Paying it forward…

Welcome to my very first blog post of 2012, everyone.  And what better way to start the New Year than by paying it forward? 

Of course, as a writer, the best way for me to do this is to pass on some writerly advice; the three top tips that were given to me when I began my own journey into the world of writing – tips that I still bear in  mind to this day. 

So for all you new writers out there I hope you find these pointers as useful as I did… and for those of you who’ve heard it all before, please feel free to comment with your own pieces of advice and thanks in advance.

So, here goes:

1. Write about what you know

This is a phrase experienced authors often say to those starting out.  After all, for any budding writer, with so much to learn and develop already, choosing a setting that’s familiar certainly makes sense.

I mean, who knows the comings and goings of a Police station more than someone who actually works there?  And having the heads up on the types of characters that inhabit it, a knowledge of the legal jargon and even the banter taking place within, well this doesn’t just give a new writer’s writing an automatic credibility, it allows the author to concentrate more on honing their craft, as opposed to having to do loads of research. 

Of course, with this example it’s easy to assume I’m talking about a murder/mystery or detective story here, but remember love and horror stories etc could just as easily unfold in a setting like this, in much the same way as they could any other.

2. Make every word count

Every word a writer writes has to either develop character, move the story forward in some way or better still, do both at the same time.  Something new writers often struggle to get to grips with.

So again, let me give you an example:

Before Mrs. Housewife set about the cleaning the bathroom, she put the bottle of bleach to her nose and took a moment to enjoy the smell of its contents.

Now obviously Mrs. Housewife is an extremely houseproud woman – a commendable characteristic in anyone’s book (excuse the pun).  But if the author is simply telling us this because the poor woman just likes the smell of bleach and that’s that, then such words shouldn’t really be included.  

However, if it’s later revealed that Mrs. Housewife is, in fact, suffering from OCD, a condition that threatens to destroy both her life and her relationships if she doesn’t eventually seek help, then they most definitely should. Similarly, if we ultimately discover that Mrs. Housewife is, in fact, some serial husband killer who likes to poison her victims with household products, then once again, it’s a good characteristic to include.

3. Read your competition

Obviously best selling books are best sellers for a reason.  And reading our competition can help us fathom out what that reason is. 

Of course, I’m not suggesting new writers do this in order to copy, imitate or plagarise in any way, but the technical skills these authors use may well teach us a thing or two – skills that once identified, we can then incorporate into our own work.

So in this instance, it not just a case of reading per se, it’s more a case of disecting; working out how the author’s characters are developed, when the subtle reveals are coming into the play, looking at the book’s pacing and breaking down the various plot points etc…

And whilst this might feel more like something done in an English Literature class at school, it’s definitely worth the effort considering we become all the better writers for it.


28 responses to “Paying it forward…

  1. I don't consider other authors, especially those I admire, as competition. I consider them colleagues. Just because someone buy my book doesn't mean they won't buy yours and vice versa. I find that competitive attitudes among authors serve only to create hostility, jealousy and a non-supportive environment. Author truly helping other authors by cross-blogging and sharing marketing ideas is truly paying it forward in my book.

  2. Thanks for the great tips, Suzie! It''s the perfect way to give back to tbe group of us in the writing world. I'm working hard to finish my second novel. I will definitely Be following your advice. They may be simple, but something we need to remember. Happy New YearKathleen Gallagher

  3. I think I have to agree with Jean about the competition. I read hundreds of books a year but I also write and I am an editor at three different houses. So I see work in various stages of "dress" and "undress." I think we can all learn but I prefer to read books where a writer has developed his/her own style and voice. I look at other writers as my peers – some further along the road than I, and some not as far. But to compete with them, to dissect their work and figure out what works…well if the end result is you not writing in your own voice because you're using something you learned from this dissection, who's work are you really writing?

  4. I absolutely and whole heartedly agree with you, Jean and I in know way mean to use the word 'competition' in any negative sense – this is simply how the advice was phrased when given to me. I'm talking purely about studying the 'masters' so to speak and how they use their skills to craft outstanding books. And, of course, we're all colleagues x

  5. You paid a nice thing forward. Hope you keep going for it! I've always known writers are the kindest and most supportive toward their peers and newbies. It's a wonderful culture to thrive in.

