I’ve been writing books… well stories… OK trying to finish writing stories since I was nine years old. I’m now just shy of 42… I won’t say how shy, but that’s a nice round number. I also say trying to finish because I find the starting of the process the easiest part, the middle can be a bit of a muddle and getting all the way to the end… that’s the pickle really. Over the past 30 or so years I have written many short stories, but only finished writing 2 ½ books. Half because I am currently re-writing the third. It’s an ongoing saga of second guessing, improvement and daily struggles to get the damn words out of my head and onto the page. While this is all going on however, I thought it might be a good idea to share some of the things I have learned over the past six years, which is how long it took me to finish my first book. These are not the usual tips for writers, but they are truths which I hope will help you on your own writing journey.
Stay true to your concept. Don’t try to bastardise your original idea to fit in with a current trend. Bandwagon jumping is great if you’re living in prohibition era America and are trying to steal some moonshine, but if you’re doing it to get on board with what’s currently popular in the market you’ll probably end up with no shine, much less the moon. Stay the course and go where the story takes you not where you take the story.
Tell the story with your own voice, in your own style. Don’t try to mimic someone else’s and don’t try to force it, otherwise you will simply end up with a cheap copy that is stilted and disjointed.
A book is as long as it needs to be. Don’t ever let anyone tell you your story isn’t long enough for a book, or feel that you haven’t written enough to warrant a book. Your story will conclude where it needs to – whether it’s a 40-page happy commuter or a 900-page shoulder buster (so named for when you try to carry it in your bag and accidentally throw your back out… which I have done).
Write down every idea you have – even if it means you never get to sleep! I keep a book and my iPad by my bed, just in case my brain (which hates me) denies me sleep or wakes me up in the middle of the night with nightmares or plot twists. I can’t begin to tell you how many great ideas I have forgotten because I didn’t take a few moments to write them down. You can try telling yourself you’ll remember in the morning. You won’t.
Create chapters for each step in the story. This may seem obvious, but for some reason it's easily forgotten when you're in the midst of an idea. You know the journey you want your story to take, but your readers won’t unless you have some kind of structure. Think about the major elements of your story and then list them as chapter titles. This will not only help you when you get stuck, as you inevitably will, but it will keep you on track.
If you don’t write anything for months at a time, don’t panic! I used to get really hung up on this. If I didn’t write anything, or work on my story for more than a week, I'd start freaking out that I'd never write again or had somehow lost the ability to write. I know this sounds neurotic, but I am sure many of you will have felt this too.
You are your own worst enemy. At some point you will hate everything you have written and will write, you will tell yourself that you are nothing but a hack. You aren’t!! Self-doubt is the Siamese twin of any writer. Before you hit that delete key, get others to read your work and give you feedback. This will help you grow and learn, and inevitably make your story better. You can’t be trusted!
Speaking of feedback, don’t get down on yourself if you do need to delete and re-write most, if not all, of your story. The editing process is both a gift and a curse, but you will come out the other side knowing more about yourself and your story, your characters and your style – plus like a fine wine your story will only get better with age!
Character development and detail are just so important! They take the reader deep inside your story, but don’t expect to master this skill immediately. It's really easy to skimp on details in the rush to get that story out of your head and onto paper. Stop! Don't fall into the race to the finish trap! This is something I have really had to work on, but I've learned that if you delve into the details of each moment, each breath and each heartbeat, then you will really have something special!
Now go, get out of here and write!