Writing Tips

 

I have to confess that there’s nothing particularly original about the advice I’m giving here. Still, the fact that most published writers offer similar advice shows that it’s sound advice. The tips I’ve listed below have certainly helped me become a better writer. It’s my hope they can help others, too.

One caveat I’ll offer at the beginning: I haven’t included any advice about characterisation, dialogue, setting and so on, because there are many writers far more experienced than me who have already offered great advice of this sort. At the bottom of the page, I’ve provided links to some of my favourite pieces of writing advice.

Tips

Cultivate the Three P’s: Passion, Proofreading and Perseverance.

Passion

It’s been said before, but I’ll say it again: you must be passionate about what you write. If you don’t care about your characters or your storyline, chances are your readers won’t either. Write about characters and situations that move you and your passion will shine through in your words.

Similarly, be passionate about reading. I’ve heard of some writers who claim they never read other people’s work, but they are few and far between, and most writers start writing because we love stories, first and foremost. So, read a lot. Read wonderful, award-winning works. Read rubbish. Think about the differences. Think about what makes a certain story move you.

Proofreading

By this, I don’t just mean checking your manuscript for errors, although that’s part of it. I mean reviewing and redrafting your work. Many times. Before you show it to anyone. Because while there are a handful of geniuses out there who can write brilliant first drafts, I’m certainly not one of them, and unfortunately few of us are.

So, I redraft everything. Repeatedly. I also read everything aloud when redrafting, because somehow my ears always seem to hear problems my eyes will simply skim over. Nothing shows up stilted dialogue better than hearing it.     

With regard to proofreading, remember — a ridiculous number of manuscripts get rejected simply because the writer has not bothered to proofread or format the manuscript properly. Do your best to make sure your manuscript isn’t one of them.

Perseverance

Most writers have to write for an excruciatingly long time before they write a book that’s publishable. I know published fantasy writers who were writing for 15 years before they sold their first novel. David Eddings says he served a 25-year ‘apprenticeship’ before an agent picked up The Belgariad, Barbara Kingsolver says it took her 30 years to be able to write The Poisonwood Bible. So if you really want to be a writer, persevere! Write a lot. Write every day, if possible. Try different things until you find a writing routine that works for you. For me, that means going without TV and getting up at 4.30 am every morning to write. I find that those hours of darkness, when the kids are still asleep and my brain is as yet uncluttered by the events of the day, are the most productive and creative time for me.

As well as persevering with developing your skills in the art and craft of writing, you’re also going to have to persevere with dealing with rejection. Some of the best short story magazines have acceptance rates of less than 1%. To maximise your chances, refer to Passion and Proofreading above. In addition, make sure you research potential markets before sending your story off to them. Look into what they publish to be certain they do publish epic fantasy or whatever it is you write. Follow the publisher’s submission guidelines to the letter. And then, after all that, accept that rejection is part of the business. It’s not nice, but it happens. To everyone.

Some other tips:

Get a second opinion

Writing can be a very lonely occupation. There are times (usually around 2 a.m. when you’re re-reading a scene you’ve drafted countless times only to find it still looks terrible) when you’ll be certain you’ll never write anything publishable. So it can be very helpful to get someone else’s opinion. There are a couple of options. Firstly, for a fee, professional manuscript assessors will read and comment on your work. Two that I have used and can recommend are:

  • Louise Cusack (www.louisecusack.com), a wonderful writer who is very gentle and encouraging with beginning writers, offers a manuscript development service.
  • Sarah Endacott, the editor of Orb Magazine, offers a manuscript assessment service specialising in SF. You can find out more about it here.

Secondly, some writers also benefit from joining writers’ groups, where you read and critique each others’ work. Writers’ centres and bookstores can often put you in touch with a local group.

Network!

Joining organisations like the New South Wales Writer’s Centre (www.nswwc.org.au) can also help you develop useful links within the industry. Writers’ centres often run writing workshops, host writers’ groups and hold writing competitions. Attending conventions and volunteering to help run things is another great way to network with professionals and fans in your field. Plus conventions are a lot of fun!

Finally, here are some useful writing links and resources…

About writing and editing:

  • Jack Dann’s Keys to the Kingdom article is a great summary of the habits a writer needs to adopt to become successful. I have a copy of the article from one of his workshops that I attended, but I can’t find the article online. However, he does discuss its main points in an interview here.
  • Aussie writer Richard Harland has very generously written an entire book of tips on writing SF which you can download for free here.
  • Stephen King’s book On Writing is a classic. I would strongly recommend it to anyone interested in writing.
  • The Fire in Fiction: Passion, Purpose and Techniques to Make Your Novel Great, by Donald Maass (one of America’s best writer’s agents) contains some wonderful writing exercises. I also especially like Maass’s ideas on the importance of ‘microtension’ in making storytelling great.
  • When it comes to revision and editing, I’ve found James Scott Bell’s Revision and Self-Editing, a book from Writer’s Digest, very useful.

Places to publish:

There are heaps of websites that list marketplaces for publication. One that I’ve used and like is www.duotrope.com. You can narrow your search according to your story’s length and subgenre, and the website provides acceptance and rejection statistics for each publication, as well as average response times.