I’m starting yet another blog post banging on about how there are so many writing advice blogs out there with valuable tips on them for the budding author, blah blah blah!
We all know this. It’s not like you’ve clicked on this link saying, “Wow, tips for writers, I never knew I could find this sort of stuff online!” Chances are you, like me, have read enough of them to write your own book on how to write a book. Or something.
But as I read more and more on the craft it seems a lot of points are made over and over again. That’s not to say the posts get boring, far from it, but it cements the knowledge that these certain tips are the ones you really need to pay attention to. If this many people are saying it then it must be true. No?
So I am going to share with you five of the best tips I’ve found and now regularly use, so that you can make your writing ultra-brutal-kickass-awesome. Maybe.
The first draft is always terrible.
I took perhaps my largest sigh of relief when I first read this. Then it seemed to be cropping up everywhere. Have you ever read through your initial draft for the first time since scribbling it down that day when you were sure you were in the mood? How bad was it? Really bad? Shite, even?
Well mine always are. Clunky sentences, typos aplenty, bad dialogue, pointless information that waffles on for far longer than it should; the list is endless. To take my mind off it I’d pick up the book I was reading and then get more annoyed with myself when I’d see the excellent prose and descriptions on offer. “I’ll never be a writer,” I’d say before putting the book down and opening a beer to ease the pain.
But, and check this out, apparently even the best writers think this about their early manuscripts. That wonderfully concocted scene that puts you right in the heart of the action both emotionally and imaginatively, probably (no – definitely) didn’t start out like that. Not even close.
A great writer can make a dull first draft amazing, and that’s why they’re a great writer. But they are still working with sub-par materials. Tell yourself at least you have something to work with, and be very proud of that. The second revision will make it better, ironing out plot holes, poor grammar, and sentences that seem to flow like a barren stream full of toxic waste and rotting carcasses. Before you know it, the third or fourth draft is done and you’re suddenly beginning to believe in yourself again.
Keep that first draft, though, just to remind yourself how not only your story, but your skill as a writer is improving. It’s a great motivational tool.
You will get better the more you practice.
This is one tip that, years ago, I had trouble believing. How could I get any better? Not that I thought I was some literary genius or anything, I just assumed I’d found my level. It’s not like I was going on courses or workshops to hone my skills and recognise where I was going wrong.
But it is so true. The body remembers. Flex your writing muscles, they say. Practicing most things makes you better at them. And even when you’re writing a story that is not that great, or even terrible, the fact that you’re typing away, practicing, is paramount.
As a drummer, before a gig or a recording, I make sure to do extra practice. I sit with one solitary snare drum and practice my single stroke rolls (RLRLRL), my double stroke rolls (RRLLRRLL), and my paradiddles (RLRRLRLL). Even though I’m not playing a full kit, by spending enough time doing this, when I eventually sit on my throne before my army of drums, it all seems so much easier. My playing’s tighter, faster, more groovier. It’s the same with writing.
Just ask Daniel LaRusso when he finally kicked that Cobra bastard’s ass at the karate tournament if he regretted washing a car or painting a fence.
So practicing is good. It doesn’t make perfect but it makes better.
Read lots. Lots! And not just in your chosen genre.
The classics, contemporary fiction, even best-sellers that stink of commercial whoring with their flat characters and nonsensical plots. They all help to set you on your journey. Focus on how the stories are told, how characters interact with dialogue and subtle hints of their feelings, how twists are delivered, and so on. And also use the so-called ‘poorly written’ books to teach you how not to do it. You need to know the difference between these books, though.
I have to say, although I understand why this is useful, I just bloody love horror! So reading other genres seems more like research than actual enjoyment of a story to me. But if that’s what ya gotta do…
Which leads me on to my next point.
Read lots. Lots! Lots of your favourite genre.
If you have decided that you want to write stories, chances are that you did so because you wanted to emulate the types of books that you read regularly and enjoy. I can’t think of a band who love listening to death metal but churn out album after album of radio-friendly rock. Maybe there are some out there, but I doubt it.
The great thing about reading a novel, as opposed to watching a film, is that you can make up your own mind on what the setting is like. What do the characters look like? How menacing are the evil monsters? How creepy is that house, or abandoned mental hospital, or that dream-like vista of an intergalactic Hell?
Chances are, you’ll have a sense of something great that maybe the author doesn’t wholly capitalise on. How about you take that idea, expand on it and make something unique that you can use in a story of your own? It’s not plagiarising, it’s being influenced!
By understanding your genre you also understand your potential audience. And isn’t that what we’re after, trying to write the book you wish you could read?
Read your work out loud to yourself.
You can read your manuscript over and over and still miss that typo where you write ‘in’ instead of ‘on’ or never notice you’ve written ‘the’ twice. If you really know your manuscript you’ll end up skim reading and not paying it your full attention. You’ll be too busy getting excited to write that next chapter.
Reading the thing aloud helps you to spot those overly-long sentences, or the amateurish clunky ones. You can choose to address the empty room as though you’re practicing your first novel reading, or just sit quietly whispering it yourself. The latter does sound rather creepy and may get you some strange looks if anyone’s listening.
Better still, you can get your computer to read it to you. I recently discovered a free text-to-speech programme called Natural Reader. There’s a link here somewhere.
You can paste your text into it and have one of the pre-installed voices read your beautiful work back to you. I find this extremely helpful. Not only do you hear the words, you can read along at the same time, making doubly sure no typo goes unnoticed. The only problem with this method is the cadence and word stresses aren’t exactly as you’d want, but that’s a minor complaint. The best thing for me is hearing a posh man swearing and describing horrific acts of gore. Oh, how I chuckle!
You’ll surely read all these tips somewhere else in the next few days or so. But that’s good, because the more you read them, the further ingrained they’ll become in your writing psyche.
So go forth and write!
I’m off to read some writing tips on the internet, I’m sure I can find some somewhere!
Photo via VisualHunt.com
Photo via Visualhunt
Photo via VisualHunt