Learning from our 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.
To help the next generation of writers’ young and old, I started a Top 10 Writing Tips feature whereby established authors shared their words of wisdom and favourite writing tips. Back by popular demand, I’m delighted to share more inspiration and insights for season two.
Meet Andrew Marsh
Andrew is a 57-year-old former geologist from the construction industry who discovered a passion for writing inspired by things that happened at work, on sites, and in life generally.
With the winnings from his appearance on The Weakest Link in 2003, he self-published his first novel, The Long And Winding Road in 2004. In 2014 he self-published his second novel The Truth, an adult crime thriller that is still available on Amazon in both formats.
Since then, he has written a fantasy trilogy, which is still being worked on and his current Young Adult WIP, the Jack Janson series. The first book, Jack Janson and the Storm Caller was published in September 2019. There is more to come from Jack Janson and the series will be eight books.
Four years ago, Andrew was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome which has brought great understanding to his life and this has also prompted him to write poetry on a number of topics, including his Asperger’s.
Andrew attends the Writers’ Summer School, Swanwick, has presented there on two occasions, and also served on the committee. He also blogs about writing.
Andrew’s Top Ten Writing Tips
- Save, backup and print.
It is essential that you save your work as you go. Not just on your computer, but also on an external device. This can be as simple as a pen drive or an external USB stick. They are inexpensive and easy to keep in your drawer.
Save your work every page you write and every time you get up from your computer for any reason, whether it is to take a break, get a coffee, go to the toilet, whatever, hit that save button every time.
Always print your work off as you go. I print every chapter and keep it in a lever arch file. If you don’t have a printer, take your USB device and go to the library to print it out or ask a friend to do so.
I have seen horror stories of people posting on social media that they have lost their entire book because of a computer glitch or something going wrong. Never let that happen to you, always save to your external device every day. If you are like me, you will have more than one of them.
- Make a list of characters and their significant traits.
It is important to know who your characters are, how tall they are, what they look like, do they have blue or green eyes, or blond or brunette hair, and so on. Do they have a limp, are they left-handed, do they have a common phrase or a different way of speaking?
Not all of your characters will speak in the same way, some may swear every sentence, and others won’t. Make a list of all of these traits, I use a spreadsheet for mine, spreadsheets are wonderful for writers to keep track of things.
Write down a timeline of the events in the book. This is particularly important if you are doing flashbacks or telling backstory. You can use graph paper or I use a spreadsheet to keep tabs on things. If you have two events going on and they eventually come together at some point, it is important that you know their relative timelines to keep them on track.
- Have a notes and ideas file.
This is an important step in bringing together all of those wonderful ideas you get when on the bus, watching TV, or doing other things. Write them down in a notebook and as soon as you can free write them into a notes and ideas file on your computer.
It is how I start a book. I will have an idea, a one-liner, so I open a new document and start to write. I don’t worry about punctuation or anything, just write it down. Soon a sentence becomes a paragraph, a paragraph becomes a page, and then six pages. You will add depth to certain parts, maybe even have some key dialogue or more detail for a dramatic opening, just allow yourself to free write and get it down.
Then, one day, you will realise that you have enough to start writing the book. But keep adding to this file as new ideas come to you.
- Set targets each day or session.
Not everyone can sit down and write for a full day, they will have work, family, and the day-to-day living that goes on. This is why it is important to take the time to write. Even if that is only an hour a day, in the morning or at night after the house is quiet.
I always set myself a minimum word count per writing session. It is 1,500 words, I often exceed that by a good margin. It might be different for you but it is important to get into the discipline of making the time and having the time to write. If you “only” wrote 1,000 words a day, then after 3 months you will have a 90,000 words novel drafted. See how easy it is when you are disciplined.
- Get the first draft written.
Once you get into a rhythm you will find the task of writing easier and the more you do it, the better you will become at it. The most important thing is to keep at it and get that first draft written. You can’t do anything meaningful with it until that first draft is done, so keep at it and finish it.
- Don’t end a writing session at the end of a chapter.
Writing is about flow. So, when you are coming to the end of a writing session, never finish at the end of a chapter or a section. Always start the next piece so that you know where you are and what was going to happen next.
If you are short on time, make a list or bullet points of what was going to happen so that you can read that and restart knowing that you are on track.
- Make a chapter summaries file.
When I have finished a chapter, I make a chapter summaries file. It is one document that has a list of bullet points of what happened in each chapter and I add to it as I go. This can be from 3 to 10 points. That way, when you are writing chapter 8 and can’t remember when Dave and Sue first went to the cinema, you can look back at the chapter summaries and know at a glance rather than riffle through half of the book.
This also helps when you have those eureka moments and realise that someone has changed a habit or a physical trait. It is easier to find when they were in the book and correct them.
- Beta readers and copy editors
No one, and I mean no one can be the best editor of their own work. Once you have read it through several times and let it rest for a couple of months, have 2 or 3 beta readers read through it and critique it for plot, characterisation, continuity, consistency, and so on. If they pick up on something, then consider correcting that point, especially if more than one beta reader picks up the same point.
Once the beta readers are done, send to a copy editor who will look for typo’s grammar, punctuation, and the fiddly little things that will turn a good manuscript to a great one.
If you are limited for funds, there are plenty of groups on social media where members offer swap services. Just be sure to check them out and make sure they are genuine and good.
It is also a good idea to have a nondisclosure agreement (NDA) with anyone who is reviewing your work.
Ultimately, the final decision is the writers.
- Blog tour.
A great way to raise your profile and that of your book is to do a blog tour when you are published. There are plenty of good organisers out there who will charge for a blog tour but this is an essential stage in getting reviews to post on your website or social media. A good blog tour can make a world of difference.
Huge thanks to Andrew for sharing his Top 10 Writing Tips with us today. You can connect with Andrew here:
Book Blurb for Jack Janson and the Storm Caller
Jack Janson is nearly fourteen, an only child living with his parents who hate him almost as much as they hate each other. The only good things about his life are the girl next door, Sarah-Jane Farmer, whom he adores, and his Granny Jean in Cornwall who he spends the summer holidays with. His gran is cool but she has been hiding a HUGE secret. As her health fails, she decides to share the secret with Jack. Gran leads Jack to a cave.“Boom Tom tum” a loud voice echoes and a rock opens up to reveal a young giant called Winfred Storm Caller. Gran has been looking after the friendly giant since pirates killed his mother, but she now needs Jack to care for Winfred. Sarah-Jane arrives to help and they uncover The Book Of Lore hidden in the cave. What magic does it possess? Have they found a way to get Winfred home to his own lands? Are Sarah-Jane and Jack brave enough to use the book to save Granny Jean’s life?
BUY your copy of Jack Janson and the Storm Caller here: