Top Ten Writing Tips by Sue Bentley
Welcome to week 27 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.
Learning from mentors helps us to improve and evolve in our chosen field, and I still recall the top tips given to me at the start of my writing journey. In honour of that, and to help the next generation of writers’ young and old, I started a feature whereby established authors impart their words of wisdom and share their top ten writing tips.
Next up for the challenge is author Sue Bentley.
Sue Bentley lives in Northamptonshire. She is the author of over seventy books, published in her own name and using a pen name. She is a bestseller both as herself and as another persona. Her books for young readers have sold millions of copies and have been translated into over thirty languages.
- The first one sounds obvious, but to be a writer you must write. Write anything, but get those words down on the page, never mind how jumbled they are or whether they flow or not. You can edit as much as you like, re-word sentences time after time before you’re satisfied. But you have to have something written down to edit. So just begin and don’t put off doing it. And simply adding #amwriting to your Twitter posts doesn’t count. (Guilty secret. I know because I’ve used that hashtag when not actively engaged in writing.)
- You do not have to write every single day to be a successful author. Some writers do – Jacqueline Wilson writes every day of the year, including Christmas Day. Others write in dedicated bursts and then set their work aside for a while before going back to it with fresh eyes. Still others lock themselves away and write an entire book in a feverish burst of inspiration. There are no rules. We’re all individuals. Find what process suits you, and honour it.
- Don’t panic if you find yourself blocked for any reason. Take a break, perhaps read or do some research for another project. Finding somewhere different to write can sometimes unlock you. If you’re used to sitting at a desk, go to café with your laptop or notepad. Or forget about writing and just take a good book to enjoy. I find reading good fiction inspirational. Seeing how another writer approaches a plot twist or portrays a character trait may start you thinking about a problem you’re struggling with. Visit bookshops, libraries, attend writer’s events, meet writer friends. Doing bookish stuff keeps you connected to the craft.
- Vary what you write to keep yourself interested. I write novels in the main, as I like the spread of a book to develop characters and get under their skins. But now and again I enjoy writing short stories and features about things that interest me. It’s a different discipline that teaches you to write concisely and make every word earn hard for its living. A short story may contain the germ of something you later develop into a longer piece of work.
- I admit to having a serious notebook habit, can’t resist a handsome cover and ruled black lines. I have dozens of them. Some people prefer to write on yellow, perforated legal notepads. Keep a notepad close by for all the random thoughts and scraps of dialogue that filter through your subconscious at odd times, day and night. I get some of my best ideas when relaxing before sleep, and sometimes in dreams; if I don’t jot them down I’ve forgotten them by morning.
- Keep lists, on a real or virtual notepad. I keep lists of interesting names, funny things people tell me, bad jokes that make me wince, descriptions of unusual faces or clothes, scraps of overheard conversations. Having them to hand means you have a rich source to explore when the well of inspiration runs dry. I have a folder where I keep cuttings from newspapers and magazines. These can work as writing prompts. Or a choice word or remembrance may spark a new scene.
- How you write is up to you, but put comfort first. I write straight onto my desktop PC, it’s important to have the screen at the right angle when you’re sitting writing for hours at a time. No one does their best work with a crick in their neck or aching shoulders. Some people do manage to write on trains and buses with laptops on their knees. All power to them. But if you can set aside a special place in your home, which is dedicated to writing. Giving it importance, helps you feel like a writer however new you are the craft.
- Writing is a sensory experience. I enjoy the process of making research notes in longhand. There’s something pleasing about how the flow of ideas from the brain takes shape through the rhythm of writing. I recommend using a favourite writing implement. Maybe a vintage fountain pen that has special meaning for you, or a modern gel pen with purple or green ink. I use propelling pencils, with stay-sharp retractable tips that never fail to write, unlike ball-point pens which can run out of ink at inconvenient moments. I like pencils in garish colours or with fun designs.
- Give yourself whatever you need as a writer. Be ready to try different things and if you write best while drinking endless coffee, tea or nibbling chocolate, so be it. The indulgence police are not going to knock on your door. (I have sacrificed firm thighs to my WIP and nurtured my writer’s bum. Seemed a fair exchange for a finished novel! I toned up later when running around doing book signings and author appearances.) Some people prefer to write facing a plain wall. Others like silence, while some prefer to play music.
- Be kind to yourself. Writing is an art, as well as a craft. We are not machines. Life can smack you in the face and throw you out of kilter. Depression and metal ill-health is often an issue in our fast-paced pressurised world, especially for creative types. There have been times when I felt that I had lost ‘my writing self’. That’s when reading about other writers’ lives, and ‘how to’ books are helpful. One of my favourites is ‘Writing Down the Bones – Freeing the Writer Within’ by the wonderful Natalie Goldberg. It’s a classic for a good reason – from the first page it resonated deeply with me. Another is ‘Daily Rituals’ by Mason Currey. It’s heartening to see all the different ways people write. If money is tight, join your local public library. And keep reading within your genre – you will probably write the type of books you most enjoy reading.
Want to find out more? Connect with Sue here: