They say writing is a solitary activity (no, not that one). After all, an author sits in isolation, ploughing a lonely furrow that meanders from page to page. But there’s a community of other writers out there and, when I got stuck with my manuscript, I turned to author friends for advice. Here are some of their very best tips.
First I consulted historical novelist Liza Perrat. ‘Write the first draft without editing,’ she says. ‘Just get the story down.’ Editor, author, and writing coach Lorna Fergusson is one of many who agree. ‘Keep going and don’t stop to check a fact or agonise over a wording. Insert XXX and go back to it later.’
As author Debbie Young explains, ‘Writing and editing use different parts of the brain, so do them in separate sessions.’ She adds that writing the first draft by hand helps connect with the creative brain more readily.
I too find that using a pencil helps the writing flow, but it doesn’t always help the quality. What if you find yourself, as I did, mired in reams of Proustian prose, only without his madeleine or his talent?
Jane Davis brought me back to reality. ‘Make sure there’s conflict on every page.’ If you don’t know Jane, she writes award-winning novels set mainly in London.
This conflict thing is easier said than done. I think I ended up boring my own cat.
I should have taken author Linda Gillard’s advice. Pretty sure she was reminding me not to bore readers when she said, ‘If you don’t want to write it, no one is going to want to read it.’ I must say I’ve never lost interest in Linda’s novels.
Sometimes it’s hard to keep up the momentum. Prolific author Jean Gill has something to say. ‘My top tip is always to stop writing when you know what’s coming next. That way you start again with enthusiasm. There’s nothing worse than facing a blank page because you wrote all the scenes that were in your head.’
When it comes to editing, you have to be ruthless, just as Samuel Johnson put it.
But don’t throw those passages away, warns Liza Perrat. ‘I’ve learned the hard way never to delete anything. I wanted to use some characters and scenes left from my first novel that was never published. But stupid me had cleaned up the folder, and the stuff was gone for good.’
I have been known to rescue discarded papers from the wheelie bin, but it’s harder to retrieve files deleted from your computer.
Another gem comes from Amie McCracken, author, editor, designer, and all-round publishing guru. ‘My number one self-editing tip is to read out loud. There’s nothing like it to help you catch errors, but also to feel the cadence and flow of your words.’
My own writing tip? I have two. One, keep a notebook to make sure you don’t forget any good ideas. Someday, to paraphrase Mae West, it may keep you.
Two, keep reading good books.
If you have any favourite writing tips, I’d love to hear them.
In keeping with my recommendation to read good books, you may enjoy Pandora’s Boxed Set. It’s a collection of novels by ten award-winning women authors, to be published this year in two parts, first part No Woman is an Island and the second Not Little Women. The first is out on July 20 and the second in October. You can pre-order the first part today from your favourite bookseller (the second will soon be available for pre-order as well).
I’m thrilled to be included alongside authors like Jane Davis, Jean Gill, Liza Perrat, Linda Gillard, Clare Flynn, Lorna Fergusson, Jessica Bell, Amie McCracken, and Helena Halme. Here’s the foreword by Jean Gill.
Hope was left in Pandora’s Box, when all the evils were released into the world.
The Pandora’s Box series brings together award-winning and risk-taking international authors in an unforgettable showcase, with five books in each collection. Never has it been more important to collaborate across borders and to use the power of storytelling to express the rich variety of human experience. This has been the main principle underlying our selection and we also chose stories we couldn’t put down, characters we cared about, and writing that stopped us in our tracks to savour a phrase or an observation.
The novels in No Woman is an Island travel through time and space, from medieval and modern France through England in two world wars to present-day Scandinavia. Although very different, they all show the impact on women of events over which they have no control. No woman is an island.