Writing Advice

A Baker’s Dozen

When I first started writing fiction, I searched exhaustively for writing advice, and found plenty that was useful. Here are a few of the things I’ve learned.

  1. Pay attention – to what’s going on around you, how people speak, to language, to slang, to what you are reading, to the little details of a person’s appearance, to landscape. Think about how you’d write about these things.
  2. It goes without saying that if you want to become a writer then you need to be a reader. But read critically, rather than just letting the words flow over you. Try and figure out what makes some books work and others not. Study your favourite writers, how they begin chapters, how they end them, how they create characters, include detail, their use of language, how they raise the tension to keep you turning the page. Read poetry – it’s wonderful for giving you a sense of the rhythm of language, and the precise use of words.
  3. Make notes – especially when you wake up in the night with a great idea or line of dialogue or character. Trust me, you’ll never remember it in the morning.
  4. Back up. Every. Single. Day. If you fight as hard for your words as I have to, then you’ll never want to lose them.
  5. Don’t head-hop. Decide on a point of view and stick to it. If you do have more than one point of view, then separate them with their own chapters; it’s much less confusing for the reader.
  6. Set yourself goals, break them down into manageable chunks and then do your darnedest to stick to them.
  7. Try and write regularly, even an hour a day adds up.
  8. Be a storyteller, not just a writer. Storytelling is an art, but it can be learned. It’s like opening up the back of a watch and seeing how it all works. Read a few books on creative writing, take a workshop or a course run by a writer you admire, practice your craft. A couple of books that were recommended to me and were particularly helpful were Stephen King’s On Writing, Donald Maass’ Writing the Breakout Novel, and Immediate Fiction by Jerry Cleaver.
  9. If the thought of writing a novel is too overwhelming, start with short stories. They’ll help you learn to be a better writer.
  10. Have courage and ignore the tiny voice in your head telling you it’s not worth it, or your writing is terrible, or it’s all too hard.
  11. Don’t be in too much of a rush to submit your work to agents and publishers – writing takes time and constant application, and the first draft is just the beginning.
  12. Do it, don’t just think about it or talk about it. Just start, even if you don’t quite know where you are going.
  13. Try and have fun!