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 two in the writing tips for beginners series. You can read all the posts here).
Write every day. That’s the biggest one. I’m not original in saying that, but that’s the advice I repeat. Writers write. The more you can build that habit of bum in seat, fingers on keys, the faster inspiration will come to you. The muse loves a working stiff. Some of the successful pulp writers of the 40s and 50s had outputs of up to a million words a year! There’s a goal to aspire to.
Many new (and experienced) writers have jobs and family responsibilities, and it’s tricky to carve out the space you need to complete a first draft. So, how to steal time for yourself? When I wrote my first novel, Before the Fall, I gave up watching TV, I wasn’t on any social media, and I socialised as little as possible. While I was writing The Faithful I wasn’t quite such a hermit as I was simultaneously working on publicity for Before the Fall. I’d advise all new writers to stick to some kind of plan, whether that’s 200 words a day or 2,000. Try to write on at least five days out of seven – I don’t believe in the ‘write every day’ mantra because that can be impossible to achieve, and anyway you’ll always be mulling and writing in your head, even if you don’t put the words on a page. Thinking time counts!
Read and write a lot. Books, both those you love and even those you dislike, are great teachers. Give yourself permission to read as many as you can! As you start to read as a writer you realize all the choices the author makes- whose point of view, when the story starts, what backstory you know etc. If you like a character try and figure out why. If you find yourself flipping pages like crazy or becoming bored, try and dissect what’s happening that is causing you to feel that way. The second half of my advice is to write a lot- writing is a craft. You get better the more you do it. It can be discouraging at first because the idea in your head is perfect and shiny and wonderful and your first draft is not. The secret is to push through that process.
I tend to have a fear that I’ll write the wrong thing and I won’t be able to save the book once I go down the wrong path. I’ve proven to myself that it’s impossible to not be able to rewrite, fix, adjust, etc., but the fear did freeze me for a while – multiple times! The way I finally overcame it (although sometimes I relapse briefly) was to tape images that inspired my writing into my notebook and write in all directions, in different colored pens, feeling free to cross things out and draw arrows to where they were rewritten, and more strategies that basically say, “It’s impossible to screw up!” I recommend that to anyone who has a fear of the blank page or who is afraid of writing the wrong thing, or any variation of these issues.
There is so much advice that I would give to aspiring authors, but if I could only give them ONE piece of advice, then it would be this: Network with other authors. That has probably been, for me, what has given me the most insight into the writing and publishing world. Anytime I need some insight or advice into my book, publishing, writing in general, etc., I go to my fellow authors! I have had authors format my book for free when I was stuck and had no idea how to do it. That has actually happened 2 or 3 times. I’ve had someone make me a paperback wrap for free because I had no idea how to apply my Ebook cover to a paperback cover! Those are just a couple of ways that my fellow authors have helped me. When I need help coming up with names, getting advice on my plot, a sentence, etc., I turn to my writers gang!
The first thing sounds simple, but is fundamental. Writers must write – regularly. Expect to write far more than will ever be published. Expect to re-write, many times, and cut away the unnecessary padding to make your book, or short story, or feature, the very best you can make it. Do not be too self-satisfied or precious about your writing. At some point you’ll want your work read by a beta reader. If you’re lucky and an agent or publishers likes your work, you’ll get to work with an editor. Constructive advice is invaluable. It’s up to you how much criticism you accept. Is it useful? Do you agree with what’s suggested? Do you trust the judgment of the person reading your work? You’ll face rejection before you find a happy home for your work. But if you keep on writing and reading good fiction, you’ll get there in the end. A final word. I’ve made every mistake in the book, but I’m living proof that it’s possible to earn your living from writing. Good Luck!
