The internet is inundated with a vast collection of ‘how-to’s and ‘how-to-not’s. But when you’re starting out, it’s hard to know exactly what you’re looking for and typing ‘HELP’ into Google doesn’t bring up the right sort of thing.
So I’ve been browsing about everywhere to see what people have been saying, what authors think and just general handy tips for someone who’s just started writing. But that doesn’t mean to say you old timers couldn’t learn a thing or two!
- Get yourself a plan. If you’re working on a novel, that’s a big project! Knowing where you’re going will make the whole thing run more smoothly.
- Make sure you know who you’re writing for. This is a good tip for everything, whether it’s a magazine article, short story, or radio piece. Writing for children is different to writing for adults. Getting an understanding of your audience will help you focus.
- Know you’re genre. If you’re writing a romance, you’re going to need to know a thing or two about romance. Being a sci-fi expert isn’t going to help you and it will affect your readers too.
- Brainstorm some of those ideas. Not knowing what you’re doing will seriously hinder a project. Jot down everything associated with the project and create yourself a rough outline.
- Get a rough draft done first. Done worry too much about editing, just get those words on paper. There will be plenty of time for revisions later on.
- Keep your language vivid. Your readers want to be interested and inspired, so give them a reason to be.
- Keep your writing simple. The more complicated you make it, the more you’ll disinterest your readers.
- Read what you’ve written, and if it’s a full length manuscript try taking some notes about major changes.
- Don’t be afraid to chop bits out. Sometimes it’s necessary to cut out big chunks of story that just don’t work. Be honest with yourself – if it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work. Forcing it to fit will be a waste of your time and effort.
- Don’t be afraid to add bits or even rewrite sections. Nothing is set in stone until you send it off to the editor.
- Do be ruthless with excess words. Just get rid of them. Your writing will become much clearer and more concise if you delete all your pronouns.
- Don’t use clichés. They don’t do well in writing and will often have the opposite of the desired effect. Try not to use them. If you have to, try rethinking it to make it more original.
- Keep an eye on your repetition. Repeating, themes, symbols and images is fie and can even be powerful but the repetitiveness of words can ruin a good piece of writing.
- Proofread everything you ever write. The typos will always slip past and, if you can, get someone else to read it for you – they’ll be much better at spotting errors.
Those are some generic tips that you can find almost everywhere and anywhere. But what about when it comes to writing a novel? These helpful tidbits are from the best in their fields:
- Never open a book with weather. Especially if it’s only to create atmosphere. – Elmore Leonard
- Read it aloud to yourself to get a feel for the words – Diana Athill
- If you’re using a computer, always safeguard your work on a memory stick. – Margaret Atwood
- Keep your exclamation marks under control. 2 or 3 per 100,000 words is the limit. – Elmore Leonard
- When planning a novel, don’t plan the ending. It has to be earned by all that will happen before it. – Rose Tremain
- The best way to write a book is by actually writing one. – Anne Enright
- If you keep a Thesaurus, put it somewhere out of reach. Chances are, the first word you think of will be the best one. – Roddy Doyle
- Avoid detailed character descriptions. It’s often nice to let the imagination form its own image of a character. – Elmore Leonard
- Reread, rewrite, reread, rewrite – and if it still doesn’t work, throw it away. – Helen Dunmore
- Finish what you’re writing. Whatever you do, finish it. – Neil Gaiman
- If you use a computer, constantly expand and perfect your auto correct spellings. Some brief keystrokes will become perfectly formed words e.g. ‘phoy’ becomes ‘photography’. – Geoff Dyer
- Don’t wait for inspiration. Discipline is key. – Esther Freud
- Don’t go into great detail with description unless you’re like Margaret Atwood and can really pull it off – Elmore Leonard
- Work on a computer that is disconnected from the internet. – Zadie Smith
- Introduce your main character and themes in the first third of your novel. – Michael Moorcock
- Have a story worth telling. – Ian Rankin
- Write what you need to write and not what is currently popular. – P.D. James
- Write. – Neil Gaiman
- Get on with it. – Colm Tόibín
Do you have your own handy tips for writing? Where have you learned them and what would you advise other authors?