Whenever I tell people I’m a writer the most common response is “I’ve always wanted to be writer, but I don’t know how”. I have always been compelled to write, I never really stopped to think about the how. The first story I remember writing was science fiction. I was 7 years old and a babysitter had left behind a Marvel comic. I was fascinated by a picture book for grown ups and wrote story after story about the figures sketched in its pages. In my teens I found my niche writing features and after the local paper published my first piece when I was 15 I was determined that’s what I would do for a living, it didn’t become my full time job until my 40’s, but it’s simmered along while l I did other jobs that paid the bills and put food on the table. I still long to write a novel and there is a character inside me who insists his story should be told, but I’m not ready to give him a life of his own yet. For now, I walk briskly in the forest as his fictional life evolves in my head.
Now, I’ll let you into a secret. Writing is easy, you just pick up a pen and get on with it. Writing something other people want to read, now that’s the hard bit! I used to be a teacher, then a teacher trainer. I’ve taught everyone, from three year olds to pensioners and the same advice is relevant to all of you. Practice, practice, practice. Like riding a bike or learning the piano, writing is a skill that rewards effort. Here’s my top three tips to being a better writer, follow these and you can only get better (and if that’s prompted a D:Ream earworm click here and sing along).
Number One: Write. Write every day. Keep a journal, write a diary, hand write a letter to an old friend. Make up a story about the couple sitting in front of you on the bus, pen a poem. Don’t worry about the spelling, the grammar or the syntax, just type or scribble down the words. Do this every day and soon you’ll discover a style, your “voice”. You’ll find it easier to write that first sentence, If you really struggle, there are websites with writing prompts to get you started. Make time every day to write something. Even if you can only manage ten minutes, you’ll find the discipline of daily writing soon becomes something you look forward to. Start a blog, write a daily Facebook update (my lovely friend Archies Diaries started that way and became an Amazon best seller!), make a list of far away friends and family and write them a letter. Plan your novel and give yourself a word or page target for every day. Full disclosure – some of best writing happens in my head on my daily walk and never makes it to paper – I need to learn to take my own advice.
Number Two: Read. Read “all” the time. Honestly, being a great reader will make you a better writer. Widen your horizons, whether you borrow library books, read online or pick up your books second hand it doesn’t matter. Reading improves your vocabulary, teaches you about plot development and structure. It widens your world. If you worry about grammar, spelling or the conventions of writing then you need to read more, you’ll soon notice how great writers break the “rules”. Think about your favourite writers, study how they structure their work, what makes it so appealing to you. It’s never good form to copy another writer’s work, but being inspired by a story you’ve read and using it as a spring board for your own work is perfectly acceptable. After I read Freya North’s The Turning Point I was so devastated by the ending that I had to write myself an alternative future for the heroine, Frankie and her children. Not because Freya North had done a bad job – the complete opposite – in three days of binge reading I had lived and breathed with her heroine and reaching the final page was too painful, I wasn’t ready to let her go. *
Number Three: Ignore the rules. If you spend your days stressing that your spelling is abysmal or your grammar and punctuation let you down, stop worrying. Get the words on the page and everything else can be dealt with later. Run your work through a spell checker, find a friend who will proof read and edit (don’t choose one who gets carried away with the red pen. It can be soul destroying to have your work returned with hundreds of minor corrections). If you really believe you have produced a piece of work fit to show an editor, find yourself a professional proof reader or technical editor who will lick your work into shape (for a small fee of course). There will be days when you have nothing to say, or times when you reach a block (believe me that exists), after my last book I lost my “mojo” for several months. All I could write were hasty postcards and a few short paragraphs for patient editors who understood and gave me time to recover. My design work stalled completely. Samples were made and ready to post, but I just couldn’t type the words needed into the pattern template.
Of course, most of this advice is just stating the obvious, you knew all this already. Perhaps you’ve just been waiting for someone to give you permission to write. In which case, close this tab. Open a word document; call it “My Writing” and type your first sentence. I look forward to an invitation to read your first blog post, attend your book launch or just get a letter, written by hand.
Go write x
*You should note that the Turning Point is the most beautifully crafted novel and it’s only if you read it that you’ll understand my sens of losse when I finished reading.