always remember, every book sold is a victory!
I have only the two most cliche tips that you’ve probably heard a million times. Are you ready? You might throw up. 1) don’t give up 2) believe in yourself. Ugh, I’m sorry. I used to hear those and hate whoever said them, but they are true. I have written 2 full manuscripts plus many many many other short stories, essays, headlines, everything. All to be rejected. But I kept doing what I loved and giving it my best. And then Harper Collins CALLED ME!!! I mean, I fainted. I think I’ve received over 60 rejections from agents in the past, and then I got a deal with Harper Collins, and they said, “Hey! Don’t worry about getting an agent. We’ll read anything you want.” It really was a dream come true. And it was the kick I needed to truly believe in my abilities and my writing. So, when I did reach out to an agent, I was confident and firm. And she said yes! So, yeah, those are my two tips. Good things come to those who don’t give up while they’re waiting for the perfect time. And also—- go to writing conferences. You’ll meet the best people who will motivate you. Plus, solidarity!
This is probably VERY heavily influenced by my book reviewer hat, but my one tip would be to have your book as professionally edited as you can possibly manage. Even the most gifted writer on the planet won’t see some of their own errors.
M J Lee
Keep going. There’s a journey in every book and, like every journey, there are obstacles, difficulties and challenges along the way. Just remember that they can all be solved with creativity, Just ask yourself, ‘What if?’
There were two bits of advice I wish I’d taken more to heart earlier. Firstly, write. Just get on and write. Some writers say they never throw anything away but I do. I write my way into a story, often not knowing what it is I want to say until I’ve written it. Sometimes that means binning thousands and thousands of words (the current WIP is probably going to lose the first 10-20,000, for example) and that means having faith that that beautifully crafted sentence you wrote can be replicated. You did it once, you can do it again, because writing isn’t magic, it’s a craft and the more you do of it the better you will become. The second piece of advice is the one I really struggle with even though I know it to be absolutely true. Do not leave your story alone for too long. Some writers will tell you that means writing every day and reaching word count targets but for me that’s not necessarily so. It’s about staying in the story – thinking about it, re-reading a section, developing a character’s back story, anything that keeps the story alive in my head. If I don’t, I waste hours every time I come back to it trying to pick up all the threads again and getting back into it.
Read. Read. Read. Then write, write, write, even when you don’t want to. Sometimes the best discoveries pop out when you’re in the pit, shovelling dirt. If you’re blocked, pick a piece of literature you admire. Copy type it and let someone else’s gift flow through your fingers, like a pianist warming up with Beethoven.
The best advice for any writer is simply write, write now, write hard, write true — and finish.
I would tell writers to experiment with a scene. It’s impossible to know if anything will work until you see it on the page. Also you need to remove one’s ego from the words you’ve labored over for so long—if they don’t further the story they need to be mercilessly jettisoned. It’s hard especially if the scene and writing is great but doesn’t fit. Nobody cares about false paths you took; it’s what’s on the page that matters. One of my favorite authors is John Le Carre. When he originally wrote Tinker, Tailor Solider Spy, he was not happy with the outcome, went to Hampstead Heath, burned the manuscript and started over. The result was a masterpiece. I’m reminded too of the advice of the master novelist Somerset Maugham who wrote The Razor’s Edge, which has been filmed several times, once with Bill Murray. He said: beware of sentences that sound great but don’t mean anything.
The most important thing about self-publishing is probably making sure you have an attractive, professional looking cover, but that won’t save your book if you haven’t edited it as much as you possibly can to eliminate all the typos. I still cringe when I think how my first version of A Jersey Kiss was sent out into the world with typos, especially when I could see how many people had bought copies, mortifying. Thankfully a good writer friend contacted me very quickly and told me, so I immediately withdrew the book from Amazon and went through it again. It’s easy to get carried away with the excitement when you self-publish. Professional editors and beta readers are a must if at all possible. You’ll also need an online presence if you want your book to be noticed over the hundreds of thousands out there. It is great fun though and well worth doing.
Write! So many would-be writers never actually get the words on the page. The more you write, the more you improve. Don’t worry if the first things you write are awful. It’s all part of the learning experience.
Best piece of advice I ever received was finish the first draft. Don’t look back, don’t edit or play around with sentences and worry about what you have or haven’t seeded in. Get the story down. With each tweak you are killing the flow of your own creativity. I tend to make notes about subplots, ideas, even sentences and chunks of dialogue, which will need to be added in later and stick them on my noticeboard. Once you have a first draft there’s that sense of achievement and having a finished product, which will keep you motivated. When you edit as you go along you’re basically carving the details into a piece of stone without knowing the overall shape. It is literary suicide. Trust me.
If I’m writing in the 3rd person and a character isn’t easily coming to life, or my writing seems a bit flat, I rewrite a scene in the first person with direct access to the character’s thoughts etc. Then I rewrite it in the 3rd person, keeping much of this ‘direct insight’, and it usually really sets me back on course again.
A general piece of advice to new writers would be to ensure that they’re equipped with a good understanding of basic grammar and punctuation, as well as the essential writing principles. You have to get your work in the best possible shape ahead of submitting to agents/publishers or self-publishing. With every draft of my novel, I was honing my craft, but there were some fundamental gaps in my knowledge at the outset. I had the bitter experience of finally learning how to use a semi-colon properly and then having to check every last one in a 95,000+ word manuscript…thank goodness for the ‘Find’ facility!
Develop a balanced attitude to feedback from readers, other writers and industry experts: pay close attention to anything they suggest is wrong with your writing and ignore all advice on how to fix it, as only you can work out what is right for you. Also, if you’re going into this crazy business, it has to be for the long haul: it takes an awful lot longer than you might expect to learn your craft.
If I could give one piece of advice to aspiring authors, it would be to go and stand in a book shop and look around at your competition. There are more writers than doctors, nurses, policemen, firemen and even street cleaners. How are you going to stand out in the crowd? If the feeling that comes with that experience defeats you, don’t publish, just write for your own pleasure. If it doesn’t, go ahead and introduce your book to the world.
The best advice I can give anyone, including myself, is something I saw scrawled all over a poster in the gym recently: Work hard, be patient. Writing is a very solitary, personal experience. If you can keep your head down and put the hours in, without letting yourself get distracted by what others are doing and who’s getting signed where, when and why, I firmly believe it’ll all come good for you in the end. Publishing is a slow, slow-moving business from the author’s perspective, you’re going to need infinite patience to make it through. Don’t let yourself get distracted or disheartened along the way. Write what you want to write, and how you want to write, and be prepared for a long wait for ‘that’ email or phone call. But never giving up on believing it will come.
Thank you to all the authors who I have had the pleasure of hosting. You rock!