For our January event, How To Get Published, we want to give writers insight into the whole process of getting published, from your writing to agents, editing and going to print. So, to help a little at the very start of your journey, Claire Askew gives us five tips for writers!
1. Read, read, read… and then read some more.
Reading other people’s work helps you learn about every aspect of writing: what ideas work, how to plot, how to craft a good sentence, how to develop engaging characters… the lot. Writers who say they don’t read because they don’t want to be influenced are missing a major trick. Being influenced is the whole point!
2. Little and often is absolutely fine.
There are loads of tales out there of writers who get up at 4am, go into a Zen-like state and write for five full hours before going to work. Or tales of writers who won’t let themselves stop for the day until they’ve done 3,000 words. Firstly – way to take all the fun out of writing! Secondly – this isn’t realistic for the vast majority of people. If you only wrote 100 words today, that’s fine! If you only write another 100 tomorrow, that’s also fine! Little and often is how the vast majority of novels get written, I promise.
3. Workshop… but know that not all workshops are equal.
Almost everyone says to new writers “get into a workshop and get feedback on your work!” I’d agree – but make sure it’s the right workshop for you. I’ve sat in workshops where participants were allowed to rip ugly holes in one another’s work, destroying the confidence of newbies. Worse, I’ve sat in workshops where every comment was a variation on “I loved it, it’s perfect,” rendering the whole exercise useless! I’ve learned that a workshop is only as good as its leader. A good workshop leader will make sure that there are ground rules – formulated and agreed upon by the group – and that these rules are adhered to!
4. Write what you can fight for.
Writing a novel is a very long journey, and along the way you will probably need to fight for the thing you’re writing. You’ll need to convince agents, publishers, editors and – eventually – readers that this thing you’ve made really is worth their time. For that reason, you need to be able to believe in what you’re writing. Write about the things that really speak to you: the things you’ll never get bored of. Write the book that you’ve been scouring bookshops for, but have never found.
5. By the time we see a trend happening, it’s over.
Above all, don’t try to write what’s trendy! The things that are in the book charts now were written two or three years ago. By the time you write your trendy BDSM or vampire novel, we’ll all have moved onto something else. That’s why #4 is so important. First and foremost, you have to write for you.
Claire Askew is a poet, novelist and creative writing teacher. Her poetry collection This changes things has just been published by Bloodaxe Books. She is currently working on a literary crime novel, Three Rivers, an early draft of which was longlisted for the 2014 Peggy Chapman Andrews (Bridport) Novel Award. Claire delivers the all-female fiction writing course Write Like A Grrrl! in Edinburgh, and is the Creative Writing Fellow for Tyne and Esk Writers. In March, she’ll take up the post of Edinburgh’s Reading Champion, based at the Craigmillar Network Centre Library.