How to write

How to write

I get lots of lovely messages from people about my books, but nine times out of ten they also want advice. Specifically, they want advice on how to write a book.

And since I’m in the middle (towards the end actually, but that means in the middle – the first draft is only ever a first draft; see point 2) of writing a book at the moment, it feels like a good time to put my advice down where everyone can see it. Including me.

So here goes. How to write:

  1. Actually write. I mean, look, lots of people talk about writing. Millions and millions of people sit around telling other people how one day they’re going to write a book. But here’s a secret: only those who actually sit down and write books ‘write books’. The rest are just talking. So stop talking, sit down and start writing. Simples.
  2. What you write at first might well be appallingly bad. This is okay, so long as you write, then read, screw up your face, think to yourself ‘this is appallingly bad’ and then write some more, hopefully having tried to work out what made your first attempt so horrendous. If things don’t improve after years and years of trying, think about doing something else instead – maybe painting or song writing will be your thing. But most of us get better with time, with analysis, through working out what makes other people’s writing so good. Which leads me to…
  3. Read. A lot. Your vocabulary will improve, you’ll start to absorb structure and techniques, and you’ll have a fantastic time doing it. You’ll lose yourself in some books and hate every minute of others, and that’s great – work out what you like and what you don’t like and you’ll be half way to knowing what kind of story you want to write yourself and how you want to write it. Analyse characters, beginnings, ends, sub plots. Enjoy yourself – reading a book is never a wasted moment. Ever.
  4. Don’t set out to write a novel. Not at first. No one sets out to run a marathon the first day they put on their running shoes. Write a short story. Write about what you did yesterday. Write about your family (don’t post it on the internet. Your family members might not be that appreciative). Write a blog (you can post that on the internet. Just be careful what you say – remember, the world is watching, including future boy/girl friends, future employers, future parents in law…). Only write a book when you have a story that needs to be told. It’s so much easier when the words are bursting out of you.
  5. Live a bit. That way you’ll get some great stories. If you’re sad, channel it into your writing. If you are jubilant about something, remember how it feels, every bit of it. If someone breaks your heart, feel it and channel it into your writing. Actually, life tip here: if someone destroys a little bit of you, grieve and be sad, but then, when you’re feeling a bit better, write the scene as a comedy. Think about the other person’s come-uppance in said comedy. Think about the line you’d love to have thrown at them. Imagine them squirming. Then look in the mirror, wink at yourself, and move on. Bad things happen, but the trick is to try and see them in context, even if they feel overwhelming at the time. Your heroes and heroines have felt small and sad too. We all have.
  6. Look outwards. Be interested in the world. Read newspapers, think about what you’re reading. Ask questions. Be interested in other people. That’s where you’ll find your stories. Sitting in your room is not going to light your mind up with ideas. The web has a lot on it but it’s no substitute for getting out there, experiencing stuff and meeting people.
  7. Don’t worry about what people think. Some people might love what you write. Others will hate it. Some will think it’s boring. That’s just the way of the world. Listen to criticism, take it on the chin, absorb it, assess it, then forget about it.
  8. Be brave. Tell stories that no one else is telling. Don’t just copy someone else.
  9. Be disciplined. Writing is hard work and there are no short cuts
  10. If you discover any short cuts, please let me know. Seriously. Any short cuts at all. Anyone???
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