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Top Ten Writing Tips by Milly Johnson
2016/02/16  |  By:   |  Features  |  

Creative-Writing-Logo-FileHuge thanks to Milly Johnson for letting us share the Top Ten Writing Tips she jotted down for our guests at our Creative Writing Masterclass, which took place here at Team BATC HQ in November 2014.

  1. Don’t procrastinate.  Dive into that book and make a start on it.  Feel the fear and do it. The first 2000 words of a book are easy, the next 98,000 are harder but every word you write is one nearer to that 100,000 target.
  2. It doesn’t matter what routine you have writing a book; just make sure you have one. Find a system that works for you.  There is no right or wrong way.
  3. Every chapter should progress a plot.  There should be no ‘treading water’ just to make up the word count.
  4. Never start your book with a description – your reader will be comatose before line 10.
  5. Regional dialect can be really annoying.  If you need to use it, sprinkle odd words through the dialogue as if you are seasoning a soup with sage.  You don’t need much of it to know it’s there.
  6. Beware of sloppy research.  If you don’t know something find it out and don’t guess it – you will alienate readers.
  7. If you don’t respect your writing time, no one else will.  If you are working, your friends and family should treat you as if you are in an external office. Get them used to thinking like that.
  8. Make sure that when you are writing dialogue, your characters listen to each other and react to what is being said as they would in real life.
  9. Always carry a notepad to record interesting words or plots or thoughts or observations.  Memories are unreliable and distort.
  10. Writer’s block?  Don’t do a crossword or listen to your iPad or anything that engages your brain.  Do some ironing, go for a walk – something that frees up your brain and lets it roam, not occupies it.
  11. Read.  Always have time to read.  Read for pleasure and sometimes read analytically.  You’ll pick up so much vocabulary and style without even noticing.
  12. Beware that sometimes characters develop a mind of their own and however much you try to write them doing something, they rebel and say ‘I wouldn’t do this.’  It sounds bonkers but it happens.  Listen to the monsters you have created.
  13. Sometimes big chunks of your work has to be cut out because it doesn’t fit anymore. Better that than have to force it to fit because it won’t read right.  Nothing is ever wasted when you’re a writer – it will come in elsewhere.  The phrase is called ‘Killing your darlings.’
  14. Write what you want to write and not what you think will sell.  Chances are if a new craze comes along, by the time your book is done, the hype will have died down about it.  And don’t pander to foreign markets either by doing things like forcing a transatlantic romance when your heart isn’t really in it.  If you’re bored writing, it reads that way. If your home market sales are strong, that is the best way for the foreign markets to show interest. They like success stories.
  15. If you are writing to an agent – keep your introductory letter relevant.  If you won a regional prize for writing – that’s relevant.  Telling an agent that you are a middle-aged housewife who loves doing jigsaws is not.  Don’t even bother saying that you want a book deal more than you want to breathe – that’s always taken as standard.
  16. And if you read that an agent should be initially approached with an introductory letter, don’t send them a full manuscript.  They won’t think you are an admirable maverick, they’ll think you’re an arrogant idiot who can’t follow a simple instruction!
  17. Try to make your book fit nicely into a genre box for marketing purposes.  A woman who travels through time and has an Edwardian vampire lover whom she accidentally murders with a poisonous mushroom stroganoff… well is that sci-fi, romance, crime, historical or romcom?  That will cause everyone a headache, from the booksellers trying to place it on a shelf to the people trying to find it in shops.
  18. If you get a publishing deal, network network network.  Join the RNA, meet other authors, tweet, facebook – get your name out there.  Write articles for the local newspaper for free (you have to do everything for free in the beginning).  Get in touch with local WI people – they are always looking for speakers.  They pay you, feed you scones and buy your books – and spread the word to other WIs.
  19. If you are published, register as soon as you know what your ISBN number is for PLR, Irish PLR and ALCS (authors licensing and collecting service).  It can be a nice chunk of bonus money arriving in your bank account every year.
  20. Do not go into this job expecting to be an overnight success.  It is very hard work, mad, underpaid for years and you are always under pressure to be better than your last book.  And if you thrive on that kind of challenge – you’ll never want to do anything else because this is the best job in the world.

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