Welcome to week 7 of our Top 10 Writing Tips by… feature.
Next up for the challenge is Elizabeth Ducie.
Elizabeth Ducie has been working as a technical consultant and writer in the international pharmaceutical industry for thirty years when she decided to give it all up to start telling lies for a living. She gave up the day job and has published four novels and three collections of short stories since 2011.
Elizabeth has run her own small business since the early 1990s and alongside her fiction, she writes The Business of Writing, a series on business skills for writers. The early books covered Business Start-up; Finance Matters; and Improving Productivity.
Part 4 in the series, Independent Publishing, came out in August and is available both as an ebook and a paperback.
Elizabeth’s Top 10 Writing Tips:
When you are starting out, you may have lots of different ideas. Have a go at all of them. Explore different genre; have a go at competitions; submit pieces for anthologies. You are practising, so practise every day. Musicians do; and writers should, too. And keep everything. Words are never wasted; if you don’t use them today, you might use them tomorrow, or next week; or next year. I have files containing everything I’ve ever written. And every so often I will pull out something from way back and use it as the basis of something new. (Scrivener is a great tool for this sort of storage, by the way.)
- Don’t Be Afraid To Write Garbage
There are some writers who can produce perfect wordage first time around. A poet friend of mine can do just that. But most of us find the first draft is very rough indeed; and the skills of a good writer come in the editing or polishing stage. You can edit garbage; but you can’t edit a blank page. So go for it; and don’t be afraid.
- Think About Why You Are Writing
There are all sorts of reasons we write: it may be purely for our own interest; it may be for family and friends, or for a small specialised audience; or it may be for the largest mass market we can reach. Knowing which category you fit into will help you work out what you need to do and how. (This is a bit further down the road, after you’ve had a go at Tip #1. I’ve been writing for years, and I still have to rethink this one occasionally.)
- Do Your Research
Most writing will involve some sort of research. Whether it’s your character’s back story; the location in which your piece is set; or the historical facts about the time period; you will probably have to do some research at some point, although not necessarily right at the beginning.
For a back story, you are researching in your own imagination, and there are all sorts of templates to help you do that. I have a ten-page questionnaire I complete for each of my main characters.
For a location, there’s nothing quite as effective as an actual visit, although these days, there are many online resources that can help. And for historical facts, local or regional archives and museums are invaluable.
But you don’t have to do it all in advance. I usually write my characters’ back stories after I’ve finished the first draft and have started to get to know them already. And there’s nothing like writing a first draft for identifying the gaps in your knowledge that need to be filled.
- Time and Project Management
Everyone’s writing practices are different. Some of us are larks (I was up before 5am writing this morning); others are owls. Some write all day, every day; others write in short bursts. Some use a target word count; others use timed sessions. Investigate tools and techniques for time management, if that’s what suits you best. (I use the Pomodoro method when I am having difficulty settling into something). Or try applying some simple project management principles is you are so inclined. (I use spreadsheets for everything).
But most important of all, decide what suits you best and go with that, irrespective of what anyone else might tell you. You need to be enjoying your creativity or you will lose the spark.
- Writer’s Block…
…doesn’t exist, in my opinion. Yes, there are times when the words don’t flow as quickly or as perfectly as you might like (although I would refer you back to tip #2). And in that case, you can always try writing something else; use a trigger or a word game for example; or just switch projects temporarily. There’s always something else to have a go at, whether it’s some publicity blurb, or a guest post for someone else’s blog.
I wrote the first draft of Counterfeit! during NaNoWriMo one year. I had planned out the first part very carefully – and wrote that with no problem. Then I got stuck! But time was ticking by and I was determined to complete the 50K words by the end of the month. So I took my main characters and thought up random situations I could put pairs of them into. Some of the scenes that came from that exercise ended up ‘on the cutting room floor’ while others are an integral part of the final novel. But that exercise got me writing again, which was the whole point.
I always think of writer’s block like someone who goes into their day job and says: “I’m not inspired; I’m not going to do any work today.” It just shouldn’t happen. If you are a professional writer, then writing is your job as well as your passion. So just get on with it!
Feedback is invaluable, but needs to be treated with caution – and can require you to rapidly acquire the hide of a rhinoceros. Friends and family will tend to be kind on you and tell you your writing is brilliant – even when it isn’t. Having said that, my husband is both my strongest supporter and my toughest critic. If I can get something past him unscathed, then I know it’s good.
I use around eight beta readers during the later stages of writing a book. And the feedback is always interesting. There will be an occasional outlier who thinks everything is perfect; or one who hates every word. Feel free to ignore them. But if several people have all picked up on the same plot hole – especially that one you knew was there really, but hoped no-one would notice – then that’s a good indicator of where some more work needs to be done.
- Writing Groups
Writing can be a very solitary occupation, and there are times when you will crave interaction with other like-minded people. These days, social media provides lots of opportunities, but it can be a bit hit-and-miss. And there’s nothing quite a vicious as a writer using their words as weapons!
For a more stable support network, join a local writing group. Or, if there’s nothing suitable around, start your own. They are a great way of meeting up with other writers; picking their brains; getting – or offering – a shoulder to lean on.
I am a member of three different writing groups; each one operates differently and gives me different things. I learn from workshops and writing sessions run in a mixed-ability group. I get detailed critiques from the other two – both of which centre on published writers, or those of publishable standards, but one is genre-based while the other has a more literary approach. This is an important part of feedback, as well. Before putting your work in front of potential readers, it’s great experience showing it to other writers. However, I would refer you back to tip #7 and particularly the bit about rhinos!
- Choose The Route That Suits You Best
This is a hobbyhorse of mine, so I hope you will forgive me indulging myself here. It’s never been a better, or more exciting time to be an writer. There are all sorts of opportunities out there, and the technology exists to let you do as much or as little of it as you wish.
I am an authorpreneur: which means I not only write, but also produce, publish and market my own books. And I am loving every minute of it. I wouldn’t have it any other way. It isn’t an easy option and it’s not for everyone. You have to be interested in the business as well as the creative side.
But the key point is that it’s a legitimate option; it is no longer merely the option of last resort when you have given up trying to get an agent or a publisher. We can stop apologising for making that choice. There’s the traditional route; the indie route; the hybrid route – any number of ways of getting your work out there. And, frankly, the reader doesn’t care. So long as the work is professionally produced, that’s all that matters.
- Listen To Your Gut
My final tip is to stop listening to what everyone else tells you – and go with what feels right for you. There are so many gurus out there, offering or, usually, selling the best ways to write, to publish, to promote your work. If you aren’t careful, you could spend all your time reading about what you should do, rather than getting on and doing it. (And yes, I do realise the irony of putting this point in a list of top tips!)
In the final analysis, YOU are the writer; it’s YOUR work, and YOU have the responsibility and the right to do what you want to with it. Go for it – and enjoy the ride.
Huge thanks to Elizabeth for sharing her top tips with us. If you want to check out her latest release in the Business of Writing Series, which is out for release in August then click HERE.
Thinking of publishing your books independently?
Confused and dismayed by the options open to you?
The Business of Writing Part 4 Independent Publishing walks you through the questions you need to ask and helps you find the answers:
Is indie publishing the right route for me?
Which formats do I need for my books?
Should I choose Amazon exclusivity or ‘go wide’?
And much more…
Elizabeth Ducie is an authorpreneur who has been publishing her own books and others since 2011. She has worked on nearly twenty publishing projects, each with multiple book formats.
Now she shares her considerable experience with other writers considering taking the same path.