Deciding to take the scary plunge into the weird and wonderful world of writing and self-publishing my first novel was one of the craziest but best things I’ve ever done.
With self-publishing changing the landscape and empowering readers to become writers, it’s never been easier to put pen to paper (or fingers to laptop keys). But with millions of indie books and authors out there it can be tough to find your voice and make your novel stand out.
I’ve learnt so much on my journey so far and am a big believer in reaching back and helping someone else along on theirs so I decided to create a page full of tips and advice of things I’ve learnt so far about the writing process and another about self-publishing.
Keep checking back. Hopefully this is just the beginning for me so I’ll add new advice as I live and learn.
– x –
My tips and advice for aspiring writers:
Read, read, read some more. It sounds obvious, but a lot of writers aren’t big readers. Although writing talent is innate and comes from within, it is also still a craft. It needs to be nurtured, developed, and refined. The best writers in the world are also readers. Reading anything will be beneficial in exposing you to other styles of writing, vocabulary, and techniques which you’ll pick up subliminally. But it’s especially good to read around in the genre you want to write a book in. If you want to write the next best thriller, read others. Not so you can copy them, but so you can see what’s out there. What do you like about them? What don’t you like? Where can you find a niche for your novel in the crowded market? Write the book you want to read.
Ignore those who scoff at your dreams of becoming an author or believe writing a book is easy. It’s not. It’s really not. It takes persistence, hard work, and above all, courage to pour pieces of your soul onto a page. Be brave. Go for it. So many people make plans to write a book ‘one day.’ It might never come. Make ‘one day’, today. Carpe diem. Even if no one else is, know that I’m rooting for you.
Surround yourself with positive and supportive people. If for whatever reason you’re not able to do that, don’t tell anyone you know that you’re writing a book. You do not need the negativity. It’s so easy to get discouraged when writing, even without anyone else’s voice in your head telling you that you can’t. Don’t let anyone ever tell you you’re not good enough or don’t deserve your dreams. If you’re worried about judgement or repercussion, use a pen name. And always remember that the ones who are the most vocal in trying to hold you back are the ones too scared to go after what they want. Don’t let them win.
Having said all of that, writing can be an incredibly solitary and lonely process. If you’re able to, join some author/reader groups on things like Facebook, or Goodreads. Social media is a brilliant tool for connecting with like-minded people with shared interests. With fan groups, blogs, street teams, forums, and pages, it’s never been easier to chat to your favourite authors or fellow readers. There’s a whole supportive online literary community for you to chat/moan/off-load/laugh/cry/bond/fangirl or boy with. But be genuine. And respectful. Don’t push your own project on another author’s page. Let them get to know you as you. They’ll be much more likely to help you out if they know you as a friend rather than a spammer.
Write your truth. I don’t care what some books or classes will tell you. There is no single, correct way to write. Of course, there’s good writing and bad writing, but there are so many different styles, techniques, and processes to be found within those two categories. Do what feels right to you. One of the best things about fiction writing is the freedom it brings. Have fun with it. Not everyone can or wants to be Shakespeare, but one of the reasons he’s so revered is because he took risks and played around with language. And in doing so, he changed language as we know it. Set the trend, don’t follow it. This is your book, not someone else’s. What works for someone else, may not work for you. Readers will know when you’re forcing it and they won’t take kindly to a cheap imitation of someone else’s work. Your characters will resent you for not reflecting their voice accurately. And you won’t be happy. Be you. It’s the best tool you have as an author.
Write what you know, or what you want to know. This is an semi-controversial view as I know some people strongly believe in only writing about situations and emotions that you’re personally familiar with. On one level, I agree with them. It definitely will make it easier to write, and your voice much more authentic, if you know what you’re talking about. But it goes back to my earlier point in having fun with fiction. How many people have lived on a spaceship? Or are secretly werewolves? Or have witnessed a murder? Fiction, by definition, isn’t true. So when I say write what you know, I mean that if you know pain, write about pain, if you know disappointment, write about disappoint, or heartbreak, or love. In a spaceship if you want.
But I also believe authors, like every artist, have a great medium at their fingertips for exploring things they don’t understand, but want to. What draws writers to their craft is the fact that as people, we’re curious, we’re observers, and we love to use our imaginations. If you take this route, then RESEARCH, RESEARCH, RESEARCH. I can’t tell you the number of books I’ve read that had real potential but were let down because the author didn’t research the situation, country, or emotion they knew nothing about. With the internet at your disposal, it’s sloppy, lazy, and frankly inexcusable for you not to take a few minutes or hours to learn about something you want to write about. And whatever you do, stay away from Google Translate!
