Here are my top tips for writers. They aren’t rules; they are points to think about. I’ve listed them in order of importance. Enjoy!
1. Determination: work hard. If there was one crucial point it is this: determination. You do deserve to see your novel in print, and having it sell well. But you need the will to push yourself through hours of tapping away on your keyboard, ugly re-writes, years of reading as a writer, and most importantly, remembering your goal. If your goal is to publish your novel, then don’t let anything stand in your way.
If Lauren Kate, author of the Fallen series and the Betrayal of Natalie Hargrove, received over 100 rejections before making it big, and Kathryn Stockett was rejected 60 times for her bestselling début novel, The Help, then you deserve to be up there too. Have a mantra, have a reward, if that works. The one rule that you don’t get to choose is quitting (that should be in no writer’s possibilities).
2. Think about doing a creative writing short course or moving on to an accredited certificate, diploma or degree. Creative writing courses are the best way of developing your skills if the course is practical. For that reason, I can’t promote TAFEs enough (this particular TAFE in the link is from Melbourne; you can look at it as an example). TAFEs are focused on learning skills and using them in a practical environment (with your peers). Universities are fantastic for expanding your knowledge further, deeper. At the least, you’ll come out a better writer. So, imagine the best possible scenario! But if such long commitments are too much to dive right in to, consider online courses (ultra convenient) or hour-/day-/week-long classes. If you like them, you can always step up your education.
3. Learn fiction writing techniques. Some of the most helpful hints I’ve learnt are 1) show, don’t tell; 2) use the 5 senses; 3) delve deep in developing characters/plot; and 4) write by scenes. Let me flick through these ideas quickly. I’ve linked you up for each one (because one sentence won’t be enough).
Show, don’t tell: show how the character reacts to their environment — whether that be with another person, to physical objects, or avoiding an issue/a particular setting. (i.e. don’t tell your reader that Jim is angry. Show what he does so the reader can imagine he’s angry.)
Use the five senses: Let the nervous high school girl feel the thickness in her throat as she swallows, smell the residue of pencil shavings on her fingers as she bites her nails, rub her forehead so many times that her skin becomes oily — put yourself in the character’s place even if that means closing your eyes or creating a similar scene.
Delve deep in developing characters/plot: make characters have unique quirks that individualise them; create at least two, preferably three sub-plots; study the three-act structure.
Write by scenes: scenes need to have at least two subjects (people, animals) and both should have a want and a need (want is what the character thinks they need to achieve; need is what they should learn to actually overcome the conflict). My links for fiction writing has the best sites for this.
4. Start from the character and grow your story from there. Evoke emotion, give them an inner and outer conflict. People care about other people, so don’t open your novel by describing the breathtaking landscapes of a remote island in Micronesia if it doesn’t involve a character. Create character contradictions (a woman’s mother grew up poor and grounded by rules to survive, so when this woman becomes a mother herself, she teaches her children in the same ways because it’s the only way she knows, even though she hated her mother for the things she did). This contradiction makes ‘perfect heroes’ seem real. Grab personality aspects from people you know to form original (not clichéd) characters. Watch people in conversation — what are their gestures? how does someone speak or act when they are anxious? — and apply it to your dialogue.
5. Finish your book, then follow these three stages of editing: structural (also known as substantial), copy/line, then proofread. If we are talking about putting together an outfit for a party, then a substantial edit looks at if you have enough make up on, how having that much or little make-up affects the look of your dress and you as a whole, what the length of the skirt says about your thoughts, how confidently wearing your dress changes expectations, etc. So in your novel, you need to address issues such as conflict, plot, characters, wants, needs, tension, and other major issues that affect the novel as a whole. This is done first because there is no point re-writing a scene if it doesn’t raise tensions, or show us more about the character/plot. Remember, if you are deleting entire scenes, creating new ones and cutting and pasting scenes elsewhere, then you are doing the ‘structural’ edit perfectly!
Copy/Line editing is next because it looks at paragraphs and sentences and how they work alone and in relation to what precedes and follows it. In this stage, you look at clumsy sentences, confusing wordings, unnecessary repetitions, clichés, etc. Note that if this is the first thing you look for when doing a re-draft then, you need to back up a step to the structural/substantial edit.
The last stage, the proofread, looks at fixing grammatical errors. It’s a final review to make sure the sentences are error free.
6. Join a writer’s group or have critique partners. There isn’t a writer in the world who can identify objectively everything needs to be fixed up in their manuscript. After two, eight or twelve drafts, that is impossible. Having critique partners who either love reading the genre of your novel or are learnt in the craft of fiction writing (or both!) gives you an expert critique. Love the criticism, because if someone is taking the time to read your work for free, it’s because they care about helping you improve your work.
I know how scary it is handing out work for the first time, but once I receive mountain loads of advice for improvements I feel so much better that my prospective agent/publisher hasn’t seen all those problems.
7. Know your weaknesses and push yourself to become an expert on the topic. What better way is there of overcoming what holds your novel back than by working at it? Work at keeping your anxieties down and the more you push yourself to understand (do exercises, do practical tips) the more you’ll be able to create a better version of your novel and even more so for future ones you’ll write.
8. Network and have a website. Having an online presence is more important than ever. Remember when you weren’t sure on THAT book? What did you do before you bought it? You Googled the author. A cheap and effective option is starting a blog. If you create quality content and work at networking so people are aware of what you do then you help your career. 1) People find you when they search for a query. 2) Agents and publishers know that if you have the book they want, you can market your work (and you already have an audience because of that blog, remember?). 3) People are interested in what you do and will trust your site — vital for non-fiction writers and for readers who want more of what you do. Create friendships with fellow writers and help them as much as they help you.
9. Read about how the publishing industry works — what’s ‘hot’; what’s ‘not’. This is less important but still great advice. You need to know what agents are interested in taking on. You should know what publishers are looking for in new manuscripts. Learn if your vampire, young-adult fiction novel is still in high demand. Or maybe you’ve written something like Afterwards. Understand if there’s a gap where your thriller (about two people who spend the novel in out-of-body experiences, trying to save their physical bodies) fills a gap in the industry.
10. Never give up. Keep going: there is no other option. When you’re still getting rejections, expand/re-do the previous steps. Find different critique partners if your current ones aren’t helping you as much as you’d hoped. Continue on to TAFE or university if you liked your short writing course (because you can never stop learning). Read more on the craft of fiction writing and analyse the novels you read with this knowledgeable eye for detail.
Now comes the
most important part: what are your tips/suggestions? I’ve compiled this list so you, my loyal readers, have one point of reference (opposed to 10 tabs open, which consequently crash your browser). Please leave your comments below and I can discuss and add your thoughts for my future posts!