Ten Quick Tips for Writers

typewriter-3Here are ten quick tips for writers (not necessarily in order of usefulness and not necessarily complete). Feel free to ignore what doesn’t work for you. Remember: ‘Follow no rule off a cliff.’ – C.J. Cherryh. Besides these are not rules – they’re more like guidelines.

  1. Finish what you write. If you can finish a novel you’ll be ahead of more than 90% of wannabe novelists.
  2. Don’t mix up editing and revision. When you’ve finished your first draft, put it away for a few weeks (or a few months if you have the luxury of time and you’re not chasing a deadline – though write something else in the interim). When you come back to it, the distance will give you perspective. Your first revision shouldn’t be merely tickling words to find a better way of saying something, but it should be structural: fixing plot holes, deepening characters, backtracking to foreshadow something you only decided to add at a later stage, adding a sub-plot, subtracting a sub-plot, changing the plot, changing viewpoint from first to third or vice versa. You can strengthen your verbs and remove your adverbs on the next pass.
  3. Cut out the parts that don’t move the story forward. Cut out the bits that bore you (because it’s quite likely that they’ll bore your readers, too). Boring scene? Consider, instead of a whole chapter full of road travel, writing something like: The journey from Watchtower to Lingfield took twelve gruelling days during which they progressed from arguing about politics to riding in sullen silence.
  4. When you get to the edit stage, don’t luxuriate in your own verbosity. (See what I did there?) Tell the story simply and cleanly in as few words as you need to make a good job of it. In particular, avoid raiding the thesaurus for alternatives to ‘said’. Said is a perfectly functional word and often invisible to the reader, whereas your audience may be yanked out of the story by: “Damn silly,” he expostulated. Avoid adverbs if you can find a strong verb that nails the phrase you’re working on. Use: he dawdled; he ambled; he shuffled; he inched; he plodded; or he crept, instead of he walked slowly.
  5. WordleEvery writer has little words that creep in unnecessarily, add nothing to the text and act like a verbal tic. One of mine is ‘just’, as in: He just wanted a little peace and quiet. Cut them out. I have a list of words I check which include: just, back, up, down, that. Sometimes you can spot your verbal tics by making a ‘Wordle’ word pattern. Go to the website at http://www.wordle.net/create and paste in a section of your writing. Your most frequently used words will be the big ones on the graphic. Expect your characters’ names to be big, but if ‘just’ or ‘quite’ or ‘back’ is one of your big words, you need to check your manuscript. This is one of my old Wordles for ‘Empire of Dust.’ See how (middle left-ish) the word ‘back’ is way too big, and ‘just’ is pretty obvious, too, as is ‘get’. I fixed that and a few others after seeing the wordle.
  6. Words have rhythm and shape. When you’ve finished a piece to the best of your ability, read it aloud to yourself. Your mouth will catch the bloopers that your eye missed.
  7. Find a professional standard writers’ group, or a few good beta readers who will give you honest critique. Experienced readers are good. Experienced writer/readers are probably even better. Don’t recruit Auntie Nellie or your mum as a beta reader (unless they are published authors or reviewers for The Guardian). They will be honour bound to tell you it’s wonderful. It’s in their job description.
  8. Write, revise, edit, polish, and then do it again if you need to. Rinse and repeat. Be obsessive. Fourteenth draft? No problem as long as (a) you don’t have a publisher’s deadline and (b) each draft is better than the last. When you’re changing things for the sake of it, but not making it better, put your pen down.
  9. If you get an editor or agent interested in your magnum opus and they suggest an addition, subtraction or alteration, remember that they have a lot of experience in the publishing industry and you would be advised to take their advice seriously, but… Always remember that it’s your work and once it’s out there it will be your name on the book cover, not your agent’s, your editor’s or Auntie Nellie’s. Write what you’re passionate about. Write what excites you. Write something you can be proud of.
  10. When can you say it’s finished? Some writers say a novel is never really finished – it’s simply abandoned and sent out into the world.

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About Jacey Bedford

Jacey Bedford maintains this blog. She is a writer of science fiction and fantasy (www.jaceybedford.co.uk), the secretary of Milford SF Writers (www.milfordSF.co.uk), a singer (www.artisan-harmony.com) and a music agent booking UK tours and concerts for folk performers (www.jacey-bedford.com). She's also a Home Office / Border Agency licensed sponsor processing UK work permits (Certificate of Sponsorship).
This entry was posted in fantasy, science fiction, writing and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Ten Quick Tips for Writers

  1. Reblogged this on Loving Life in the Rain and commented:
    Great advice from a great author…

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