My Top Tips for Aspiring Writers…

I’m frequently asked for advice on how to go about the business of writing and in particular, how to get published and so this is aimed at any aspiring writers who have stumbled across my website.

I’m sorry to say there is no magic wand I can wave to help you become published, but what I can do is offer a few tips and pointers based on my own experience.  However, please bear in mind that there’s no one route to publishing success, just about every author will have a different tale to tell, so no shooting the messenger!

Write from the heart …

No, I’m not suggesting you pen a romantic novel, but asking you to write about something that excites you.  If what you write bores you, you can be absolutely sure the reader will be bored by it.  And that way disaster lies.

Read as much as you can …

This is so important because there’s no more enjoyable way to learn how a good story hangs together.  Observe how the author doesn’t rely purely on large chunks of descriptive narrative to tell the story.  It will be broken up quite naturally with dialogue, which I find is one of the best ways to move a story along and to reveal the true nature of the characters involved.

Characterisation is key …

Make your characters utterly believable.  To do this you have to know them like a friend and the only way to do that is to spend time with them.  Be sure you know what makes your characters tick, but beware, don’t get bogged down in the minutiae of their lives and fill page after page with endless detail about their childhood.   A flash of back-story is all that’s needed.  Unless, of course, it’s a fundamental part of the story to revisit the early years.

Research …

If you’re writing the kind of novel that requires a lot of research, be careful not to bore the reader rigid with your newly acquired knowledge.  No showing off!  Nothing is surer to kill the pace of a book than an overload of research.  As I said before, with regard to characterisation and back-story, a light touch is required.

Be nosy …

Listening to other people’s conversations is, as we all know, downright rude, but for a writer it’s absolutely essential.  In my opinion, the combination of a twitchy-nose and a well-trained ear is what gives dialogue its authenticity and I make no apology for such indelicacy.

Know your genre …

Imagine where your novel would be placed in a library or bookshop.  Is it suspense?  Romance?  Historical?  Family saga?  You get the general idea.  Having established this, make it a priority to read as much as you can within the genre.  Study the competition and try to understand what makes those books so readable.

Move on …

I meet many aspiring writers who say they’re stuck on a particular chapter and can’t move on.  When pressed, they admit that they’ve rewritten the same chapter over and over again.  Don’t fall into this trap.  Turn the page and start work on the next chapter.  Keep the momentum of the story going; it doesn’t matter if you have to leave blanks in the manuscript to achieve this.  Once you have the whole story written, go back and fill in the blanks, by which time you’ll know how to resolve any problems you’d experienced before.

Stay Focused …

Don’t get distracted by thoughts of something else you suddenly feel compelled to write.  Jot those new ideas down and continue with what you’ve already got under way.

Writers are like athletes …

The more you exercise your writing muscles, the stronger they will become.  Try to write every day, even if it’s only a few hundred words.

Don’t listen to friends and family …

Beware the danger of foisting your creative endeavours on those closest to you.  You need an objective opinion and odds on you won’t get that from your nearest and dearest.  They’ll tell you they love what you’ve written because they love you and won’t want to risk the relationship by saying that actually what you’ve written totally and utterly stinks!

If you want an objective and truthful critique of your writing, join a writers’ group.  Oh, and develop a thick skin – about the thickness of rhino hide, should be sufficient.

Join a writers’ group or go on a course …

I did both of these things and can vouch that whilst the courses scared me witless, I learnt so much, not just about the nuts and bolts of writing, but about the publishing industry.  The first course I went on was for popular fiction and was with the Arvon Foundation.  It was a five day residential course and proved to be a turning point for me.  I was given a tremendous, and very unexpected, amount of encouragement, for which I will forever be grateful.

Buy yourself an up to date copy of the Writers’ and Artists’ Handbook …

This is an invaluable tool for finding an agent and publisher.  The moment you open it, you’ll know why.

Manuscript Etiquette …

Your manuscript must be impeccably presented if you want it to be taken seriously.  It should be printed on A4 paper, double-spaced with generous margins and all pages numbered.  And when you are ready to send it off, make a quick phone call to the agent to find out if the whole of the manuscript is welcome or if a taster – three or five chapters – is all that’s wanted.  It’s possible that you don’t need to send an actual paper copy but an email containing your chapters.  Your covering letter should be succinct and to the point – trust me, an agent doesn’t want to know your life-story.

And Finally …

Don’t write because you want to be rich and famous overnight.  Write because you love it, because there’s nothing else you’d rather be doing.

GOOD LUCK!