18 Things Every Young Writer Should Know
"Keep writing, keep trying. You’ll get there."
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This weekend, writers from around the world will appear at London's Young Adult Literary Conference to talk about all things YA. Here's some of the best advice attending authors have for aspiring writers.
01. Don’t try to write a great novel. Don’t try to write a good novel. Don’t try to write a decent novel. Don’t try to be witty, beautiful, deep, thrilling. Just write a page. Today. A stupid page. You can fix it later. It is better to write a stupid page than nothing.
02. The thing I most want to stress is that different writers’ brains need different things. A lot of people will tell you: write a fast draft, then make it better. This is the way to write a book. Well, it’s a way. It might work for you, but if it doesn’t, don’t force it. My brain requires me to edit as I go and fix problems as they arise. I need to be able to connect with the story and love it on a sentence level every step of the way. It might sound crazy, but hey, some of us are crazy! “Process” is about managing our particular crazy as best we can, so you need to understand what your brain needs in order to do this thing, and then cater to it.
03. Finish the first draft! Don't look back to revise, edit or tinker. Don't think about how bad it sounds or the massive plot holes – you'll work them out later. Power through to the magic words, 'The End'. Then begin again.
04. I am here to tell you that you do not need magical conditions to birth your bookbaby. Searching for the perfect place to write, designing a special writing cape, and/or waiting for a new moon are procrastination not preparation. Stop faffing, stop fetishising, start writing.
05. Make a habit of writing. The biggest thing that ever happened to me as a writer – bigger than the book deal or awards – was working out how to produce words regularly, finish what I started, and do it again. Everything followed from there.
06. Put your characters in strange places and free write. Even better, get someone else to give you prompts. In my new work-in-progress, a 13-year-old boy is dancing to Simon and Garfunkel's "The Boxer" in a flat above a kebab shop dressed in Gryffindor robes.
07. Write with someone. And if you’re not the type to write collaboratively, find someone to swap work with and share honest and constructive feedback. Having a person who guilt trips you into getting up off the coach on a Sunday and writing something can end in a finished manuscript…we’re living proof.
08. Be sure and selective of your novel ideas, and then always finish what you start. If you abandon too many novels, you'll become well-practised in writing beginnings, ok at middles and terrible at endings. Moreover, a completed book is infinitely more valuable than an unfinished one.
09. If you want to write, you need to be curious. You have to eavesdrop and be nosy, explore new roads, and open closed doors. You have to be a magpie, and build your stories from the treasures you find and steal.
And you have to actually finish writing your goddamn book.
10. When editing a piece of work, change the font. It makes you look at what you've written in a new and different way.
11. Be your own worst critic. Don't be lazy. Write and rewrite until it's the very best it can be. If you're honest with yourself , you'll know when the work is ready.
12. Write all the time, when you can. The imagination is like a muscle & needs training! Even if just for five minutes a day.
Write like yourself – beautifully – all the time as much as you can. Don't even dare write a text message, an email or put pen to paper without sounding like yourself. You might have heard the phrase "writing voice" being thrown about and that's the best way to access it – by sounding and speaking like you all the time. It doesn't have to be perfect, it just has to sound like you.
Don't try and sound how a "writer' sounds. Write how you talk.
Don't sit on your work for too long like a greedy hen atop a stack of Steph golden eggs or else the work will rot, change and lose its spark. Get feedback as soon as you can – and NOT from somebody that loves you inside out who is not going to give you an honest opinion. I have a few writer friends that I reach out to for feedback and return the favour to also. That way it takes the pressure off and you know you're getting genuine feedback.
Go with you gut –not all feedback is gospel. If somebody gives you negative feedback or suggests changes that don't suit you you don't have to listen to them – it's your story.
Keep everything. Even if you think a piece of writing is not useful to you, you're not proud of it or believe you can do better; still keep hold of it. Leave it for a month, a year even and come back to it, without being too judgmental. You'll be surprised how much you like about it and there will be tons of stuff to recycle into new work.
Reward yourself! When you've achieved a word count or got up early to finish a chapter, treat yourself and mark that moment but don't set yourself overly ambition ridiculous challenges because then you'll fall into the pit of "I am rubbish who will ever want to read my work?!" And WE HATE that voice!
You can only call yourself a writer if you write so get to it! The time is now!
13. A writer needs to love their hero, but they also need to do abhorrent things to them.
Only by wringing every last drop of emotion from their lives, will a reader truly fall in love with them and join them on their journey.
14. Have fun with it. There is no point in making up stories that don't excite and engage you. When you start a book, you have no idea if it's going to end up on shelves or in the hands of readers. It's a journey you begin alone, and it can take years, so make sure your story is a good companion on the road. That's not to say it has to be all explosions and jewel thieves and sexy were-unicorns with small goatees and bad attitudes (though I kind of want to read/ write that now), but it has to be fulfilling, and worthwhile, not for what it can bring you, but by itself.
Read everything you want to read, and more. I would not trust an apple farmer who did not eat apples. Because how would he know his apples were any good? HOW? Make sure you try all of the beautiful paper apples, so you learn from their sweetness and tang.
Make writer friends. It can be such a solitary thing to do, especially with your first book where you're ploughing away all full of hope. You need people who understand how important the things that grow inside your head can be, and who will boost you when you need boosting and critique your work when your sexy unicorn's career as a jewel thief is not a realistic plot point because hooves.
15. I have zero writing advice as I'm still trying to work it all out myself, but I know a man who does! Please read the poem "So You Want To Be A Writer" by Charles Bukowski. He's answered for me, he might just do you the same turn.
"Abandon effort and treat writing like fly-fishing instead of weight lifting."
"Be a wicked child and write a badly behaved novel."
Both remind me that writing should, above all, be a joyful experience.
17. Finish something. Anything. A poem, a short story, a 500k fic, it doesn’t matter. You only need to do it once to know you can do it again. Knowing you can finish is the only way to stave off the ghosts of half-finished ideas that haunt would-be writers the world over.
18. Becoming a published author is a magical blend of tenacity, talent, timing, and luck. My biggest piece of advice is to learn to not take rejection personally and to not give up. Easier said than done, but just keep going. Keep writing, keep trying. You’ll get there.