A series of notes from Club Members:
Angus Gresham wrote for many years before becoming a club member. Since then he’s passed through many stages of learning, including having to reframe what he thought was ‘only commonsense’.
Writing is something everybody does, but all wannabe authors need to learn how writers do it differently, often alone and sometimes in the middle of creative chaos.
During my five years membership of BWC I attended various workshops, lectures, seminars and tutorials – all directed at improving one’s writing skills. I would hang on every word from the presenters and furiously scribble down copious notes – every word uttered seemed so important at the time; I couldn’t risk missing out on any of the gems of wisdom raining down. My notes were taken home, carefully filed and then largely forgotten. As a result a huge, unwieldy and somewhat illegible pile of papers accumulated.
Finally I decided to do something about it. I pored over the years of note-taking in an attempt to determine what was worth rescuing. Some valuable writing tips were discovered among the mountains of more or less irrelevant scrawlings. Quite a few tips (the better ones) had been repeated over and over by various presenters. Some advice completely contradicted other advice.
The following is a sample of what I found useful. There has been no attempt to list in order of importance. For some people all the information provided may be of equal importance; others will find only some of the tips helpful.
- Don’t write unless you like doing it for its own sake. It would be great to be published and make lots of money, but if money is the primary focus, you won’t find writing enjoyable.
- Read a lot, particularly in your chosen genre. When you read a good book, analyse what you like about it, and determine how you can use its positive elements in your own book.
- Make notes, and plan months ahead of when you actually start the book.
- You can use a working title which can be changed by you or your publisher at a later date.
- One should only write for oneself, or for strangers; never for a set audience or family.
- You’ve got to be happy with what you write. Do numerous drafts if necessary. Edit as much as you like.
- First paragraph is crucial. You must hook readers from the very beginning. The real meaning of the first paragraph can be explained over the rest of the book. Conflict should start on page one.
- End each chapter with a little bit of mystery, or even some excitement. This will ensure the reader keeps on reading to see what happens next.
- Do emotions first, and structure last. You must feel compassion with, and become a part of, the characters. The reader should be able to identify with the characters and become emotionally engaged. Readers have to care about the characters – but they don’t necessarily have to like them.
- Be aware of pace. Keep the pace moving. Delete all (or most) adverbs in your draft. This allows the story to flow much faster thus maintaining reader interest.
- It’s OK to have short paragraphs; they give the reader breathing space. It’s OK to have short chapters; they give the reader a break.
- Use internet research. It is much quicker than traditional library research. It may not be 100% accurate, but most of your readers are not experts on the subject you are writing about. The overriding importance is to tell a good, but believable, story. Wikipedia has a great overview on any topic.
- Use your professional knowledge and life experience in your writing. Write about what you know. This saves having to do a lot of research.
- Put your story away for a couple of months and then read it as if it’s someone else’s work. Does the story grab your attention and hold it through-out?
- Read your story aloud. This will reveal any longwinded or awkward sentences.
Finally, you have to work out the system that works best for you.