The easiest way to learn about books is to read them. There’s no secret, no magic formula. Reading, comprehension, work, determination and a thick skin…
Write it down. If you have a great idea, a good idea or half an idea, write it down. Get it out of your head and on to paper. It makes it easier to push it forward. We all write shitty first drafts, join the club! Let other people see it in its imperfect glory. And find a way to take feedback in constructive ways. This is easier said than done, and it’s so understandable to feel raw and deeply vulnerable about your words. But if you can find a little distance, it can be so valuable to you. It can enable you to get the best out of rejections, reviewers and beta readers. Remember everyone that’s ever published anything has been rejected many times and kept going. It’s the keeping going that makes the difference!
Write, write, and write some more. If you have a story, tell it. Even if you don’t think you’re a good writer, write it anyway. You’ll be amazed how your style evolves and, if you really enjoy it, how much pleasure comes from crafting a whole new world.
Join a critique group. Constructive, not critical, feedback from supportive writers is invaluable. It can be daunting at first but experienced writers can offer really helpful advice to develop a writer’s work. I also found it useful to read other writer’s submissions, giving me insight not only into how they write but also how I could improve my own WIP.
If the need to write is within you, you will overcome all difficulties to do so. I know of a writer that wrote her first book sitting on the toilet as that was the only place she could find peace and quiet and not be ridiculed by her husband and son. My own husband told me I was stupid and wasting my time when I told him I was writing a book. Thank goodness I ignored him.
The only advice I can give to new writers, is read… read, read, and read everything, My difficulty was my chronic war with the writers block. But I succeeded by reading anything and everything, I tried to read all genres, and once you read a wide variety, there will be that one sentence, or that simile or metaphor that blows the writer’s block in to oblivion and makes way for a flood of new and fresh ideas.
I would advise anyone to just sit down and write. My first job was as a secretary and back then I was nervous drafting basic correspondence. If anyone had told me that someday I would write a book, I would have thought they were nuts. I’d also say, you have to stick with it. At some stage everyone loses confidence in their writing and thinks what they’ve written is rubbish. You have to leave it for a while. After a break it will probably seem better. If it doesn’t, then you need input from someone else to give you a new perspective on your story.
First and foremost, write from the heart. Be true to yourself and don’t compromise to please the market. Market change, fads come and go; your work will remain. Research your facts thoroughly. A writer today has no excuse for not getting his/her facts right. Use all the tools available to you. Travel, internet, books, films, documentaries; it’s all there to enrich your experience and make your writing journey easier. Plan your novel down to the smallest detail. This will make your writing so much easier and therefore so much more enjoyable. A plan is your map. Would you set out on a long journey by car without a map? Read, reread, and reread. Edit, edit, edit. Go through your manuscript again and again and edit it. I know that it will break your heart to delete a phrase or even one word you spent time agonising over, but sometimes less is better than more. Not easy advice to follow, but in the long run it does work. If you can leave the manuscript alone for a few weeks and revisit it at a later date, reading it as if it were someone else’s, then that’s even better. Do not get discouraged. Continue to write whether you think your work is good or bad. There is no bad writing. There are good days and bad days. The more you write, the better you will get.
If you want your work to succeed, you can’t be squeamish about hard work or putting in thousands of hours to move it forward. There are no shortcuts to success. First, your writing and your story must be tight. Take the time to read, reread, and re-reread over and over again until it’s perfect. Then you have to hit the virtual bricks, as it were, to get your work noticed. For my previous novel, The Reflections of Queen Snow White, I probably sent out over 10,000 review requests to individual book blogger sites, which resulted in a fair degree of success for a first novel, but it’s a slow and tedious slog, and you have to commit to it.
Above all other things be honest about your own abilities. Wanting to be a writer is not enough, you have to learn the ‘rules’ involved in writing and play by them. Eradicate passive voice and filter words wherever you can. Compile a list of lazy words (such as was, were, would, now, then, and everything that ends in -ly) and hunt them down relentlessly in your re-writes and edits. Self-publishing has removed the gate-keeper, so it’s no-one else’s job to maintain the quality of published material. Is your book of publishable quality? Answer honestly and re-work as required, rinse and repeat…
Thank you to all the authors who I have had the pleasure of hosting. You rock!