On New Year’s Day, I decided to share some writing rules and tips on Twitter. By midday, the hashtags #WriteClub and #WriteNow were trending and it had all gone a bit viral, proving (perhaps) how many people’s New Year’s Resolutions involve writing and getting published. Some of the #WriteClub rules are tough, others are fun. I hope all are helpful. As someone who worked her socks off to become a published author, I wanted to share the lessons learnt along the way in a bid to inspire others to keep going, no matter what fate throws your way.
You can join in the debate and share tips of your own over on Twitter where I am @Sarah_Hilary (but beware my ‘Boring but vital rule’ below). Happy writing, everyone.
First Rules of #WriteClub
Don’t talk about it. Do it. Write everyday, even if it’s just a blog entry. Work that muscle.
Know when to stop. Between the first and second drafts crucially, but also for Thinking Time. Let the story breathe—that’s when it will come alive.
Be curious. Be in the world. Keep your eyes and ears open for stories. Be critical. Ask awkward questions.
Embrace Rejection. This rule is crucial. You’ll never know how well you can write until you’ve been made to try harder.
Remember that your next book is your best book. Always have something new bubbling under. Stay excited about writing.
Boring but vital rule: be stingy with your energy. Don’t expend it on social media. Save it for your stories. The same goes for your passion. When the world makes you angry/sad/joyous, make sure it goes into your writing.
Mash it up. Who knows, ghosts in crime fiction could be the Next Big Thing.
Read widely, curiously, critically. Non-fiction, journalism, poetry … read outside your comfort zone.
Post-mortem a great book to find out what makes it tick. Take it apart to learn its secrets.
Accept that there is no such thing as writer’s block. If you feel that you’re experiencing it then you need to interrogate your core idea—if it’s good, you should feel compelled to write. (One of the hardest things in the world for a writer to accept is that our ideas might not be good enough. We would far rather be thought lazy or procrastinating. But sooner or later, all of us will have an idea that’s just not strong enough to sustain a novel. Park it, and move on.)
Keep your confidence in its place. Learn to take the hard knocks, and hone your instinct for feedback. Be vulnerable enough to accept criticism when it’s constructive, but make sure you don’t crumble or fall into a tailspin. It’s a tricky balance, but you’ll achieve it with practice.
Be brave. Send your words out there. Enter writing contests. Try writing a crime story in 150 words for CrimeFest’s Flashbang contest: https://flashbangcontest.wordpress.com
Get excited and inspired by other people’s work. The most harmful piece of advice I ever read as an aspiring writer was to avoid reading when you’re writing, which would be like avoiding the water when you’re learning to swim. Dive in.
Get involved. Attend festivals (many need volunteers if you can’t afford the ticket price). Meet your heroes, hear their stories about getting published. Learn to be social, most publishers will want this from you. Remember that this is your chosen industry and you need to familiarise yourself with it. You’ll make all manner of useful contacts, too.
Don’t get hung up about your synopsis. Think of it as just another monster to be slain. I write mine quite early in the process, and give myself the freedom to write a synopsis of the book I’d love to read rather than the one I believe myself capable of writing. It’s a confidence trick and it really works. Have fun with it.
Buckle up because you’re going to battle doubt, rejection, fear of failure (and of success), loneliness, even boredom. The bad news is you’ll never stop battling these things, but the great news is that you’ll get really good at battling.
Connect with your reader. Ideas for how to do this are everywhere. Here’s some useful advice over on my Crawl Space blog: http://sarah-crawl-space.blogspot.co.uk/2009/10/connecting-with-reader.html …
Remember that your favourite authors want you to succeed so seek them out at festivals and online. Here are just a few of my favourites who tweet encouragement and sage advice: @valmcdermid @killerwomenorg @AndrewJRTaylor @SamEades @JaneCaseyAuthor @Beathhigh
Do your research when looking for an agent. Read their websites and follow submission guidelines. Be polite and professional. Be sad when you’re rejected, but don’t be consumed by it. Get back up, every time.
#WriteClub requires stamina, bloodymindedness and commitment. Here’s my blog about Four Times I Didn’t Get an Agent and One Time I Did: http://sarah-crawl-space.blogspot.co.uk/2011/03/four-times-i-didnt-get-agent-and-one.html …
Stay hungry, and never lose your sense of humour. Oh and remember: it doesn’t hurt to become a bit obsessive about writing. That way, you’ll have to keep doing it regardless of the progress you feel you’re making (and, surprise surprise, you’ll make progress as a result).
Last, but never least, love your library. Make it your second home. Libraries are dangerous, because they’re full of ideas. Keep them open, like your mind.
(c) Sarah Hilary
About Quieter Than Killing
Sometimes staying silent is the only way to survive.
‘You only ever ask that. Why did I do it? You never ask what they did.’The winter cold is biting, and a series of assaults is pulling DI Marnie Rome and DS Noah Jake out into the frosty, mean streets of London far more than they’d like. The attacks seem random, but when Marnie’s family home is ransacked, there are signs that the burglary can have only been committed by a child – and someone who knows all about her. It will take a prison visit to her foster brother, Stephen, to help Marnie see the connections – and to force both her and Noah to face the truth about the creeping, chilling reaches of a troubled upbringing. For how can a damaged child really leave their past behind them?
Praise for Sarah Hilary:
It has such pace and force. It’s very disturbing and builds up to a terrific climax. (Helen Dunmore)
I finished it today and it’s completely brilliant, complex, thrilling, brutal, tender, scary and intriguing. What a great book. The pacing is superb, the plot is compelling, the characters are so well drawn. The ending is ingenious. (Richard Jones of Bristol Review of Books)
One of Britain’s best new crime writers. (Daily Mail)