Monday, 23 January 2012

My Top Writing Tips

As an author, I'm always learning from other writers about the craft and the business of writing.  Just because you can write a coherent sentence doesn't mean, ok, now you're ready to publish a book.  Maybe you're having trouble coming up with an idea, plotting out your book or getting it before the public so here are some tips that work for me.

1.  Write every day.  Even it's just for half-an-hour, get your writing in because that will help strengthen your voice and the more words cover the page, the better you'll feel about your writing life and your ability to get it done!

2.  The time to listen to the editor in your head is NOT when you're writing, it's when you've got a complete draft in front of you and you're ready to edit.  When you're writing your first draft, don't worry about choosing the perfect word every time.  Don't worry if the plot is making sense.  Once you've got your story down you can go back and rework, cut and paste, delete, add, etc...  "I'm not a very good writer, but I'm an excellent rewriter." - James Michener.

3.  There are some writers who write by the seat of their pants.  They have an idea of where they're going with their story and know who their characters are and what they want and they sit down and pound it out.  That's great!  I'm not one of those - the first thing I need to do before I start the story itself is outline it.  I don't do a chapter-by-chapter outline but my outlines can run five or six pages where I name the major characters and summarize the plot.  This is not something set in stone - as I write or later as I edit I can change things around if the story needs it but I do need to have a map for where I'm going.  A novel is like a new country and the outline is my map to help me get around.

4.  Carry a notebook around with you ALL the time.  Having the notebook is particularly important for when you're on the bus, at the doctor's office or wherever you can fill in some waiting time by brainstorming.  Notebooks also come in handy when you've got a great idea for a story as you're standing in the checkout line at the supermarket or you're on the ferry heading to another island.

5.  Read in the genre you want to write.  If you're interested in writing a thriller, read thrillers - read widely and pay attention to what works and what doesn't.  Thrillers are written very differently to romances, for instance.  The sentences in thrillers tend to be shorter, the descriptions snappier, the dialogue more terse than in romances.  Make notes as you go about what you notice about how the characters are developed, about what happens to them, about the major plot points and where they come in the story.  This isn't so you can copy what some author is already doing but so that you get a better handle of the stylistic characteristics of your genre.  (Of course, you have cross-genre books but that's another topic.)

6.  Get involved in author's groups and in social media.  Writers in the Caribbean, particularly on the smaller islands, usually don't have access to writing conferences, workshops and seminars.  Attending a conference usually involves plane tickets and hotel reservations but the internet has changed all.  Even if you're living on, say St. Eustatius or Tortola, you can still participate in online groups and reach out via social media to other writers and to readers, too.

7.  After you've finished your manuscript, don't start editing it right away.  Give it a couple weeks or even a month before you go back to it with your red pen.  Waiting before editing gives you more emotional distance from it and makes you more likely to see what works and what doesn't.  You might want to brush up on your writing skills while you wait by reading Strunk and White's Elements of Style or Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Brown and Dave King.

8.  Stumped for ideas?  Pay a visit to your local bookseller and see what's hot right now in the book industry.  Read outside your preferred genre, ask your friends what they're reading, check publisher websites to see what's up and coming.  Or, take a break from books altogether and go fishing, visit a new art gallery, check out the next exhibit at the nearest museum.  The objective is to get out of your rut so you can recharge your creative energies so go outside your comfort zone - learn to SCUBA dive, go camping, whatever...

9.  I don't always feel like writing.  On some days, I'd rather fritter away my time chatting to friends, catching up on the local and regional news, flitting from one website to the other, and so on but writers write, that's what we do so... whether I'm in the mood or not, whether I feel inspired or not, I sit down and I write.  It may feel awkward, it might not flow but, eventually, I'll have finished a page, and then maybe two or three.  Even if I go back later, and take out half of what I wrote that day, I'm still left with more than if I'd written nothing at all.

10.  Don't tell anyone the story until you've written it.  At least this is advice I wish I'd heard and listened to, early on.  I've found that if I tell my friends about any story or book I'm working on, I begin to lose enthusiasm for it - not because of their reaction or anything they've said but because, having said it, it's like I feel less need to actually write it.  That's difficult to explain but perhaps other writers will understand.  Another problem with talking about your story before it's finished is that your friends might have well-meaning suggestions which bear little resemblance to the kind of book you want to write but makes you start second-guessing yourself.

Well, that's it for now.  I hope you find these helpful!

1 comment:

  1. This is Bean from Finding Your Gibbee. I would like to award you the Versatile Blogger Award for your wonderful contributions to the writing world. Details are at my blog