Throughout my writing career, I’ve devoured countless blog posts, podcasts, and interviews by authors talking about the advice they received when starting out. Learning from mentors helps us to improve and evolve in our chosen field, and I still recall the advice given to me at the start of my writing journey.
In 2019, to honour my mentors and help the next generation of writers’ young and old, I started a feature whereby established authors shared their words of wisdom and top ten writing tips.
It was a huge success and I’m delighted to bring the feature back for a second season!
Meet Gail Williams
GB Williams specialises in complex, fast-paced crime novels, most recently, “The Chair”, but also the “Locked Trilogy”. GB was shortlisted for the 2014 CWA Margery Allingham Short Story Competition with the story Last Shakes, now available in Last Cut Casebook. Crime novels are her stock in trade, but she has had success with short stories in other genres including steampunk, horror, and erotica, and has penned a successful steampunk series. Now working as a fulltime writer and freelance structural editor. GB hates every photo ever taken of her.
Thank you, Shelley, for giving me the chance to be a part of this blog. I am a writer, but I’m also a structural editor, have been for the last eight and a half years. I love it. So here are some of my top tips to help writers write.
Gail’s Top 10 Writing Tips:
- Write what you enjoy
This has to be the first rule, for two reasons. Firstly, if you love what you’re writing, you’ll enjoy getting to it and find pleasure in the writing. That alone will help you get through. The other reason for writing what you enjoy is simple – you better enjoy it because you’ll read it fifty to a hundred times. No one writes a good book first draft.
- Know your audience
At the very least you have to ask yourself is “if someone else wrote this, would I read it?” Think about the appropriateness of your language. Dropping an f-bomb in a gritty crime novel is almost expected, but much more questionable in a children’s book or even young adult fiction. Also consider your marketplace. Some countries are easier with language and topics than others, we are not all the same. Different markets also have differences in the way that a manuscript should be presented, so know what and where you are aiming for.
- Punch up your Punctuation
One issue I run across in most manuscripts, is punctuation. Do you know the difference between a hyphen, an en-dash or an em-dash? If so, do you know correct uses? Can you capitalise the right words? Do you know when to use quotes or italics? One of the most common problems is the punctuational of speech. It is well worth investing time in checking how dialogue should be punctuated.
- Use multiple checkers
Most systems have built-in spelling and grammar checks. Use them. Then go test the various other checking systems out there. There are a fair number, so it’s worth seeing what you work best with. It’s also worth checking each document with more than one system.
- Trust no checkers
Remember, regardless of which checker(s) you use, they are limited, they follow rules without looking at the bigger picture. As you work through the issues they highlight, think about the suggested correction – they won’t always be right, you are allowed to ignore them.
- Check everything
Really do check everything, when I edit, I check so many things. Even if you know you know something, go check it. And don’t take the first reference you come to, try for at least three separate sources. Double check, too, because even if you and your editor miss it – your readers won’t. And they will let you know.
- Take your time
This is a double tip. Do take your time with the writing, of course, but most importantly, check your timeline. I’m a stickler for timelines. Think about the amount of time it’s going to take to do what gets done in the text, and when they are doing it will matter too, day of the week, time of the year. Finally, check the time of sunrise and sunset, I see so many manuscripts where these occur at apparently (and hugely) different times on consecutive days.
- Your words are the reader’s eyes
Every scene of a book is like the scene of a movie, the way you describe your locations, characters and action tells the reader what to see. If you don’t put it on the page, the reader can’t see it. Choose your words carefully. An individual might walk somewhere, but they might also lope, trudge, skip or gamble. Those four options give very different impressions, and tell the reader a great deal more than just that the character is on foot. Make every word count.
- Read aloud
This one is a struggle for most authors but stick with it. No one expects you to go all Shakespearean, enunciating each syllable and clipping every vowel, but it is important to know that the words sound right when read out. Reading aloud will highlight a lot of issues you had no idea were there. Doing this will also help should the book should go audio, you need to know the voice actor will be able to say what you want said.
- Trust your instincts
It’s your story, it has to stay your story. Not everyone will like your writing, but it is important that you do, see the first tip above. Get feedback, from readers, editors, whoever (not your family, they care too much about your feelings). Professionals will tell you if something isn’t working, and offer suggestions for improvements. Read or listen to everything they say, but remember it’s your book, trust your instincts and if that instinct is to ignore the advice, ignore it. There will be times when this is at your own peril, so be wary of belligerence, but ultimately you need to produce a book you can be proud of and that you like. Trust yourself.
Massive thanks to Gail for sharing her top tips with us. Check out all of Gail’s novels and connect with her here:
The Locked Trilogy: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B09JTR63VN
The Chair Blurb:
On a snowbound Cader Idris, death comes stalking.
Cobb retreated to Cader Idris for a solitary life of peace and quiet, and to escape his dangerous past. Though that illusion starts to crumble after he and Branwen Jones, the local vet, find a mysterious RTA victim and shelter him in Cobb’s home.
When elements of London’s criminal underbelly reach Wales, and their presence throws the close-knit community into stark relief, the chance to settle old scores could prove too tempting.
With no choice but to try and hide the RTA victim from people who want to kill him, Cobb’s not sure he’s ready to rejoin the world he’s running from, when that means putting another woman in the firing line. Meanwhile, Branwen’s not sure she can face the revelation of her darkest secret.
But as they face the final showdown, a race over the snowed-in mountain, will anyone survive unscathed?
Buy your copy of The Chair – Amazon UK