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 three in the writing tips for beginners series. You can read all the posts here).
Learn how to write well. That’s the ticket. It’s also the tricky bit. Writing well is a skill, and as such it can be learned. Write a story. It will be horrid. Figure out what’s horrid, and write another. Continue until you think you are getting somewhere, then join a critique group. These strangers, unlike your family and friends, will tell you what your weaknesses are, as well as your strengths. Keep writing and polishing until more than one person thinks your work is ready for sharing with the world. Put like that, it seems easy. In some ways it is. I’ve heard that A Wrinkle in Time went to 23 publishers before it was accepted, and Harry Potter went to every publisher in the UK before one took a chance on it. Don’t assume that your writing is rubbish because the first publisher or first half dozen reject it. The other thing you have to learn is how you, personally, work. By all means try fancy software, or a simple text editor, or a quill pen, or LibreOffice (my favourite), or whatever. Something will work for you. Maybe you have to write in an empty house. Or in a park. Or maybe you can write anywhere. Perhaps you are a plotter (outline the work first), a pantser (just write and hope something good happens), a plotser (a combination of the two), or a quilter (write individual scenes and then stitch them together). Try them all and see what works for you.
NaNoWriMo is always one of my tips. For those who don’t know, it’s an event ran every November in which you commit to writing 1667 words a day, every day in November, so you’ll have written an entire novel by the end of the month. I did it every November for eight years, and also a couple of the other ones they run in the spring and summer, and I loved every minute of it. It’s hard work, but I’d recommend it to anyone who wants to write a book but doesn’t feel like they have time. The idea of it is that you just write – you don’t worry about how pretty the words are or how much grammatical sense your sentences make, you just write without looking back, without editing, and at the end of the month, only then do you go back over what you’ve written and edit it. It’s all about getting a messy first draft down. That’s how I approach every book now even though I rarely do NaNo anymore – I do lots of research first, I make plenty of notes, but when I start writing, I just write. If I need to look something up, I mark it to look up during editing and write around it. That’s the point – just write until the end, and then worry about fixing it up. My favourite quote about writing is “you can’t edit a blank page”!
If you are writing a novel, try writing it as a screenplay first of all, to get the plot moving fast. It works wonders.
Michael J Sahno
I think the main tip is just a reminder: writing is rewriting. I see these NaNoWriMo people online talking about writing a novel in a month, and I have to chuckle. I don’t know, maybe that works for certain genres. But if you’re striving to create a lasting work of art, you’d better buckle up and be prepared for a long, hard slog of years, not months. Even once you’ve got a good working draft, you still need to rewrite and edit extensively…and I say that from the perspective of someone whose first drafts are unusually solid.
The main advice I would offer is: “never give up,” which can be applied to any aspect of life really. For those struggling to finish their WIP (or even those who want to write but haven’t started their project yet) consistency is the key, just write a few words everyday. Don’t be overwhelmed by the thought that you have to write thousands of words a day, choose a realistic, manageable daily word count like 400 hundred words or so and you’ll get there in the end.
Stop writing short stories. A lot of people disagree with me on this, but my take is that the hardest part of the book to write is the beginning, because the characters or the idea might not be fully-formed. It’s the rustiest part and the part that I edit the most. If I wrote a short story, I’d feel like I was stuck in the part that I find the hardest. Also, start it, push on, and finish it. Don’t be a forever-editor, putting off the moment when you call it finished, because you fear that it’s the time you realise you’re not a writer, because all you get is rejections. Well, every writer I know has a pile of rejections letters behind them. Don’t be the greatest undiscovered writer, a legend in your own study. Be discovered, and catch the bricks as well as the flowers.
When I was living in Beijing I approached writing as far as was possible as a 9 to 5, showing up at my ‘desk’ in a cafe and sitting there until the time expired and I’d written a certain number of words. The novel I wrote, which was not the current one, was not as complex or rich as it could have been had I given it the time it needed to fully unfold. You’re told if you wait for inspiration to strike nothing will ever be written, but for me it’s much more effective to spend more time thinking and allowing the minutia of life to flow through the lens of a novel idea, or what was written last week, and then write when it’s time. I think all people have different writing rituals, so go gently and don’t impose received wisdom on yourself until you know what works for you.
For MS submissions most publishers specify 12 point Times New Roman, double-spaced with a half-inch indent. Here’s a trick: When you reach the editing stage of your MS, try changing your format. Experiment with a different font size, style and spacing. By playing around with the formatting during the editing process you will always read your work differently. I discovered this by chance when I copied and pasted some paragraphs into an email and the font defaulted to Ariel. You become more attuned to the rhythm of sentences when you see your work in a different format, your eye will be drawn to any elusive literals and you may even find the mot juste that had hitherto eluded you. Just be sure to reformat your work before you finally send it off!
Everyone gets rejected. Don’t dwell on it! Keep going and believe that one day the right person will love your book.
Never knock back a new experience, no matter how unappealing it might seem. You never know when the fact that you’ve been cave-diving might prove useful! And when you have a difficult scene to write, don’t waste time waiting for inspiration to come. Sit down and write it. No matter how bad it is, the mere fact of getting something – anything – on paper will make it easier. Eventually you’ll nail it.
Just keep writing. There are very few people who make a living off writing (or any art) until they’ve been doing it for several years. In fact, the exceptions to this are so few that they are basically statistically insignificant. So keep going. Write every single day, even if you feel like you suck at it right now. Maybe you do. But, like with anything else, the more you practice, the better you’ll get. The other thing is, you have to read. A lot. Maybe more that you write. It’s amazing how many writers don’t read that much, or only read one kind of book. You would never hear a musician say they don’t listen to music. So why a writer would think they could succeed without studying others is kind of silly.
Read and learn before you write. Don’t just bash something out and having read it back to yourself think ‘that’s very good!’. You won’t have a high enough standard of measurement. Also, live a little – in fact a lot – before you write. All writing is about the human condition. If you haven’t lived enough, that will show – like children’s writings – in your writing.
Lots of tips here: http://www.bethwebb.co.uk/advice-for-writers To be honest, I’ve always struggled with overwriting – I think (hope) I’m improving. How? By being ruthless with myself. Teaching creative writing helps me see my own faults better.
Even though I have worked as a journalist I always thought I would never be able to write a book, even though that’s what I always wanted to do. The trouble was I didn’t know where to start with something so much bigger than a short piece. But once someone suggested I plot a story out from beginning, middle and end, all the pieces slotted into place and I found it much easier to get going.
I’m no expert, but I would say don’t give up. The process can be challenging, and there’s so much more to writing a book than getting the first draft down on paper. But it is such a rewarding thing to do, and so worth it. On a practical level, joining a writing group and discussing work with like-minded people can be a great source of support. And to try to write something every day – be it a journal entry, sentence or a few pages of a novel. Practice and then practice some more.
M J Carter
Always aim first for clarity, work to make your meaning as clear as possible— it’s a good way of making sure you know what you’re trying to say too. Start plain, embroidery comes later, if it’s needed. Be brutal about cutting out the boring bits, repetitions and too many adjectives and adverbs. Be your own harshest (but constructive) critic. (I don’t always follow this advice.)
My best tip is pretty obvious: keep writing. It’s only by flexing those muscles that you get them to do things better, and to learn to do new things. My second tip is to make use of beta readers, but that’s for further down the line, when you’ve got a finished draft. You can use friends, other writers, or readers of your previous work. I’ve found beta readers especially helpful developing some of my characters, such as when trying to make them more sympathetic without making them bland.
Thank you to all the authors who I have had the pleasure of hosting. You rock!