  6. Thanks for dropping by K.M.Springsteen. I also agree with Jean but I think there's a difference between a writer's 'technique' which we can learn from by studying their works and a writer's 'voice' which should never be imitated x

  7. I can't truly remember if I heard this from someone or read about it, but your tip about writing about what you know can be expanded to the readers. I have known a lot of avid readers (upwards of 100 or more books read per year) that have gone on to publish some really great books. Also I would lke to add a point of salesmanship. Please support your local regional authors. A lot of these people aren't in in the book trade to really hit the national markets. They write boooks with local readers of their cities and/or regional areas in mind when selling their books. a lot of them only show up local bookstores and local festivals.

  8. That's a good point, rdhowell71. For a new writer to pen in a genre that that they absolutely love to read, is a great place to start. And as far as your salemanship request is concerned, I'm with you on that, too.Thanks for dropping by x

  9. Read more literary novels too, absorb the quality of their prose and tightness of their writing, it pushes us out of our comfort zone, challenges us into improving our own work. Leah

  10. Read the tips and thank you. Have heard the first one before many times. Also I think a good one which I learned years ago the hard way, is to get your years and time differences etc straight. I have read a few books even lately, where the ages don't match up with the years stated in the story. xxxx

  11. You're welcome, Jo. I wonder if this is because as authors we have so much to think about, in looking at the piece as a whole, we sometimes miss the errors in the details?I suppose that's when good editing comes to the fore x

  12. Good advice, thanks. I'd just add to also read books from the publisher you are submitting your work to and note what they are looking for/publishing.

  13. Great blog post, Suzie! New Year–New Beginnings!! I'll drop a bit here about dialogue. It should: Advance plot; Illuminate character; Provide info; Reinforce theme; Set mood; And finally, tantilize the reader. If it fails any of these…delete & start over!!! WoooHooo….what fun. Always Romance–Nothing Less…☺Cindy

  14. What is a beginning writer? Just to add another perspective, I am 70 years old and started my second childhood as a writer at 68. But I had done a lot of writing of various sorts over a life time, and I did have a BA and MFA so was not without experience writing.I have found that listening to my inner voice has helped me the most. One can be inspired by other writers but must find one's own voice. I was surprised when I started writing that I had a humorous voice I never knew I had. Go figure.To sum up we each have to find our own way and your advice is good to consider for a writer of any stage.

  15. Hello, all. I will be published in October 2012, and one of the things I have learned on my journey is to not lose your love for writing. When I find myself getting stressed out about deadlines, marketing, etc., I remind myself why I'm doing this which helps me stay centered on my goals.

  16. Hi, SantafeauthorI, too, have a humorous voice – something that made me a bit nervous at first. I wondered if people would understand where I was coming from and whether or not I should tone it down… Like you, I decided to trust it and thankfully my concerns have, thus far, proved unfounded.Thanks for taking the time to drop by x

  17. Hi, HarmonyWhen we start out as writers, it's easy to imagine ourselves simply sat at the keyboard creating our masterpieces; often not realising the other pressures involved – I know I certainly didn't… and as you say, it's that love of what we do that keeps us going when the pressure's on x

  18. Hello all you Scribblers! Oh, I could just wander on here forever….But, I would like to comment on the advice not to include anything that does not move the story forward. I think I understand the intent of that advice. However, one of my favorite 'reads' was the Travis McGee series. I have read a number of other stories by McDonald, but, to me, none had the "grab" of McGee. And, these books were FULL of 'asides' by McGee. But, while not "moving the story forward", these passages indirectly and subtley put you "inside McGee's head", and I think are a major reason for this series' success.I. Brown

  19. Hi there, I. Brown. Thanks for dropping by and leaving a comment.I agree there are some great books out there on the shelves that don't follow these tips to the letter. But if a new writer learns to move their story forward with every word they write, they learn the tightness of prose and dialogue mentioned previously by Leah. Also, in my experience I think it's important to know the 'rules' so to speak, before they can be broken effectively in a way that enhances a book, rather than destroys it x

  20. Sound words of advice! Another one for me — that I don't always heed — is simply to WRITE. Make the time for it, even when scrubbing toilets sounds more desirable. (Yes, I have those days). You'll never finish if you don't start…and continue… 🙂

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