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Survival Tips for Irish Fiction Writers by Madeleine D’Arcy

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Madeleine D'Arcy

Madeleine D’Arcy

Madeleine D’Arcy’s linked short story collection, LIBERTY TERRACE, is published by Doire Press.

  1. Read, read, read. Reading is as important as writing.
  2. Write about what you care about.
  3. Rewrite. Draft and redraft. Learn how to edit your work. And when to stop. Sometimes you can overdo the editing.
  4. Back up your work!
  5. Don’t take yourself too seriously.
  6. If you are lucky enough to have emotional support from someone in your life, value it. There will be times when you really need it. Don’t take it for granted.
  7. Don’t get too obsessed with writing, to the detriment of your real life. Get out from behind the desk now and again. Real life is never a waste of time.
  8. Don’t expect to get rich.
  9. Don’t write while drunk.
  10. Don’t compare yourself to anyone else. In the end, your work will be like no one else’s, and that is how it should be.
  11. Be prepared to dig deep, to question yourself and your own motivations, as well as those of your characters.
  12. Be brave. Writing is deeply personal and sending your work out into the world is scary but it’s got to be done eventually.
  13. Be prepared for rejection. Don’t take it personally.
  14. Accept only well-intentioned and intelligent critique. Family and friends are fine, but they are usually only interested in the end result, not in the challenges you face in order to achieve it.
  15. The deadline can be your friend, so use it to your best advantage. However, be aware that writing too fast can sometimes be counter-effective. Fiction is not journalism.
  16. Be patient. It takes time. People don’t expect anyone to learn to play the violin well in a few months. It takes years to learn the craft. And so it is with writing.
  17. Hold onto your work until you’re absolutely sure it’s ready to be sent out. You may only have one chance, so don’t blow it. This applies especially to novels.
  18. Always be aware of the Emperor’s New Clothes. Don’t get fooled or intimidated by pretentiousness.
  19. Get to know what’s going on. Attend readings and literary festivals. Support other writers.
  20. Look outwards and take notice of what’s happening in the world. Living in Ireland is sometimes like living under the sea – you have to remember to pop your head out of the water now and again and see that there’s a whole world out there on dry land.
  21. Avoid self-indulgence. Never end up in Pseud’s Corner.
  22. Be kind, but be honest too. Keep yourself honest, even when it’s difficult. That might mean you should not do reviews or accept requests for blurbs. Or it might mean that you’re the best person to do them.
  23. Exercise is important. You may end up being practically ‘glued’ to the desk and end up feeling very stolid and uninspired, or even depressed. Even a brisk walk will work wonders. Bring a pen and paper with you and the right word, phrase or turn in the plot may come to you when you least expect it.
  24. If a time comes when you’ve simply got too much to do and no time for writing, don’t despair. Some years are better than others. Your time will come. Make notes when you can; it’s all grist for your mill.
  25. Always ask yourself the question ‘What if?’
  26. Never forget about ‘YEARNING’. Everyone wants something. What do your characters yearn for?
  27. Other writers may disagree, but I think the best fiction makes an ‘incision in time’; and doesn’t just ‘tell’.
  28. In fiction, something needs to happen. If nothing much happens at all, the reader may lose interest.
  29. Present your work correctly. If spelling isn’t your strong point, use a spell-checker and also ask someone else to check your words, because spell-checkers don’t always catch everything. If you can’t do layout, ask someone for a template. If you don’t know how a page should look, check a good book and set out your own work in the same way. Be consistent with style. Be consistent in every way – people appreciate consistency. If you want to write in an experimental way, make sure it’s not just a gimmick or a cheap trick, and that it suits the subject matter. Otherwise, words are the building blocks for sentences. Sentences build paragraphs. Paragraphs forge stories. Dialogue needs to be set out consistently. Words are the tools of your trade. Use them wisely.
  30. Read your work aloud to yourself. You will find that the places where you hesitate or where the words don’t flow are the areas you need to focus on.
  31. If you decide to enter competitions, set aside a sum of money to be used for entry fees each year. Decide how you will spend it. Send the stories out. Then forget about it. Don’t keep checking to see if you’ve won or got on a shortlist. You’ll drive yourself crazy. Competitions are a lottery. If you get long-listed, be glad. You’re on the right track. If you’re short-listed, ditto. But don’t let the competitions take over your head.
  32. Try not to despair. Sometimes you may think everyone else is becoming successful, whilst you’re a dismal failure. It is possible to sink into a Slough of Despond. Find some writer friends who understand and will help you clamber out.
  33. Stay alive. Posthumous publication sucks. Don’t end up like Virginia Woolf or John Kennedy Toole. Enjoy the good days and remember, on the bad days, that things will improve. Overnight success usually takes many years, but good work, like cream will eventually rise to the top. At least, I hope so…

(c) Madeleine D’Arcy

About Liberty Terrace:

Liberty Terrace features a bevy of characters who reside in a fictional area of Cork City in the period 2016 to 2020. The inhabitants of Liberty Terrace come and go, and their lives occasionally intersect in stories that are sometimes funny, sometimes dark, often both. The cast of characters includes retired Garda Superintendent Deckie Google, a young homeless squatter, the mother of an autistic child working part-time as a Census Enumerator, the dysfunctional Callinan family, an ageing rock star, a trio of ladies who visit a faith healer, a philandering husband, as well as a surprising number of cats and dogs. These stories shed light on how we lived before and during the Covid-19 pandemic, on what we care about and on what, if anything, we can truly count on.

Order your copy online here.

About the author

Madeleine D’Arcy’s linked short story collection, LIBERTY TERRACE, is published by Doire Press.
Her debut collection, WAITING FOR THE BULLET (Doire Press, 2014), won the Edge Hill Reader’s Choice Award 2015.
She was presented with the Hennessy Award for Emerging Fiction and the overall New Irish Writer Award in 2010. She holds an MA in Creative Writing from UCC and has recently completed her first novel. Since 2017, she and fellow-writer Danielle McLaughlin have co-curated Fiction at the Friary, a free monthly literary event in Cork City.

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