If I could travel back in time to the day I started writing The Unicycle Diaries, I’d give myself the following advice.
Writing can be difficult so do it for the right reasons
Books aren’t written overnight. You’ll need to work hard, commit time to your writing and be patient. Personal computers and the internet have made it much easier to write, publish and promote a book, but a recent survey found that 50% of writers in the UK don’t earn enough money to make a living from their work. The most important reason for writing is because you love storytelling and want to be part of a community of people who enjoy it as much as you do.
You are the only person who can write your book.
Your voice and style of writing is your biggest strength. It’s why your readers will love your work and want to read your book. When you write, you are in charge, but don’t let that power go to your head; the downside is that it’s also your responsibility to sort things out if it doesn’t work properly.
Understand what you’re writing about and know your audience
You might find it helpful to read a few books with a similar subject matter or style to your book to see how they’ve been put together. What do you like or dislike about them? What would you do differently and why? You also need to think about your readers and what they’re looking for. What do you need to do to make sure they understand and enjoy your story?
Plan what you’re going to write, but don’t be afraid to go off the map
You need to have a good idea of where your book is going and what you need to write to get it there. A plan might help you to work out your storyline before you start and an estimated word count for each chapter could also help. Don’t let this limit your writing, just use it as a rough guide to start you off and keep you on track.
Start wherever you can
Don’t worry if you can’t think of a first line or opening scene; just dive in and write the piece of dialogue or scene that’s in your head. Keep working on the parts that you’re certain about and your book will slowly begin to take shape as you get to know your characters, setting and story line. You might have gaps you need to fill, characters to pad out, and maybe a whole ending to find, but it will all come to you in the end.
Develop a routine and a workflow that’s right for you
Find a writing process that works for you and, more importantly, that fits in with your life. You might start with a pen and paper but as you get closer to finishing you’ll need to move to a computer to produce a final draft as a digital file that’s ready to be published. You might find it helpful to look at how other writers work, their routines and processes, tools and methods. Don’t go overboard, though; what works for others might drive you up the wall.
Learn to think outside the box to solve problems
Writing isn’t all typing and looking words up in a dictionary. Sometimes you just need to give some space and time to a scene or character that doesn’t quite work. Daydreaming (or thinking with no specific focus) is also quite important, but don’t do it if you’re operating heavy machinery or looking after younger siblings, though.
Think about joining a writers group or an online forum.
It can be helpful to talk to other people and get their feedback on your writing. Your local library might have a writers group, or you may be able to find a forum online that specialises in the genre you write. If you do join a group, make sure you give back as much as you take and always give constructive feedback that will help people to improve their work.
Learn how to edit your work
Are you happy with what you’ve written? Does the sentence/section/chapter contain everything you need to tell that part of the story? More importantly, have you made these points clear to the reader? Sometimes you might need to change the odd word or sentence; sometimes you might need to remove or rewrite whole chapters. When it feels right, you’ll know. Reading your work out loud is also a good way to test your dialogue and find mistakes in your prose.
Work on your book until it’s really good
Writing a book is a long process, but you need to keep your standards high. Layout, spelling, grammar, punctuation, fonts, spacing, a great cover – your book needs to be as good as the ones on the shelves in your local library. Originality and quality are the two things that will set your writing apart and keep your readers interested.
Don’t give up!
Writing takes a lot of time and effort, but the rewards are worth it. Building your story, characters and setting up from nothing is a great feeling. Take it slowly and enjoy it.
The first step to becoming a good writer is reading books and learning how other writers have got it right and in some cases wrong. Check out my Tips for Reading.