Before I really begin lets get one thing straight; I’m not a published writer. What unfolds below isn’t the advice from someone with any experience of becoming a writer. Not yet.
Instead this post is more of a “this is the path I’ve taken; perhaps if you’re lost you might like to follow along with me for a while.” Maybe you’ll take heed of the five tips below for a short while until you cross paths with advice and methods that better suit you. Or you could match me and we both end up getting published and doing a joint book signing at the London Waterstones within the next couple of years.
So over the last year or so these are things that I’ve discovered and am now utilising to the fullest potential
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1) LISTEN TO THOSE THAT HAVE MADE IT
These people have sold books. That means there’s a good chance they might know what they are talking about. As with all advice you can’t take everything as gospel but, worst case scenario, 10% of what they talk about might be useful. Find that 10% and make it work for you.
The best way to do this is not just pick the most successful authors out there. Whilst I have read the Harry Potter books and admire JK Rowling’s success, she isn’t an author who I follow. Same goes for James Patterson. That man has a book on my supermarket book shelf every week and my wife loves them but it’s not a genre that interests me or an output I could ever match.
So instead I follow authors who I read because I like what they write and never miss a book; Douglas Coupland, Stephen King, Adam Christopher. I follow their blogs and I read interviews with them, find out how they got to where they are now and what methods they used.
I also follow a couple of podcasts. I like podcasts because you can get other things done while listening to them. At the weekend, if the weather is nice, I take my son out in his push chair and listen to episodes of ‘I Should Be Writing’ (Mur Lafferty) and Writing Excuses (Brandon Sanderson and his merry gang). These go into nice detail about many different aspects of writing and getting published and answer a lot of questions about the craft.
Not the great cosmos out there. No, this is a more important space. A writer’s space.
It doesn’t have to be that antique writing desk you always dreamed about owning in the study of your sixteen bedroom mansion, the one that is surrounded by all those classic books you’ll never read.
It just has to be somewhere that you feel comfortable, somewhere that feels right. The dining room table once the family are in bed? Sure. The shed at the bottom of the garden with just enough room for you and the cheap desk you picked up for a fiver at the car boot sale? Why the hell not. It doesn’t even have to be quite. JK Rowling wrote a lot of the first Harry Potter book in a café.
I currently get the majority of my writing done in the work canteen. I grab a free table, stick my earphones in, pick a movie soundtrack (more on that in a future post) and write in a notebook for sixty minutes.
Whatever works for you. Just make it yours.
“If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.” – Stephen King
For me, I believe the reading came first. My imagination was fuelled by those early stories I read growing up and my brain became so full it began spitting stories back out. My stories.
While I can’t prove it, I can’t imagine that there is a writer out there who doesn’t enjoy reading. Perhaps they don’t always find the time to sit down with a good book once they are successful but I bet they still wish they could.
When reading your favourite books think about what it is you like about them that makes you come back for more. Pay attention to technique and style. See what works and what doesn’t.
In the early days of writing go ahead and copy the style of your favourite author. Take existing characters you already know and love and write fan fiction. Comic book artists do this. Think of it as training. Slowly you will drop the things that don’t work for you and begin to get bored of the constraints of other peoples characters.
But whatever you do, don’t stop reading.
4) SET YOURSELF TARGETS
Give yourself a daily or weekly word count and find little snippets of free time around all the other stuff going on in your life.
NaNoWriMo is great for this. The daily 1667 word target is what keeps me going. I have my spreadsheet that shows how far ahead or behind I am at the end of each day. Without those bite size targets to aim for and stay ahead of, the 50,000 total target would terrify me.
So if you have a busy week and you can’t see where you’ll fit in a three hour mammoth writing session then just aim at 500 words a day. At the end of the week that’s 3500.
A little at a time is better than nothing at all.
It sounds obvious, doesn’t it?
There will always be a reason not to write. Feeding the baby. Putting the washing out. Watching the latest episode of Game of Thrones. You will never be able to ignore these parts of your life (even the great television).
Instead, make writing an equal. Get in from work, do the chores, have your dinner and then block in one hour to write. And then watch the latest episode of Game of Thrones as a reward (go on, you deserve it).
Gone on line to see what’s going on in your writers groups? Great. And while you’ve got the laptop on, write some more of that novel you’re working on.
The wife’s gone out to a Zumba class for the evening? Sit down on the sofa and work on the second draft of that short story you wrote at lunch time.
At the end of the day if you want to write, and I mean really, really want to write then you won’t need to find the time. It will find you.
Just be ready for it.
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And there it is. These are the five pillars I’ve been using to bolster my writing. Hopefully they help.
I’m off now. Got dinner to cook and some TV to watch.
What? I’m allowed. I’ve already been writing tonight. I’ve been writing this post. That counts, right?
See you in seven.