Elmore Leonard famously published his ’10 Rules of Writing’, and they are wise words indeed. I can’t say that I follow them all, but there are certainly a few that are always in my head when I’m writing. I came across them recently in a newspaper article which, inspired by those rules, decided to ask a number of other writers for their own dos and don’t of writing.
So, in the same vein, I have decided to offer my own top ten tips for writing. Some of them are obvious, some of them are personal, but none of them will guarantee publication.
You can also check out the link at the end of this blog for other writers’ top tips.
It seems obvious, and if you do this, then the other nine points don’t really matter, but you need to write. That’s what writers do! Try to get in the habit of writing every day. It’s up to you whether you want to set yourself a daily word count or just write and see how much you get done, but if you try and get into the discipline of writing, you’ll be amazed at how much you actually produce. And some of it might actually be quite good!
If you want to be a writer, it’s really important to read. A lot. I always remind myself that anything I’m reading has been deemed good enough to be published. That doesn’t mean that everything published is good; some books are excellent and you aspire to produce something of that quality; other books are not good, and they should inspire you to write because you know you can do better.
3. Enjoy what you’re writing
If you’re not enjoying what you’re writing, then the chances are no-one else will enjoy reading it. If you’re going to spend your own time writing, and if you’re writing a novel, that’s a lot of time, you need to be enjoying what you’re doing. You won’t enjoy everything you write, or necessarily have a great experience every time you write, but if the story doesn’t captivate you or maintain your interest, throw it away and start writing about something else.
4. Write about what you know
… unless you don’t know very much, or what you do know is boring, in which case write about anything you like. I’m guessing that JK Rowling isn’t a wizard, and JRR Tolkien wasn’t a hobbit who resided in Middle Earth, so both of them in their own hugely successful way, prove that you can write about anything, so long as you do it well. My dad wrote a book once – it was a crime novel of sorts set in the 1930s. I blame the influence of television and trashy American police shows. He had been a maths teacher and told brilliant and funny stories about the classroom and the staffroom. If he put them down on paper, he’d have a great book.
5. Read what you’ve written aloud
This is one of the best ways to judge whether what you’ve written sounds right and has a natural flow to it. This is especially true of dialogue. It’s also a great way of spotting mistakes that might otherwise remain undetected. Just be prepared for strange looks from anyone else in your house who’ll worry that you’re talking to yourself.
6. Don’t get Sky+
Sky+ is one of the best inventions ever, and also one of the biggest enemies of the writer. With Sky+ there is now always something you can watch on television. It just means that you have to be even more disciplined in your writing. And keep the Internet turned off as well. Emails and Facebook and Twitter are horribly addictive and very distracting. Incidentally, I love Sky+.
7. Don’t re-write until you’ve finished a first draft
Re-writing was always one of my biggest mistakes when I used to try writing a novel. I’d spend so much time trying to make my first few chapters perfect that I’d lose interest in what I was doing since it felt like it would take forever to finish the manuscript. Now, after putting a plan together for the structure of the book, I just keep writing until I’ve got a first draft. Then I start editing it. I also write freehand before I type anything into the computer, and the advantage of that is that when I am typing, I’m giving my story a first edit as I correct any mistakes I spot in what I’ve scribbled down on paper.
8. Live your life
The American writer, Richard Ford, whose work I absolutely love, offered, as one of his tips, the advice not to have children. I disagree. Absolutely. Children are not a distraction. It might just mean that you have to work harder at finding the time to write around family life, but you can do it. And when all’s said and done, a book’s just a book, but your children are the greatest blessing you will ever have. And if you only ever achieve one thing in life to be proud of, it would be in having children who grown up to be adults who you like. You can keep your Booker Prize!
9. Don’t moan about it
I’m not trying to decry writing, or writers, but it always strikes me that, if you can make your living from writing, then that’s got to be just about the best job in the world. And even if your writing is not your primary source of income, it’s still a great thing to do; if anyone pays you for your words, that’s just a bonus. It never fails to amaze me when I hear journalists at Scottish football grounds moaning about some aspect of their job – they’re getting paid to watch football, for goodness sake! How good is that? The same goes for writers – don’t moan about your working life. It’s great. Get over it. I thought of this last week when my teenage son came in from work. He’d spent the day pulling down ceilings in an old building and was covered in dirt and dust; he looked like one of Dick Van Dyke’s chimney sweep pals from Mary Poppins. I couldn’t imagine telling him not to complain about his work and that he had it easy compared to writers! Writing’s great, and everyone who does it for a living would do it anyway as a hobby. It’s not a real job!
Just in case you’ve forgotten already – WRITE!!!
You can email me at [email protected] or ‘tweet’ me @PaulThe Hunted