How I would love to be able to write a recipe which would guarantee that every writer could write a best seller. The truth of the matter is that it took me sixteen years to get there. I can’t honestly say it was hard work because I loved every minute of it, but at times it was difficult to deal with the disappointment and frustration of failure. Very early on in my career I resolved to become a sponge. I studied my craft, I listened to other writers, I took advice (well, some of it) and I wrote. Eventually I learned to take the failures (which were many) on the chin. If someone bothered to tell me why a story had failed, I tried to correct it, not to re-send but so that I had a better story. Along the way I picked up a few useful tips.
- Find your special time to write. If you are a morning person, get up a bit earlier. Mary Higgins-Clark wrote her first bestseller between 5.45am and 6.45 am. A widow with several small children and a full time job, she had little spare time. It took her three years to do it, but she did it! If you are an evening person, turn off the telly and switch on the laptop!
- Try to get straight down to it. We can all spend far too much time ‘fiddling’.
- When doing research, think big. Don’t worry about collecting far more than you need for one project. It will give you a better understanding of the subject and in the end, nothing is wasted.
- Write tightly. Choose your words carefully and delete unnecessary words. Someone once said to me, ‘If each word you wrote, cost you £1, would you keep it?’ Good advice and I learned to be ruthless about padding.
- When disappointments came, don’t become too depressed and don’t allow yourself to be tempted to give up. If athletes have to learn how to run through a pain barrier, so does the writer. Watership Down went to 26 publishers before publication and J.K. Rowlings was rejected multiple times before Harry Potter was accepted.
- Read constantly both for pleasure and for study.
- Get the first draft done; then edit your work. Far too many writers have a perfect first chapter but little else.
- Leave your work for a period of time then re-read and re-edit. This will help you to highlight mistakes in the plot, and weed out ‘clumsy’ sentences.
- If you write whodunits, you have to know how the book ends before you start. This means that the first chapter will be determined by the last.
- Read your work aloud. When it comes to speech, dialogue is so important. You have to ask yourself, ‘Do you know anyone who speaks that way?’ If not, you need a rewrite.
Every successful writer has their own way of doing things. Do what feels comfortable to you, be willing to learn and above all enjoy your writing. After 14 books, I still do!