Top Ten Writing Tips by Helen Matthews
Welcome to week 26 of our Top 10 Writing Tips feature. If you’ve missed any of the other top tip posts you can find them all HERE. Please feel free to pop over and connect with the wonderful authors who have taken part.
Next up for the challenge is author, Helen Matthews.
Helen Matthews is the author of suspense thriller After Leaving the Village (2017), which won first prize for opening pages of a novel at Winchester Writers’ Festival, and Lies Behind the Ruin (2019), suspense and domestic noir, set in France.
Helen’s stories and flash fiction have been published or shortlisted in Reflex Fiction, 1000k Story, Ellipsiszine, Flash 500, Artificium, Scribble, and Love Sunday.
She is an Ambassador for the charity, Unseen, which works towards a world without slavery.
Helen’s Top 10 Writing Tips:
- Read, read, read – sounds obvious, doesn’t it, especially if you’ve been a reader all your life. But if you haven’t read much since school you’ll find tastes and styles have changed. The omniscient narrator, popular in Victorian fiction, has been out of favour for some time. Read in the genre you plan to write and read more widely. This will develop your critical eye and help you distinguish good writing from indifferent.
- Find your writer tribe. Writing can be lonely so writers’ groups – local ones that meet in person and online groups on Facebook – can give us the support we need. Our close friends may not understand our angst when a character isn’t working or when we’ve deleted 40k of painfully crafted words. Other writers share our frustrations and can advise on how to fix it.
- You don’t have to write what you know. Draw on it, by all means, but give your imagination a free rein to be creative. Books would be very boring if we only wrote about our lives.
- Set achievable targets. Don’t beat yourself up if you can’t achieve 1,000 words a day, or even if you can’t sit down to write every day. Adapt the tyranny of a target word count to suit your life. I try (and fail) to write every day so I use a more fluid target of 3,000 to 5,000 words a week.
- Quality matters. If you decide to go indie, don’t send your book out into the world without a professional copy edit, proof read and cover design. You’ll end up with a clutch of one star reviews, grumbling about the typos and your reputation shredded.
- Study the craft of writing. I did an MA in Creative Writing, but you don’t have to. (I did it to cleanse my brain of all the business speak I used in my day job and get back to thinking creatively). There’s a choice of short courses – sometimes free ones online – or you could read books, like Stephen King’s ‘On Writing’. If you study the craft you’ll learn to ‘show not tell’ and how to avoid clichés, demon adverbs and head hopping.
- Decide if you’re a plotter or a pantser. A plotter starts with a detailed plan; a pantser lets the story develop where imagination leads. I’m about 70% plotter and 20% pantser (the other 10% is just generally confused). I do some research, plot summaries, outlining and character profiles before I start but, if the story takes a different direction, I listen to the characters and take their lead.
- Concentrate on getting it down. Once you have a first draft you can go back and edit and polish.
- Read the agent or publisher’s submission guidelines. You’re wasting your time if you send historical fiction, for example, to an agent who doesn’t represent that genre.
- Enjoy. Writing is a pleasure, even when it’s going badly. You can ignore everyday stresses by creating a new world and hanging out there. Life doesn’t get much better than that!
Huge thanks to Helen for sharing her top tips with us. Check out her latest novel, Lies Behind the Ruin HERE. Or find out more about Helen and her books at: