6 Pieces of Advice to Aspiring Writers

#wpad blog challenge, day 22.

Me giving to advice to aspiring writers? Feels a bit like asking a five-year old to tell a toddler about the birds and the bees. Only that the result of that would be much more entertaining. But for what it’s worth, here is the advice I would give myself:

1. Read and Watch the Good, the Bad and the Ugly

READ – the good, the bad and the ugly. Try to analyse while you read (actually that requires a bit of 2 below: you have to know what to pay attention to), find the underlying structure, note bits of brilliance, try to understand why the dialogue sucks or a chapter makes you want to read the page diagonally.

Having said that, this should not spoil the fun of reading. You want to be inspired by someone’s writing, not take it apart and over-intellectualize. I don’t quite follow my own advice as I am usually drawn in by a “good” book and don’t pay much attention why, but I definitely try to learn from what I consider “bad” writing.

Basically the same applies to films and TV, if you want to write for the screen, but here the analysing part is easier. Replaying after you have enjoyed it (or not) is easier, and it usually takes a lot less time than re-reading a book!

2. Study, Research & Follow

It should go without saying that you need to know the rules and conventions of your format and genre, especially when writing for film but I guess also when your aspiration is to be a novelist. “But I have a brilliant idea and Tarantino can’t spell properly either!” Yes, but he is Tarantino and you are not. Enough has been said about this elsewhere.

Apart from knowing the rules, you have  to know the industry. Finding out who the knowledgeable people are and following them on twitter or reading their blogs is easy. (However, see point 3 about following too much.) That way you will also hear about events or competitions that may be of interest and stay up to date with trends.

3. Writing & Time Management

Write, write and then write some more.

Shouldn’t this be obvious? Yes and no. Of course, a writer needs to write. But it’s easy to spend too much on points 1 and 2 above – after all, you do need to know what’s going on and there are so many interesting links to follow and wise writery words to study and digest, and perhaps you have your own blog (which is in itself A Good Thing)… and before you have even started to write that next chapter, the day is over and the family is demanding dinner. So you must have good time management.

Set yourself a limit for social media and studies, teach your kids to cook and make sure you dedicate time for your writing. Take yourself somewhere where neither the internet nor your family can reach you if necessary.

I fail in this category way too often. But I’ll always try again the next day.

4. Share what you have written.

This may be scary. It is for me.

I share my writing with friends, and I know some will also be critical, but in a kind way and possibly not critical enough. Actually, I usually share my writing only with my non-writer friends because I know my writer friends are way too busy with their own writing and I don’t want to bother them…

I see many blogs of writers posting their stories. And they have hundreds or sometimes even  thousands of enthusiastic followers who praise their writing. I think that is great and I don’t want to sound arrogant. But I believe that in many if not most cases, this is not the kind of feedback that makes you grow as a writer.

For learning and improving, you should share your writing within a writers group and be prepared to accept honest (but please polite) criticism.

5. Be open to criticism – but be confident.

From sharing your writing comes feedback, and that should definitely include points for improvement. My first rule of dealing with this kind of critique: be open to it. Second rule: don’t take it personal. Number three: the others are not always right.

Being open to criticism is vital. If you are not, if you think you need no advice, then you probably haven’t read this far anyway.

Not taking it personally is something I find hugely difficult. If someone says my writing sucks – or if they are polite but you can tell they were bored stiff reading it – does that not mean that I suck, that I am boring? Because my writing is me? No, it doesn’t. I know that but I usually don’t feel it. But I can only improve my writing if I take criticism to apply to exactly that, my writing, not my person.

And finally, don’t be a push-over. There is justified criticism, and there are personal likes and opinions. There are trends, and there are trend-breakers. (Perhaps you are the next Tarantino after all.) Scripts that have been tossed by ten readers may turn into a blockbuster after a glowing coverage by reader no. 11. Just don’t give up.

6. Rewriting

This advice is short but not sweet: don’t fall in love with your own words. Be prepared to kill your own babies. Be willing and able to rewrite. Several times.  It was the hardest lesson for me to learn but also the most important one.

And above all: KEEP WRITING.


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