The internet is full of advice on how to write and it can be confusing and contradictory at times, especially when you are starting out. This isn’t because people like to give false advice but because each writer – and their writing process – is different. However, out of all the good advice I’ve received, these are the ones that have worked best for me. I hope by sharing them they will be of some help to you too.
1. Allow yourself to write poorly
Some days I find writing easy, some days it’s as if the language centre of my brain has decided to go on vacation, leaving my fingers to fend for themselves. However, even if I’m having one of the latter days I still write. It may be painful at the times, even more horrific when I read it back, but at least I have something on the page to work with when it comes to the all important edit.
2. Write your first draft in haste, edit at leisure
When I start a project my energy levels and enthusiasm are at their highest. I look to harness that spirit and blitz my story down as fast as possible without stopping to self-edit. This is important because it’s often not until you have the full story down that you realise what the story is really about. When it comes to the edit, I always take as much time and care as is needed to produce the best version of my story I can, to tease out the story’s themes and cut back on those bits that get in the way.
3. Write every day
When I write every day, my writing becomes ever easier. If I take regular breaks, or just write when the feeling takes me, I end up using valuable writing time just getting back into the swing of things. This is one lesson that continues to surprise me whenever I take a prolonged break from my writing.
4. Write the book you would like to read
I like books that make you think. I like books where you have to work out what is happening as you read. I like books that explore ideas but not at the detriment to the story. This is why I wrote Second Chance in the way I did. My book shelves are full of speculative fiction, thrillers and a number of horror titles. This doesn’t mean I dislike non-fiction, historical fiction or many other types of books, but it was clear where my interest lay and which direction my writing should take. While I have nothing against romance novels, I wouldn’t attempt to try and write one because I don’t have either the background, skill or knowledge to do the genre justice.
5. Read while writing – but a different tense buggers you up
We are often told to read a lot to fuel our craft, but many writers refuse to read other author’s work while writing something of their own. I don’t understand this. If you can watch more than one TV series at a time without getting confused, you can read while writing. There have been so many occasions where reading another’s novel has prompted new ideas on how to approach my writing. I’m not talking about plagiarising plot points or prose, but learning how to improve dialogue or restructuring a particularly troublesome middle third. My only caveat would be to only read works that are in the same tense as yours. Reading a book in present tense when yours is in past tense can cause some serious issues come edit time.
6. You cannot see your own mistakes
I suffer from self-typo blindness (this should be no surprise to regular readers of this blog). It’s a common affliction amongst writers. While I can spot errors in other people’s text from 100 paces, when I read my own text my eyes skip over the most blatant error as if it wasn’t there. When publishing your book (or preparing your manuscript for submission), use others to help you track these errors down. Start with beta readers to find the big errors (plot holes, character issues), then if you can afford it, use professional editing to correct any typos. But don’t stop once your book is published. Second Chance has had two major revisions, once just after launch and another more recently. Both times I thought my work was error free, both times the kindness of others informed me otherwise.
7. Never turn your back on constructive criticism
One of the most difficult parts of the writing process for me was sharing what I had written with my beta readers for the first time. It was also the most rewarding. That isn’t to say they praised it unconditionally. Quite the contrary, but the did so from the perspective of trying to improve what I had written. This criticism was difficult to take, at least at first, but because I trusted them and knew they had my best interests at heart, I reeled in my ego, listened to what they had to say, then improved my novel.
8. Some people will hate your book but it’s not personal
Not everybody will love your book. Not everybody you like will love your book. One of my good friends, on reading my book, said “sorry, it’s just not my kind of thing.” And that’s fine. We’re still friends. I don’t think any worse of them than before (especially as they paid good money for my book), because it’s not personal, it’s just individual taste. Lots of people love Moby Dick but it leaves me cold. I thoroughly enjoyed the Great Gatsby but when checking the reviews saw that hundreds of people hated it with a passion. That doesn’t make me right and them wrong (or vice-versa). However, if you ever to receive a 1-star review, I suggest you read this great post by Heather Hill to cheer you up.
9. Writers support writers
One of the greatest parts about writing is how supportive the writing community is. If you become active on any form of social media and let people know you write, other writers will seek you out and offer support. Lots of them. In my case it started with blog and has continued on Twitter. Next time you’re having a bad writing day or a moment of self-doubt, tweet about it followed by the hashtag #amwriting and you will find out what I mean. I am continually amazed and humbled by the support and advice I have and continue to receive from other writers. Don’t be afraid to reach out.
10. It’s all about the story
This is the biggest one of all. I’ve seen this piece of advice in so many forms, whether it is “don’t get in the way of the story” or “kill your darlings”. The main point is that whatever choice you make about your work, the question you should ask is: what’s best for the story? It’s not about what’s best for you – what shows off your writing skills or command of the english language the best – nor is it about what area of the backstory or world you have designed you are most interested in. As writers, we work best when we reign our egos in and realise it is all about the story.
So what is the best piece of advice you’ve received. Have I missed anything off the list? I’d love to hear from you.