11 ways to help your writing

1) Don’t fall into the trap of waiting to be “in the mood to write”. Writing doesn’t always come easily, and why should it? Conversations don’t always come easily, thinking doesn’t necessarily just happen, and writing is a combination of all that and more, combined with the difficulties of plot and pacing. Nine times out of ten you’ll start to get into it after a while anyway, and you’ll be glad you started. The main point? At least you’ll have written something.

2) Make notes on your mobile. Before the mobile came along writers were forced to carry a paper and pen around with them. What a pain! It’s so much easier to just drop a note on your phone and come back to it later.

3) Never ask a fellow amateur writer for advice on the novel you are presently working on (this is different to asking advice from someone who’s an editor, or a reader who doesn’t write and is someone who can give you an honest answer). I also prefer not to talk to people in-depth about my ideas for new books (again, same goes for this). Why? Because they don’t know the idea off by heart like I do, so of course there going to find plot holes in it, and it’s only natural that they’re going to suggest ideas which are probably a million miles away from what you’re thinking. Keep it all in until you at least have the book solidly worked out, or have a fair bit down on paper and there’s no going back.

4) DON’T beat yourself up for giving up on a book idea. Beginners do this all the time: oh, I can’t write. Oh, I’ll never write a book. Forget all that, because it’s ludicrous. The important thing is that you write the book that’s right for you, and you’ll know when that is, because when you show the first draft to people they will smile, and you will know it’s not total crap after all. The thing is: you don’t really know your book has worked until at least 3 other people have read it. That’s not to say it’s a good book, but it does at least make sense, which is still quite an achievement.

5) Don’t try and write a thriller if you don’t like reading thrillers, and the same goes for every genre of book: this one is obvious, yet so many people seem to think they can fool readers. You can’t fool readers, and the reason is simple: readers know their books, and you had better to as well or you are going to fail. Mis-er-ably.

6) Do tear your book apart, rip it to shreds, start again, chop massive sections out even if you love the writing: re-invent it. All over again. This is a crucial thing you need to learn how to do. If you don’t learn how to do this, you’ll never ne able to separate yourself from the words and it’ll always just be art. Writing isn’t always art, I’m afraid. Mostly it’s just words on paper or a hard-drive containing data. Forget the romantic image of writing and treat it like something that has to be done. This will allow you to look at your work critically, which means your subsequent drafts will be much better.

7) Read Mark Twain. Most people associate Mark Twain with Huckleberry Finn and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, yet his catalogue of non-fiction work is vast and impressive. Even more so because when Twain was writing humourism, everyone else was obsessed with the arty-farty, over-the-top style of writing where 100 pages were used to describe a walk in the park or a conversation over coffee. Twain’s prose are also some of the most painfully honest and funny pieces of literature to have ever been imagined. If you want to know how to write comedy, I strongly suggest you hunt down A Tramp Abroad.

8) Adversity in your life can be useful. For some odd reason, I’ve been most productive while my life was happily falling apart. I am not, of course, suggesting that I would want this to keep happening; the important thing is to embrace emotions when they happen and write notes about how they make you feel, because trust me, it’ll be hard to re-imagine how being depressed feels when you’re over the Moon and the Sunshine is amazing (and it’s better to look at notes and jog your memory rather than take a dark head-trip in the hope that it might reignite stuff which is probably not very healthy to think about).

9) Do read other books. Bad ones especially. The more bad books you read, the more you’ll want your writing to be the complete opposite.

10) Don’t write your novel in a cafe, surrounded by other writers, and expect to produce anything of worth. Nothing good was ever written by a collective of writers hanging out together (unless it was a play or a sit-com, but we’re not talking about that here).

11) Remember that if you’re writing fiction, it’s your duty as the author to be able to dettach yourself from your thoughts and opinions and beliefs. Just because you’re a hardcore Mormon doesn’t mean you can’t tackle writing from an atheist point of view, or vice-versa. It doesn’t mean you have to believe it, of course. And if you feel that uncomfortable then just don’t attempt to write from another point of view. And it’s your book, right? So it all comes down to you.


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