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writing tips

let yourself be crap

We all want our writing to be good... perfect even (good luck with that). But, the truth is that to be a good writer, you first have to let yourself be bad. All first drafts are crap... or at least have big blobs of crap in amongst the gold (or vice versa). Allowing yourself to write the crap draft is hard if you are a perfectionist like me. But, if you agonise over every word and sentence at the start and edit and re-edit, you'll never finish. And that's what you want... you want to get the story out as quickly as possible and then you can shape it and fine tune it and whittle it until it's a masterpiece. Think of it like this (as good writer friends of mine and I often say to each other), you have to shovel the sand into the sandbox before you can build castles.

make sure you write regularly - inspiration will come

How do we as writers come up with a steady stream of ideas? We're all scared of sitting down, staring at the page, and drawing a blank, right?

Keep a writing schedule and be as disciplined as you can about keeping your writing appointments with yourself. This will help ensure a steady stream of story ideas. As writer, Mario Vargas Llosa, says, "If I started to wait for moments of inspiration, I would never finish a book. Inspiration for me comes from a regular effort.

listen to critics

This one's from the inimitable Stephen King. Love his work or not, he's one of the world's most successful authors and, while I don't necessarily agree with all of his writing advice (his book On Writing - A Memoir of the Craft is an absolute gem), he has so many valuable words of wisdom. 

While I think you should cherry pick who you listen to (i.e. don't worry too much about bad reviews, enjoying a book is subjective), don’t shut out the critics completely. Critics—especially other writers, experienced readers, people who's judgment you trust) often have pretty useful advice that can better your writing and guide your next pitch or paragraph, even if hearing it is difficult. When asked about the worst writing advice he’s ever received, King brought up being told not to listen to them. 

“The worst advice? 'Don’t listen to the critics.' I think that you really ought to listen to the critics, because sometimes they’re telling you something is broken that you can fix. I think the advice “Don’t listen to the critics” is a sort of defensive thing that says if you stick your head in the sand, you won’t have to hear any bad news and you won’t have to see any bad news and you won’t have to change what you’re doing. But if you listen, sometimes you can get rid of a bad habit.” ~ Writers Digest, 1991

Feedback is important, although sometimes hard to take. We often get so close to our writing that seeing it through others' eyes is difficult. Listen to your readers, be open, but at the end of the day it is your story and you need to trust your gut.

forget about the books you want to write—think only of the book you're writing

From Henry Miller, this one is especially resonant for me. I'm the master of having a million ideas and concepts and books, films and TV shows taking shape in my head. I can be a little like a magpie, distracted by the next shiny, new idea—especially when I'm finding the current one I'm writing difficult. The problem is that you end up with a long list of partially completed novels as you continually move on to the next and the next without pushing through and finishing any.

A good writer friend of mine told me her trick is to immediately assign the new idea to 'that's a next year project'. Giving yourself permission to hold off, knowing that you will make time for it later, means you can stay focused on the project at hand. It's easy to get excited about a new idea but if you let that idea take hold and distract you, you won't have the satisfaction of seeing a story through. And if your aim is getting your work out to readers, you're shooting yourself in the foot. Your wonderful stories deserve eyes on them—they are no good unfinished and sitting on your hard drive.

Writing tip 4
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