Keep your eyes and mind open. Look around you. Read articles, watch films and documentaries, go to the theatre or the park, people watch, talk, listen, travel, explore. The world contains an infinite number of plotlines and characters. Inspiration can come in the most unlikely of places. Push yourself outside of your comfort zone in your ‘real’ life, and it will only improve your writing.
Have boundaries. This is another one I know some people will disagree with, but this is my website and my advice, so I don’t care. Never forget that your ‘real’ world is more important than your literary one. You have to live in it full-time whilst you’re just a visitor in your imagination. I know a lot of people believe that anything you say to an author or artist is fair game, but I have a line that I won’t cross. Writing a bestseller is not worth destroying a real life relationship over. Don’t sell out your friends or family. My personal line is to never use anything told to me in confidence in my books. Some things are sacred. If you’re anything like me, you think of most situations as a story waiting to happen. But you need to know the difference between reality and fiction. Sure, you can absolutely take elements of people you know, be it their appearance, posture, or personality, and fictionalise it. Fun scenes and lighthearted moments that are based on real life events are always entertaining. But don’t use someone else’s pain for your art unless you have their permission. Exes are the exception to the rule. They’re totally fair game. #karma. 😉
“If you’re going through hell, keep going.” I couldn’t count the number of times I felt like giving up when writing my first novel, let alone the amount of unfinished manuscripts I’ve started and then discarded when it got tough or life got in the way. And it will get tough. And life will get in the way. If anyone tells you the writing process was easy, they’re either lying, or not very good at their craft. If you care about writing the best book you can, if it matters to you to create something that readers will connect to and treasure, you will struggle at some point. Some days the words won’t come. Sometimes you’ll hate a passage you’ve written. Sometimes your characters will stop speaking to you. If and when that happens, take a break, but return to it. Be patient. If they’re still not speaking to you, move on to another section, or another chapter. Then go back to it. This happened at several points in writing my first novel. I just couldn’t get a grip on how a certain chapter would play out, so I left space for it, moved on, then went back to it a few hours or days later and it all fell easily into place.
Just write something! In a way, this contradicts what I’ve just said, but it’s more referring to when you have a crisis of confidence that what you’ve written isn’t any good. The important thing is to have words on a page. It’s SO much easier to edit and improve something than it is nothing. Just write it down. You can make it great later. A page full of nonsense is better than a blank one.
Slow and steady wins the race. Some people can write an award-winning novel in a few days or weeks, for others it takes years. For some, it has been known to take decades. Go at your own pace. Don’t rush it. So many authors, especially indie ones who don’t have the relative safety net of an advance from their publishers, have to balance their writing with another full-time job. Many have young families, life/health problems, university, or school (all of which you should prioritise, by the way). This means that if you’re planning to write an 80,000 word novel, it can take a very long time before the end gets anywhere near sight. Take your time. Even if you only write 100 words a day, you will have a novel in a few years. If you’re able to, set a target of a certain numbers of words a day and try your very hardest to stick to it. Every little helps.
Write with your heart, not your head. I truly believe you should write the story your soul wants to tell, not the one your mind thinks will make the most money. I know this is easier said than done. We have to eat, bills have to be paid, and if you’re really being honest, you want your book to be turned into a movie and already know who you’d cast. You see authors who have hit the perfect magic formula of talent, hard work, luck, and timing and made millions (and maybe even some without the talent in your opinion, which is especially frustrating). Why can’t you do the same? I get it, I really do. There’s no harm in dreaming big and thinking about your ideal scenario, but it can’t be at the forefront of your mind. All authors are a little narcissistic, even the really humble, private ones. Like all artists, they have a secret need to be praised, respected, adored, and immortalised. You want to leave your mark on the world and leave something behind that will live on after you’re gone.
But trust me, the pursuit of fame and money will only hinder your writing. It betrays your truth and insults the intelligence of your readers. If you want to write trash that will sell thousands, you’re totally welcome to. But I know very few authors who would be happy to have their hard work called ‘trash.’ Have perspective. You may well disagree, but I personally believe it’s more important to write something that speaks to someone and maybe even changes their life, even if it is only one person, rather than write something that reaches thousands, but that they forget about almost instantly and that they end up throwing away or lose at the back of a bookshelf. The true measure of an author’s legacy is not how many people read their book or who starred in the movie of the novel, but how much their work made people think and feel. Don’t lose sight of that.
Those are just a few of the things I can think to tell you at the start of your writing journey. I’ve also created a page for people who are further along in their journey at the self-publishing stage.
But ultimately this tl;dr page on writing tips and advice can be summed up like this:
Be brave. Be curious. Be humble. Be honest. Be persistent. Be positive. Be you.