I’m a firm believer that there are never enough books in the world. I’ve always advocated the idea that there’s plenty of room at the table for everyone when it comes to finding an audience. And, just as there are books filled with love, laughs and action, there are just as many telling us how to (or how not to) write.
Here are some of my tips and tricks, stuff I’ve boiled down from everything I’ve read, experienced and come to learn over the course of writing my books. As with all lists, take it with a grain of salt, boil it down, and take away the things you think you can use.
A standard of just about any list of writing tips is to read widely, and I’m not going to be the one to break with tradition – #sorrynotsorry. Writing without reading is, quite literally, a recipe for disaster. It leads to stale and stagnant, flat and repetitious writing.
By reading, and not just in your genre, you expose yourself to new words, sentence structures and even story beats you’re probably not even looking for.
I write romantic comedy, which means I’m forever buried in them, but I’ve also found a treasure trove of information and inspiration in what’s considered heavier literature or even non-fiction. Just this week, a non-fiction book (Finding Freedom, thanks for asking) has been a boon for a rom-com I’ve got swirling around the back of my mind. I probably won’t write it for another 12+ months yet, but those ideas went straight in the notebook for later, which leads me to my next point.
Even the most modern of authors need to do their research. It adds a layer of authenticity and authority to your writing. For Accidentally in Love, Katharine needed to sound like she knew what she was talking about when it came to art, which meant I needed to learn, too.
I’ve always been a keen but casual observer of art. I can tell you my favourite painting is Self Portrait in Uniform by Richard Carline. Other than that, I had no idea what era he painted in. I also had to learn about film developing. It’s something I’ve only ever had limited experience of at a past job, though I’ve never had hands on experience. So, down the YouTube rabbit hole I went.
Interview your characters
There’s no point tossing two people together in a book if you have no idea who they are, right? The easiest way to get to know your characters is to interview them. Open up a fresh document and start typing your questions and their answers. You’ll be surprised where this takes you and what you learn about them. I’ve made the mistake of not doing this before, and it took me until draft three until the characters really came to life. Don’t be me. Meet your characters early.
Plotting v Pantsing – there is no right way
I’m not here to proclaim that there’s on perfect way of writing a book. Trust me when I say: I’ve tried them all. Whether you’re into the Save the Cat, Take Off Your Pants, or even the Fabula Deck method, or whether you just sit down to write the first thing that comes to mind, you have to know there is no one hundred per cent correct method to writing a book. Whatever works for you, works for you. The main point is that you get that book written. Seriously, go and write. My Kindle is dwindling and I need your book.
And – action!
Don’t waste time filling the first few pages of your book with backstory. If this stuff is at all important, then you should be able to weave it into the later parts of the story. To grab a reader by the lapels and shake them into your world, drop them right into that action. Accidentally in Love opens in the middle of Katharine’s work day, about ten minutes before she quits her job. An Impossible Thing Called Love? It opens with a punch in the face. Literally. As you do.
Let your writing rest
Like all the best wines, your writing needs to rest before it reaches peak effectiveness. By the time you reach the end of your first, second or third draft, there’s a good chance your brain will be mush. You’ll be exhausted, sick of the sight of your characters’ names and be just about ready to yeet them all into the sun.
Let it go.
Shut down the computer, step outside and take a few deep breaths. Then, spend a week or two flooding your brain with anything but your manuscript. It’s hard, I know, but watch, read, listen to anything but your writing. When you’re ready to sit back down with your manuscript, you’ll be coming back with a fresh perspective and, perhaps, some great new ideas on how to improve your story.
Always write it down
If, during that downtime, you find yourself being bombarded with ideas and new content – write it down! It doesn’t matter if it’s in a notebook or if you send yourself a text message. As long as you do it. I cannot tell you the number of times I’ve been drifting off to sleep and the perfect scene floats into my head. And I’ve lost it just as quickly because I wake up the next morning with no memory other than: well, it felt good, but I can’t remember what actually happened.
Your editor is almost always right
The wait to hear back from an editor can be nightmare inducing. Your brain is rolling down Worst Case Scenario Hill into the Burn It All River and you can’t possibly see how this is going to end well. But you know what? It will.
The thing with editors is, they aren’t there to tear your book apart or make you feel horrible. What they are there to do is to make your book the best it can possibly be. So, if they tell you to cut a character (Sorry, Rafe, you didn’t make the final draft of Accidentally in Love), or if they suggest that maybe a scene is a bit ridiculous (no, Isobel, you can’t have a picnic in the snow), there’s a good chance they’re right.
Naturally, if there’s anything you feel strongly about, use your gut instinct. Fight for it but be clear on your reasoning: is it because the scene/character is important to the book, or just because you have a soft spot. Either way, you know your story and it stops with you, but your editor knows the business.
Surround yourself with brilliant writer friends
The idea of writing a book is incredibly romantic. Your mind is full of dreams of typewriters and coffee stains, launch nights and book tours. The reality can be very different, with long nights, frustration, characters that find themselves suddenly mute and the fact that you spend So. Much. Time. on your own.
This is why you need friends who write. Not only will they be a shoulder to lean on in the very worst of times (draft four, are you bloody kidding me?), but they will be your loudest champions and supporters when things go right. Honestly, they make a world of difference.
Ultimately, you will find your groove
If there’s anything you take away from all the How-To books and lists of writing tips, is that you will settle into your own groove. Just like this list is not all-encompassing, neither is there a single right way to write a book.
Through trial and error, you’ll find your way, and your words, books and characters will come to life. You got this.