Writing advice is everywhere: good writing advice from people who have actually been in the trenches is the kind you want to pay attention to. I first came across Kayte Dunn as a presenter at the 2019 Byron Bay Writers Festival. Kayte ran a half-day workshop targeted at commercial and historical fiction – areas of interest for me. Wouldn’t you know it? I had another event on the day so couldn’t go.
Researching Kayte Dunn, as you do when you want to check out a presenters street cred, I came across her writing advice digested into 12 writing tips for any writer.
These points may not be new but you have to ask, are you doing them?
Here they are …
“A BAKER’S DOZEN
When I first started writing fiction, I searched exhaustively for writing advice and found plenty that was useful. Here are a few of the things I’ve learned.
- It goes without saying that if you want to become a writer then you need to be a reader. But read critically, rather than just letting the words flow over you. Try and figure out what makes some books work and others not. Study your favourite writers, how they begin chapters, how they end them, how they create characters, include detail, their use of language, how they raise the tension to keep you turning the page. Read poetry – it’s wonderful for giving you a sense of the rhythm of language, and the precise use of words.
- Make notes – especially when you wake up in the night with a great idea or line of dialogue or character. Trust me, you’ll never remember it in the morning.
- Back up. Every. Single. Day. If you fight as hard for your words as I have to, then you’ll never want to lose them.
- Pay attention – to what’s going on around you, how people speak, to language, to slang, to what you are reading, to the little details of a person’s appearance, to the landscape. Think about how you’d write about these things.
- Set yourself goals, break them down into manageable chunks and then do your darnedest to stick to them.
- Try and write regularly, even an hour a day adds up.
- Be a storyteller, not just a writer. Storytelling is an art, but it can be learned. It’s like opening up the back of a watch and seeing how it all works. Read a few books on creative writing, take a workshop or a course run by a writer you admire, practice your craft. A couple of books that were recommended to me and were particularly helpful were Stephen King’s ‘On Writing’, Donald Maass’ ‘Writing the Breakout Novel’, and ‘Immediate Fiction’ by Jerry Cleaver.
- If the thought of writing a novel is too overwhelming, start with short stories. They’ll help you learn to be a better writer.
- Have courage and ignore the tiny voice in your head telling you it’s not worth it, or your writing is terrible, or it’s all too hard.
- Don’t be in too much of a rush to submit your work to agents and publishers – writing takes time and constant application, and the first draft is just the beginning.
- Do it, don’t just think about it or talk about it. Just start, even if you don’t quite know where you are going.
- Write the book you are dying to read.
- Try and have fun!”
The trick is not to get stuck on activities like number 7 without applying things like number 6. All the learning in the world won’t help you if you never set pen to paper (or digits to keyboard).
Perhaps the biggest battle for most emerging writers is number 9. That doubt creeps in and before you know it the devil sitting on your shoulder is telling you all kinds of reasons why you’ll never be a writer – you’re not good enough, who are you to write?, it’s all been said before – what can you possibly add?, you’re not a real writer .. and so it goes. Find a way to kick that critic to the kerb. Negativity or self-doubt won’t get your book/poem/story written. Give the critic a solid nudge and tell it to come back later once you’re done!
You want to write. Allow yourself the best opportunity to do that!