Jannali’s Top Ten Tips for Writing
I have found the following tips useful during my writing practice. Some of them come from advice I have been given or read, others are from my own experience, and some are a mixture of both.
1. Contemplate your work
Writing shouldn’t just happen when you sit down with a pen or at the keyboard to write. Try to think about your story, plot, characterisation, and so on whenever you have some down time. This may be when waiting for the bus or washing the dishes, any period when you can let your mind wander. That way, when you next sit down to write, you’ll already have new material and ideas up your sleeve to work with. It also maximises the efficiency of the time you dedicate to writing, which for many is not as much as we would like.
2. Never leave home without pens and paper
I believe no writer should ever be without the tools of their trade, and a pen and a paper won’t take up too much room in a pocket or bag. The next time inspiration strikes, you can quickly jot down notes. Sometime on the occasion when I have found myself without writing equipment, I have later forgotten the idea, or parts of it, which can be very frustrating. Furthermore this links in with tip no. 1 – if you are mulling over scenes or ideas away from your desk, you may need to record new ideas.
These people have great ideas, particularly
the man, whose lap dog may or may not be
the man, whose lap dog may or may not be
3. Challenge yourself
It may feel safe if you are a short story writer to write short stories and nothing else, but it is important to challenge yourself. Try writing poems and longer stories, non-fiction, anything that will help you flex your creative muscles. I find that doing something different every now and then stops my work from becoming stale.
4. Get feedback
Source feedback on your work – join a writers’ group or find a few friends who are writers or avid readers. When you spend hours on your masterpiece sometimes you are too close to the work to be able to see mistakes. Using a fresh set of eyes can help you overcome grammar and spelling errors, plot holes, inconsistencies and so on.
If you are writing for publication, it may be wise to get the opinion of a ‘lay reader’ – someone who is not emotionally invested in the work like you are. Be cautious though, as people who are willing to read your work or sections from it will not necessarily be people who are good at providing constructive criticism.
5. Enter Competitions
Regularly enter competitions, awards, programs and prizes with your writing. If you are interested in becoming a professional author, you will need to build up your literary CV and entering competitions is one of the best ways of doing this. Be prepared to enter a lot – I try to enter at least four or five competitions a year, and from these I will usually have one or two successes. If you are a poet or short story writer you should be entering more than this. Search the internet, or your local writers centre should have information on upcoming events.
And no, the lottery doesn't count as a competition.
6. Know your genre
Read widely in your genre. This will help you to understand not only the nuances in conventions and subgenres, but also help to steer you away from clichéd writing. It may also give you ideas for ways to be innovative or subvert the existing genre expectations. You can get a feel for what is currently in the market and, should you get published, what authors you will be up against or, as another way of looking at it, what readership might be similarly interested in your book.
7. Read widely across genres
Read across several genres, not just the one you are interested in or write in. I use to only read fantasy novels but was forced to read more widely for university. This showed me the value of reading in other areas. By experiencing other forms and genres you can learn and improve your own writing. I no longer turn my nose up at certain types of fiction, for I can now see the value in different areas and appreciate them for what they are. It may also give you ideas for your own writing approach, accepted conventions across genres, and how different literary forms have evolved over the years.
8. There is no right or wrong way to do things
If you are reading guide books or getting advice on how to write, keep in mind that there is no right or wrong way to do things. There are many different approaches to take in writing and publication, some will work for you and others won’t. Obviously if there is a particular set of guidelines for a competition or submission for publication, then you will need to follow these. However, without people taking their own approach and taking risks, many of the important texts we know and love today wouldn’t exist.
9. Develop a thick skin
You are probably going to be rejected. One of the things you need to accept as a writer, particularly if you want to be a professional, is that not everyone is going to like your work. Whether entering a short story in a competition or submitting a manuscript for publication, you will probably get rejected. This is a part of the business, and it is important not to get too emotionally caught up with any one submission. Don’t give up, instead understand that you will need to develop a thick skin, and that perseverance is essential for success as a writer.
This guy can cop any criticism you sling at him or his novel.
10. Take advice with a grain of salt
This links in with tip no. 4 – getting feedback and tip no. 9 – developing a thick skin. While it is a great idea to get feedback, it is important to be analytical about the feedback you get. Writing is a subjective area, and there are many reasons that you may be rejected or criticised. You don’t have to take on board every suggestion you are given. Conversely, it is unwise to reject all negative or critical feedback.