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Ten Things I’ve Learned as a Novice Writer

August 15th, 2015

helen-griffiths-blogYou may well think: so if she’s a novice, what’s the point of reading further? But I can actually comment, as an MA student and a pupil of the Writers Bureau course and, like all writers, I am eager to share my thoughts and pass on these tips.

1. Show don’t tell

Above all else, this phrase was drummed into me at every turn. Give your reader scope to use their imagination. Imply, don’t be too explicit, or you will kill the magic in your story.

2. Character versus Plot

In my creative writing class we were asked which one we focused on. Trick question. I soon learnt that a plot without good characterisation just does not work.  Characters have to be consistently drawn to be convincing yet, at times, they can be interestingly unpredictable in their actions. Your characters will start talking to you. I thought this was nonsense, until I experienced it myself.

3. Adverbs

Hold back. Don’t add them to dialogue as flowery afterthoughts. Show instead by implying the emotion through your characters’ actions. He said, she said can be sufficient sometimes. Best is to write dialogue identifying the speaker without the need for any tags.

4. Research, research

Settings, history, scientific/medical facts – if you get them wrong, you’ve irritated and lost your reader. Even in sci- fi you have to be convincing with your interstellar G-forces etc. Books on the writing process itself are valuable and really useful.

5. Screenwriting

What an eye-opener – this really is a craft with strict technical requirements. I now see films in a different light and appreciate the detailed work that goes on behind the scenes.

6. Pitching

Amateurish attempts will get you nowhere. Find out what the market requires and adapt accordingly. Sloppy presentation and badly written query letters get binned instantly.

7. Photographs

Magazines, especially travel magazines, require high quality photos to accompany your article.

8. Getting published

You need to spend a large amount of time on this and beware of here today/gone tomorrow e-zines and vanity publishers. Don’t part with any money up front. Want to see your name in lights? Cultivate a social media presence with blogs, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. If you don’t know how, find a teenager who does. It’s expected these days, whether you like it or not.

9. Peer review

Auntie Maud’s positive feedback is not going to get you far. Seek out a local writing group and ask friends whose opinion you value. Don’t sulk if they criticise, you will be surprised at some of the things they noticed which you missed.

10. Rejection Despondency

Get over it; it‘s par for the course. Develop a thick skin and keep going. Ultimately, it’s what will mark you out from the rest who give in.

Good luck!

Helen, a linguist with a background in tourism and teaching, has worked as a PA. Her articles have been published in local magazines and national e-zines. Letters and short features have appeared in daily broadsheets. One short story, shortlisted for a national competition, is published in Litmus. Her blog, Hysterics From Hampshire, reflects her slightly lunatic take on life.




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