On writing

I am doing a little event for a local community festival. It is about writing a book, getting started, what you might need. I thought I would summarise it for you here – in case it encourages you.

Here we go.

  1. Morale. I CANNOT DO IT. IT IS FOR OTHER PEOPLE. Yep; that was me too. Who told you who gets to write and who doesn’t? If it was someone else, squish that right down; do the same if it is the voice in your head saying this because I bet you wouldn’t say that to anyone else. Why are you saying it to yourself? Go forth if writing brings you pleasure whether you have hard ambitions bound up with it or not.
  2. Getting started. What do you need? Hmmm. A flat surface. Pens. Some paper. Some form of computer and internet access. A bullish attitude. Joy. Start writing and do not wait for ideal conditions or for inspiration to strike.
  3. Tools and teachers. A dictionary and thesaurus are grand (obviously you have all that online). There’s your imagination. Trust it. Do you need to have a degree in creative writing, to have done an MA or MFA in Creative Writing? No. If you want to write a good book, you can do it without those things. However, I won’t sniff at them either because doing a course can be a game-changer: community, a new life, guidance. It isn’t just the learning, it is the time and support. Choose wisely. Your greatest teacher is reading: read widely, generously, experiment and go outside your comfort zone. Indie and big press, old and new stuff, genres you think you will not like, don’t sniff at commercial fiction if you think you’re heavy on the literary end; poetry, non-fiction, books in translation and short stories. My favourite book on writing is Francine Prose’s Reading Like a Writer. https://blackwells.co.uk/bookshop/product/9781908526076?gC=5a105e8b&gclid=Cj0KCQjwtZH7BRDzARIsAGjbK2anhXBKLcr4m52GBlnPvbByWG2JyJiwa5GUY9CYcJNE8Uu3_Ux_IMUaApb7EALw_wcB Brilliant. If you can afford it, there are a number of literary consultancies and freelance editors who can help and also any number of day and residential courses BUT there is also a great deal of free material placed online. You need spend no money at all.
  4. Say you want to publish, who is it with? Self-published? There are a number of routes so research them. A small press? Research carefully with Mslexia’s Indie Press Guide https://mslexia.co.uk/products/indie-press-guide/indie-press-guide-3/ as a starting point, but look on twitter, read other books by presses and really aim to understand what they publish. A bigger publisher? Although there are some exceptions, you will need a literary agent to approach a big publisher and there is no shame in aiming big. Your writing may be a hobby and that is wonderful because why not? Still, writing is also commerce if you are going to aim to sell it and never ever let anyone make you feel bad about that. I’m just getting down from my soapbox. The literary agent. Research carefully. Your greatest cheerleader, confidante, passionate reader and your business manager. That’s who your agent is. For details on all of this and tips on submission and pitches, The Writer’s and Artist’s Yearbook is great and also their website. Here: https://www.writersandartists.co.uk/ Think, also, about who the book is for in terms of audience and try to learn about that. Adults, young adults, early years children?
  5. Editing and proofing. Roll in help if you can. But take your time if it is just you, read your whole work ALOUD ALWAYS AND WITHOUT EXCEPTION because you will spot all kinds of things – errors, glitches, boring bits, problems with pacing. Know that when you have written a first draft, it is there that the hardest work begins. When you are published, I’d say that you might consider your book maybe two thirds done when it goes to the editor appointed to work with you. The editing task is a big one. Be stern and be ready for this.
  6. Submission of a book. To whoever. The odds are against you. You can increase them by doing your submission really, really carefully, but they are still stacked against you. There are helpful notes on this in Writers and Artists, as I mentioned, but also study really carefully the submissions pages of anyone you want to submit to; take advice and follow requirements to the letter. Also, NOW IGNORE THE ODDS.
  7. Network; chat; meet people. Twitter is probably key to this and – curate it carefully – full of information, ideas and advice. I do believe this is a big part of the work: being observant and understanding the industry. Instagram is also full of a lot of engaging content for writers, too.
  8. Be prepared for setbacks at all stages. Rejection is hardwired into the process. Try not to compare with others’ success or perceived success, debuts, overnight amazing and all that. Overnight amazing often means years of manuscripts torn up and a lot of crying that you didn’t see. If you end up with a publisher and/or an agent, even then your experience will not be the same as another person’s. This is why you MUST back yourself and believe in your work – because this will see you through. Remember this, now: nothing will happen unless you BACK YOURSELF.
  9. Make like a favourite bear. You are entirely within your rights to make like Paddington and give a stern look to anyone who says you’re too old, too young, bit poorly, bit tired, or don’t have enough time (for example). You be the judge of that and we can, I believe, always do more than we think we can.
  10. Find your tribe. How may I help? You know; with any of this? Because you need a tribe, online or in person! Other writers and readers to encourage and support as you would do for them.
  11. Lots of love, Anna x

One thought on “On writing

  1. I never used to read my writing aloud. One day in an anemic-perimenopausal-insomniac-paranoid- waiting for cancer results fatigue I thought that if I died on the operating table then no-one would have a recording of my voice, so I decided to read some of my short stories into my phone and send the recordings to my parents. I also sent them one of my stories in progress, where you can hear me correcting myself and then the keyboard tapping, sniffs, coughts, slurps of tea and all.


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