Meg is a self-publishing, profit-making author based in South Wales – just across the bridge from Bristol. Her latest book, Just Add Writing, is a pocket guide for new (and experienced) writers who want to take their writing to the next level. Her previous book was Chrystal Heart, a Steampunk novel; the one before that was The MonSter and the Rainbow: Memoir of a Disability.So naturally I asked her what her top ten tips for new writers were.
Over to Meg
Ten? You’re giving me space for a whole ten tips? That’s a luxury!
1. Read. The first thing any writer needs to do is to read as much as they can in their chosen genre. Haunt your local charity shops, pester your librarians – get hold of all the books you can and read each one at least twice. You’ll soak up lots of information about the way those books work without even noticing it and the second reading allows you to see how the author drip-feeds information to the reader. Don’t worry about copying another writer’s style, you’ll tell your story in your own way and soon develop your own distinctive “voice” as a writer.
2. Write. Write whenever you can. We all waste the odd half hour during the day – even ten minutes can be useful. Whether you write longhand or type two-fingered on a keyboard, the important thing is to keep doing it. If you have a spare moment when you can’t write, think about writing! Carry a notepad and make a note when something occurs to you. Txt msgs cn b svd n a mobl! Some of my favourite plot twists have come when I’m queuing or waiting for someone.
3. Edit. Learn to be a critical reader of other people’s work and to polish your own work. There’s no easy way to do this – just read it, mark (in your head if it’s a book you don’t want to deface) what could be improved and then work out how to make it better. Don’t expect to make all the changes in one pass; you should make several drafts of each piece. It’s easier to read something critically after a break, so put your current work aside for a while and spend time on another project – you’ll find it easier to edit with a fresh pair of eyes. Editing takes more of a writer’s time than writing the first draft. A lot more! Always remember that good writing is about knowing which words to delete more than writing them in the first place.
4. Communicate. Even the most solitary scribbler can learn from better writers. Talk to others, whether you do it online or join a local writing group; but try to find a group that actually does write, not just socialise. Don’t expect the others to spend hours critiquing your work and don’t assume your comments are more important than everyone else’s, just be part of the community. A writing group can be a great place to learn how to improve your work from others, but remember they’re also trying to write, not just mentor you. If you can’t find a group that suits the way you work, start your own! Advertise in your local library for people also looking for other writers and discuss how you want the group to work.
5. Listen. If you get chance to listen to a successful writer talking about their craft, do. Many writers can be found attending Literary Festivals or Author Events at bookshops and libraries. Or on radio or television. If it’s a broadcast, record the programme so you can listen again and again. Read their books and think about their comments – did they give a really useful tip on how they maintain suspense in a book? How they research their topic? How they build characters? Make notes and apply it to your own work. We can all learn, even if it sounds like a really basic tip – can you apply it to your own writing?
6. Warn. Tell your family and friends that you really want to have a go at this writing lark. It’s much easier to find time to write if other people respect your space. You need the people around you to understand the dangers of interrupting a writer whether the words are flowing from your fingers or you’re concentrating on rewording a sentence. You’re not just staring aimlessly into the middle distance – you’re working on your plot. But remember it is still illegal to murder someone for interrupting you, so don’t go too far in enforcing this!
7. Practice. Repeat steps 1-3 again. Yes, really. Try to spend some time on it every day, look for ways to vary your writing time, like an event at your local library. Don’t wait for the muse to do your work for you – she won’t. Writing is a craft that takes a lot of practice; writing muscles need a regular workout, especially the ones in your brain. Remember to think about your characters often. (I find it handy to work out how someone from my books would deal with a problem I’m facing. Chrystal may find it easier than I would, so it’s handy to let her think it through before I have to deal with it in the real world.)
8. Persevere. Find time to read, to write, to edit. We all let fragments of time slip through our fingers that we could be dedicating to improving our skills. Learn to spot those slippery minutes and put them to work. If you say, “I don’t have any spare time,” then you won’t have any. Say, “I am a writer, I will find time to write!” and you’ll find it. Don’t be disheartened that you’ve been working for months without anything to show – it will take time. Track your wordcount so you can see your progress, keep copies of any work you’ve had published close to hand. Remind yourself what you’re aiming for.
9. Share. When a piece of work is as good as you can make it, let one or two trusted friends read it. Tell them you want to know everything that’s wrong with it. Then show it to a writing buddy and tell them the same. Be prepared for them to savage your work and then thank them for it – even through gritted teeth. If they don’t find anything they don’t like, you’re asking the wrong friends. You’re not looking for people who’ll smile and say they like it – you’re looking for those who will nit-pick. You don’t have to do everything they suggest – it’s your work, not theirs. Think about every comment as if you’re a reader, not the writer. Learn to accept feedback and incorporate it into your writing. It’s a difficult step to master, but an important one.
10. Submit. When you’re happy with your work, then it’s time to send it out into the big wide world. Whether it’s a letter to a magazine or a short story for a local competition, it’s finally time to seek validation that your writing is good enough for a selective market. Start small and you’ll soon know the joy of seeing your name in print. But don’t sit and wait for results – get on with your next project. When something’s rejected, polish it again, make it even better and find somewhere else to send it. You may collect a lot of rejection letters, but if you stick with it, you’ll get there. J
There’s no magic wand to make someone into a good writer, the most important thing is to work at your writing. Some people get lucky and sell a lot of books that aren’t very well written. Many more work at their craft for years before they sell anything. Writing is hard work – but it’s also tremendously rewarding to make something out of thin air.
Above all, remember to Read – Write – Edit.
Meg Kingston is an Independent Author. She’s sold work to some major magazines and retails her self-published paperback books through many outlets. She presents writing workshops and other events for a variety of organisations. Her books can be ordered through libraries and book retailers. Signed copies are also available direct from Meg at:
Just Add Writing: Release the Novel Inside You is Meg’s pocket guide to moving your writing on to the next stage. It’s down to earth, full of tips and with plenty of innovative exercises to inspire your writing. Many of the exercises are designed to work with random numbers and if you have a set of Dragon Dice, you’ll find them very useful!
Chrystal Heart is the first novel in a planned series of Steampunk novels, featuring Chrystal – a Victorian lady whose gemstone heart has kept her alive into the 21st century. You’ve never met anyone like Chrystal before! And you might just wish you had.
The MonSter and the Rainbow: Memoir of a Disability is Meg’s account of life with a chronic illness in a world that isn’t as equal as it thinks it is. If you ever wanted to read a non-whinging, bestselling book about life viewed from wheelchair height – this is it.
For more info or to contact Meg, visit: