I don’t really have to write this post, do I? You could do it for me by now if you’ve been reading the others. But I’ll sum it up:
1. Read, read, read.
2. Write, write, write.
3. Write every day.
4. Always write down your ideas when you have them.
5. Never throw any of your work away. A short story might become a chapter in a novel.
6. Read your work aloud regularly for rhythm and tension.
7. Enter competitions whenever you have time.
8. Re-read authors who are most like you and try to work out why they are good.
9. Don’t be afraid to show your writing to somebody else for feedback.
10. Remember that others forms of writing can feed into your work: school essays, blogs, Facebook entries, diaries, letters/postcards will all tell you a lot about your style and genre. Why not volunteer to edit the school/college magazine for a term? Why not write/design posters? Why not take part in a school play/musical and help with the script?
I am a self-taught writer. I didn’t go to any creative writing classes. But I still had to learn my craft. I did it in two ways. At first, I just wrote. They were short manuscripts, with little re-drafting, which were all rejected. When I realised this was going to be a lengthy process – I’d gave up my job to be a full-time writer and there were bills to pay – I proposed a big project called Fast Track Classics to a publisher: I would abridge the classics for younger readers. This brought in a good income for many years. But the greatest benefit was reading great classics and seeing what made them endure and seeing why they might not be so popular with today’s young readers. I learned more about writing than at any other time in my life and I have great affection for these forty or so books.
I’ve also written many Readers for students learning English as a second language. They are graded at different levels, so I was restricted in vocabulary. This taught me what is essential in a novel: fast plot, strong characters set against interesting locations.
Everybody is capable of writing. But if you want to be published, you have to learn the skills, like any other job. You have to be patient. Think how long it takes to be the best gymnast, the best cyclist or the best piano player.
Of course the golden rule of good writing is SHOW – DON’T TELL. I didn’t put it on the list because I want to show this rule to you – not tell! This is the magic that turns ordinary writing into something special.
This example below is from Raven Queen. Question: How can I describe Jane’s home (Bradgate House)? This paragraph is taken from the first draft (Jane is the narrator):
I lived at Bradgate House, a house built by my father’s father, Thomas Grey, who died when I was two years old. He used to boast that the forest beyond – Charnwood Forest – was big and that he’d laid water pipes from the stream to the house. The town of Leicester was about five miles to the east.
This would have sent my manuscript to the slush pile.
The final manuscript reads:
Visitors usually gasp with pleasure when they first arrive. It is thought to be one of the finest houses in Leicestershire; but Ned gazed past its red brick towers, past its gardens soon to be brimming with fruit and blossom, past the stream which fed water pipes to the kitchen – to the darkening trees beyond.
‘I like the forest best at dusk when birds cloud the sky,’ he said.
I glanced down at him. And now that he was standing closer to me, I no longer saw his tangled hair and grimy skin – only the smile that lit up his face.
Who was he?
Can you see what I’ve done? We see the house through a visitor’s eyes and it’s linked with an emotion that has already linked Jane with the stranger and leaves a question to be answered.