Writing Tips (from an author)
This week, we are delighted to welcome our second guest blogger to SNT; author Bridget Blankley to share her advice on how to improve your writing and put pen to paper. Bridget has recently completed her first novel The Ghosts and Jamal (available this spring) and has been writing in her journal from a young age.
My name is Bridget and I am a writer. There, I’ve said it. I’ve admitted that I spend my days doing something that I really enjoy instead of doing a proper job. I love writing; poetry, short fiction, novels, silly, sad, thought provoking – anything as long as I’m writing. I’ve won prizes, given talks and signed books, I’ve even written blogs, almost anything in fact, as long as I can write. I haven’t always been a writer, I used to be an engineer, then I was a training manager and then… well let just say I kept changing jobs, trying to find something I really wanted to do. Now I’ve found it.
First, you must write
The problem was becoming a professional writer wasn’t easy. Well it was – and it wasn’t – if you know what I mean. Having a ton of ideas for what you know will be brilliant stories is easy. The difficult bit is getting them down on paper – and the really difficult bit is getting a publisher give you money for writing them. But I’m getting ahead of myself. If you want to be a writer first you have to write.
Getting stuff down
I know, you’ve heard that before, but it’s true. If you want to see your work in print then the first thing you have to do is to get it down on paper.
Writing isn’t about brilliant ideas, it’s about getting stuff down. Every writer is different, but this is what I do.
Be ready. Make sure you’re on the lookout for good ideas or interesting voices. Then note them down – even if you can’t use them yet. I keep an A5 notebook with me, because it’s easy to forget the interesting conversation you heard on the train or the strange mix of items you saw in someone’s shopping basket. But remember this note book is for ideas; no shopping lists or phone numbers.
Write every day. Plan how much you are going to write and stick to it. It doesn’t matter if it’s 1 page or 20 or if you write for half an hour before breakfast. It doesn’t really matter, as long as you do it. It’s a bit like exercise – so I’m told – if you always go for a run after work then it becomes a habit. You need to develop the habit of writing.
Keep a record of what you write. I use a big old-fashioned journal and record how long I spend each day actually writing – writing in the journal doesn’t count! I also make a note of which competitions I’ve entered and which piece of writing I used. You could use an app if you prefer, but I like the feel of a physical book. It makes me feel more like a proper writer.
Don’t forget that you won’t always feel like writing the same sort of thing so work on several different pieces at the same time. So, on a sunny day I might go to the park and work on something upbeat but on other days I stay indoors with a mug of hot chocolate and bury myself in gloomy poetry. I use a separate A4 notebook for each project. Having different covers makes it easy to avoid taking the poetry to the park by mistake.
Don’t be afraid to edit. I read somewhere that all writing starts off as bad writing. It’s editing that makes it readable. I couldn’t agree more. It’s not just getting the punctuation right and rechecking your spelling. Sometimes you need to cut whole paragraphs or even chapters to sharpen your text. I start to edit when I transfer work from my notebooks to my laptop. If your handwriting is as bad as mine re-reading will be a laborious process and you are more likely to notice mistakes when you read slowly.
Don’t be afraid to edit even if you work on a computer. If you wrote your first draft using a word processor then print it out, in large print – that will slow down your reading. Then edit the printed version. It’s all about seeing things differently. We read print and screen text differently.
When you’re happy with your work share it. Not with a publisher or agent – not yet at least – but with someone who you trust. That is important because, unfortunately we’re not very good at judging our own work. You need to know that they’ll tell you the truth. Be prepared for criticism, that’s why you asked them to read it. But don’t give up. Writing is about re-writing.
Warm up your writing
But what if when you sit down you just can’t write. Don’t worry, we all have days like that. You just need to warm up your writing muscles a little. Here are some things you might try; they should get you past the first blank-page of your notebook.
- Look out the window and write 100-words about the first five things you see moving.
- Choose a picture from the Tate web site and write 500-words about it. It could be a poem or a description or a piece of fiction. It doesn’t matter, remember this is only about getting something, anything down on paper.
- Turn on the radio. Write down the first words you hear. That’s your first line. You can get some great first lines this way.
These are some I heard recently:
“I only love my bed”
“one car every 106 seconds”
“He really shouldn’t have done that”
“Well I wasn’t surprised, elephants are always unpredictable.”
The results aren’t always great but will get you writing again.
You can see how I developed some of these lines on my web site, bridgetblankley.com where there is also information about my latest book The Ghosts and Jamal, which will be available this spring.
I really hope my hints and tips prove useful and wish you good luck with your writing.
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