24 Jan 2013
I asked several of our authors to offer one tip for aspiring writers. This is what they sent in:
Write for yourself. Something that you want to read. More than that; that you’re desperate to read. Then hopefully some of that passion will leak onto the page.
Search Outside – outside of genre, outside of literature even. Embrace all forms of art, but be wide in your search. Whatever it is, love it. Hate it. Try to understand it. Let it seep into your bones. Some of it will settle and shape what you write about, even though not everyone will recognise or appreciate that. But at least you’ll be a little different and the SFF genre won’t grow stale from continually digesting old forms and ideas.
The best piece of advice I can give is not to listen too hard to your inner critic when you first start trying to write, particularly if it’s a novel. The first time I wrote one, the idea of writing a hundred thousand words of consecutive text was seriously daunting. I got past it by telling myself that the quality at this stage didn’t matter; I needed the quantifiable experience of writing something that length, regardless of the quality of the prose.
So: given the choice between writing a hundred thousand bad words or writing nothing, a hundred thousand bad words are better, as long as they’re consecutive. And congratulations! You’ve written a novel – and it might not even be that bad. Now, however, you’re faced with a far more daunting task – writing another hundred thousand words, but better.
I can’t actually remember who gave me this advice. It might have been some wizened old crone rummaging through the entrails of some poor slaughtered lamb, or maybe I just read it on a website somewhere. But the entrail story has more cred, so let’s run with that.
Never finish a writing session by finishing off a scene.
Even if you’re in the grip of the muse and the words are flowing like cheap hooch at an Irish wedding (I’m Irish before you get offended), stop before you finish. If you can bring yourself to do it, stop in the middle of a sentence. Using the Slaughtered Lamb Entrail Method™, you’ll find that you’re keen to get back to the page when your next day’s writing session begins. Moreover, you won’t be stuck at the beginning of a new scene, staring at the flashing Cursor of Doom and wondering what happens next. You’ll always have something to pick up and run with.
Before you send your manuscript off to an agent with a very long memory, find yourself a beta reader. This person should not be a friend, family member or work-buddy. Take your time on this. You’re looking for someone who knows books and will give it to you straight. Then, if you think their comments have value, revise. (Another tip: Your beta shouldn’t be someone you run into on a daily basis. Post-critique, you’ll want to throttle them for an undetermined period of time. Could be two weeks, could be two years. All depends on how much damage their little red pen did to your ego.)
When you reach the editing stage, it is often the case that you can get too involved with the story to detect errors. You can see words in your head that aren’t actually there on the page, sentences blur together and errors escape you, and you follow plot threads and see only the images in your skull. One way round this is to read your work backwards. Yeah, I know that seems strange, but what I mean is that you start by reading through the last paragraph, then the one preceding it, and so forth. This kills your involvement in the overall story-telling and enables you to focus on the grammar, the spelling, the ‘nuts and bolts’ of your writing.
Seek feedback on your work and take it to heart, but be picky about it. Find a small handful of people whose opinions you respect, and see where their thoughts overlap.
Not all feedback is created equal, and you can’t please everyone. You shouldn’t even try.
Your aim is to seek out harsh criticism of your work and to then change in reaction to it.
Beware of tips. I am not against giving tips and advice; however, I think there is always a danger of implicitly suggesting that some working practices are inherently superior to others and will get better results (and this is clearly not the case). Different writers benefit from different methods.