It is said that everyone has at least one novel in them, so if you’re thinking of unleashing yours sometime soon, here are 7 of my top tips on writing:
1. Learn the rules and then break some of them
There are some basic principles when writing which you really should pay attention to; but not necessarily follow religiously. Grammar, pacing, structure, tone and vocabulary are all important tools for any writer, but only by bending and sometimes breaking some of these rules will you find your own unique style.
There are some rules however which you should really stick to. Such as ending sentences with full stops, and putting spoken dialogue in speech marks.
There’s no need to reinvent the wheel, but also no harm in modifying it slightly.
For example, Dan Brown (The Da Vinci Code etc) and E L James (50 Shades of Grey etc) are both authors who could be criticized for their writing skills (or purported lack thereof), but they both have their own unique styles which have made them recognisable and successful authors.
Whether it’s Dan Brown’s fast pacing, simple sentence structures and short chapters, or E L James’ suspect internal dialogue (oh my!); both authors broke the rules and managed to tell popular stories in the process.
2. Take your writing seriously, but don’t be too serious
Writing is often a solitary and thankless task which will require a lot of dedication and concentration. It will be almost impossible to finish multiple works without taking your writing seriously. Treat it like you would any other job; educate yourself in the craft by reading as much as possible. Research the industry and the mechanics of publishing & self-publishing. Let those close to you know that you aren’t doing this half-heartedly, but that it means something to you and you are dedicated to it.
But at the end of the day, don’t become a dullard. The best stories describe multiple characters, scenarios and locations with extraordinary conviction. Your own life experiences will make your writing richer and more believable; so don’t forget to live a little. Spend time with your family and friends, travel, meet new people, fall in love/out of love, and do all the other things your characters may one day be doing on the page. The more you experience, the more believable the experiences you write about will become.
3. Decide what kind of writer you are
I once read somewhere that there are two types of writers; gardeners and architects. Gardeners let their stories take a life of their own, then they begin the pruning process; removing all weeds and bugs to unveil their finished work. Gardeners have a rough idea how the story will turn out, but are open to deviations and ad hoc alterations if necessary.
Architects plan before they begin. They have each chapter already outlined; and the beginning, middle and end of the story is predetermined before the first sentence is written.
There is no wrong or right method to adopt, and you may find each to be quite useful depending on the type of story you are trying to tell. You may even be a hybrid of the two; starting a story loosely before planning out how the rest of it will turn out. But I say once you have determined which way you would like to write your story; stick with it.
4. Don’t forget – you’re the boss!
One of the best parts about writing is realising that you are in complete control of the story you are trying to tell. You don’t like Sarah’s hair colour? You want to change the motivation for Andrew’s murder? You want Erica to own a black Labrador instead of a Siamese cat? Fine, make it happen; you’re the boss.
It can sometimes seem laborious to make extensive changes to a first draft; but if it makes the story better, get it done!
5. Write the kind of story you’d love to read
Don’t try and follow trends in order to ride whatever wave is currently trending. If vigilante vampire ballerinas are a smash hit this year, the chances are they won’t be next year. Just write the kind of story you’d love to read and hope that others dig it too.
6. Take the time
There’s no rush. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself to get something finished just for the sake of calling yourself a writer/author. Once the first draft is done, you will need to re-read it several times and make many, many, many alterations before your story is finished (unless you’re amazing and can finish it perfectly in one go).
Even if your story isn’t that great, at least you can take pride that you gave it your best shot.
7. Just do it.
Like most things in life, the key to getting something done is to…get it done! Take action, and remain dedicated. If you get burnt out, take a break. You can’t constantly drive at 100mph without eventually crashing; so look after yourself. But understand that each word builds a sentence. Each sentence builds a paragraph. Each paragraph builds a chapter. Each chapter builds a book.
It sounds simple because it is. But you need to just do it; one word at a time.
There are loads of great resources out there dedicated to writing tips: here are a few of my favourites:
Stephen King’s On Writing (a great book, part memoir, part essay on King's advice on writing).
Nathan Bransford’s blog on How to write a novel
Nathan Bransford’s Writing advice database (this is a very good).
I hope this helps :)