This week, four of our authors share their top writing tips
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“I’m writing a first draft and reminding myself that I’m simply shoveling sand
into the sandbox so that later I can build castles.” — Shannon Hale
I love this quote from author Shannon Hale, which reminds me that, in order to come up with
something I like, I need to give myself permission to write badly.
Sometimes it’s hard to resist the urge to edit and polish a new story as I go along, but experience has taught me that getting the words down without too much shilly-shallying is the best way to nail that first draft. It also saves time, because as the story develops, many details of setting and character will change, so I don’t want to waste too much time polishing scenes which might need to be cut or radically altered. For me, a first draft is a mere skeleton—no clothes, no flesh, even a few bones missing! Some time later (at least a month) I will tackle the first edit. In many ways, that’s when the real work begins.
My second tip for any aspiring writer is to join a group, either face-to-face or online. It
sounds obvious but, for me, it’s not an exaggeration to say that joining my group—Scribophile—changed my life. I now have writer friends and kindred spirits dotted around the world, some of which I’ve met in real life, who were just as lovely as their online personas suggested. I’ve learned so much about the craft of writing, and how to accept feedback as invaluable advice rather than a personal attack!
Nowadays, I wouldn’t dream of submitting stories which haven’t gone through the critiquing
process. It’s challenging, for sure, but also enjoyable, and a great way to avoid plot holes and
inconsistencies. There are so many groups out there, it should be easy to find one that suits you—even if you’re shy and introspective like me.
My final piece of advice wouldn’t suit everyone, but if you send out a lot of submissions, as I
used to do, any news—even good news—can deprive you of your sleep. My tip: don’t check
your emails before bedtime!
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V. K. McGivney
What I’ve personally learnt from writing fiction is that it’s not the first draft that matters. For
me it’s the second, third, fourth or fifth. In my first drafts, the rush to put down my thoughts
often outruns clarity, accuracy and elegance of expression. In subsequent drafts. there is time
to rethink and reword. I always enjoy this process the most.
“When you face writer’s block, just lower your standards and keep going.” — Sandra Tsing Loh
This is a great quote because it states a sound truth. Writer's block is often caused by writers getting in their own heads about what counts as 'good' writing. Keep going anyway, write a rough draft, and when you come back to it another day you'll be able to polish it. When I'm writing a first draft particularly, I keep going no matter what until I at least have the bare bones of a plot. I might hate what I've written but without a beginning, there can be no next steps.
In alignment with this, and as others have said in this blog already, my second tip is don't look back. If you're writing a first draft especially, don't keep going back to read what you've written. There is a difference between checking a fact for consistency and reading back so check if you're happy with your work so far. Looking back will only slow you down. Write the draft, then run back through it. I made this mistake with my first novel. I kept going back to the beginning because I wasn't happy with an idea or a phrase. It took me a long time to make any progress. Only when I sat down and forced myself to just keep going did I finally finish my first full manuscript.
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You can’t write a book to please everyone. There’s a saying and it goes like this: Some will love what you do, others will hate it. Most won’t give a damn. In the end, what matters is that YOU love and believe in what you’re writing. Put it out there, stay positive, and you’ll find your tribe.
Just do it. Nike may have coined that phrase, but it’s one I also swear by. Write every day if you can, even if it’s a busy day ahead and you can only manage 500-1000 words. It all adds up, and it keeps the cogs of creativity whirring. So…just do it, and before you know it, you’ll have a book that you can work with!
It can be concluded from these wise words that at the end of the day, it is up to you to just go for it. Sit down, write a first draft and don't worry if it's not perfect. Refining and polishing come later.