Leaves falling, shortening days, a nip in the air... it must be the autumn term again. When I'm not writing or editing, I'm teaching creative writing: on-line, in groups, with individuals, and whilst every group, every story is different there are always several questions about how to - or how not to - write. If only there was a clear answer!
Here, I've summarised my 'Top Tips'; nothing new or startling but a good guide to starting, carrying on, and finishing a writing project.
We all spend a lot of time thinking about writing, reading about, talking about it. That's good, but we need actually to write, to get some words down on a page. Do you hear yourself saying, 'I'll write when I've time'? Left to itself that might never happen, so make time, sit down, and write. Write something. Anything.
DON'T WAIT FOR INSPIRATION
Waiting for the muse, or inspiration, or whatever you call it, is like waiting for Christmas: a huge build up that takes ages, and then it's all over in a couple of days and you're left in a new cycle of waiting. Write whether you feel like it or not. Write a shooping list, write down the conversation you overheard on the bus, write a daft story for your toddler/partner/friend. You'll often get inspired simply by starting to write.
Editing is key to good writing. Most finished pieces have been through several edits - and yes, it might well take a lot longer than you originally thought. But good editing refines a good idea, shapes a story, weeds out the errors and leaves your work the best it can be. Start by self-editing, then get some outside help - you can never see your own work objectively.
DON'T EDIT UNTIL YOU HAVE A FULL DRAFT
If you write a paragraph and then stop to edit the paragraph, rinse and repeat... you'll end up with a few well-crafted paragraphs but rarely a finished story. So, write, write, write and build a foundation, then come back and edit, edit, edit and build on that foundation.
DO ENJOY WRITING
Writing, if you seek publication, is littered with rejection and of those who do make it, very, very few write a bestseller or make money from it. To write successfully, you need to enjoy the process of writing, of putting words on paper, of making a story. If you lose interest, then it's not likely a reader will keep reading either.
DON'T COMPARE YOURSELF TO OTHERS
The great thing about your writing is that it's unique to you - there may well be others 'better' than you or 'worse' than you. Who's to say? Writing/reading is such a subjective thing. But if you compare yourself to others, you'll rarely feel good enough, and if you try to write like the latest household name or genre, then you'll probably find that by the time you've finished that fad has passed. Write for yourself first.
DO KEEP A NOTEBOOK
Jot down any thoughts, ideas, overheard conversations etc etc etc. You won't remember little gems if you don't get them at the time!
DON'T KEEP STARTING AND NEVER FINISHING
You've got lots of notes, lots of ideas? Do something with them. Set yourself a target of writing a poem, a letter, a very short story, your first novel chapter... Feel the fear - and and finish it anyway!
DO FIND SUPPORT
Writing can is isolating so find like-minded people who 'get it'. Join an online forum, go to a writing class, whatever suits your situation. This will alsohelp you if you're 'stuck' and give you deadlines - you're more likely to get on with it if you know people are waiting to read or hear about your work.
DON'T GIVE UP
Writing (certainly publication of your writing) is probably 20% talent and 80% persistence. Slog at it. Some nights you don't feel like cooking dinner, right? But you do it and it tastes okay and you feel better for having done it. And sometimes it tastes great... Think of writing in the same way.
AND FINALLY... READ. READ. READ.