10 Things I Personally Learned As A Writer.
- My genre is the thriller and for a great thriller you must open the story at the very centre of the action, almost with blood on the floor, if you like. The reader must be plunged into the action and made immediately aware of the conflict and tension in the story as well as being made aware of the grave dangers inherent for the protagonist. The nearer you can get all of this to the top of page 1, the better.
- The protagonist in your story must have something very big at stake. In fact, the more he has to lose the better. And the bigger this is, then the more any prospective agent/publisher will love it. Additionally, as your protagonist works towards his goal then you must place obstacles in his path, each one being bigger than the last.
- Of course backstory is important in terms of adding context and layering to the character and the story itself etc. However, you must be careful not to overdo this, and if possible, do it through dialogue. Having to read paragraph after paragraph about a character’s background interrupts the flow and slackens the tension which MUST be ever present.
- You must keep the tension and conflict going throughout every chapter. This is particularly important during the middle of your story because this is exactly the place where most novels run of steam and lose reader interest. It also a graveyard for writers once a literary agent gets past those first few chapters, that had initially whet his appetite, only to find himself yawning. The tension and conflict has fallen from the page, and so too has your chance of a book deal!
- If you think that getting through that first hard draft means that the majority of the hard work is now over then think again. Because from my own personal experience I couldn’t have been more wrong, and I had the diligent attention and assistance of a brilliant literary agent who shared my vision for the story. But believe me, this is not the rule. And even though I was blessed to have such personal help, I can honestly say that the second and third drafts took even longer, and were just as hard.
- Edit everything, and I mean everything that is superfluous to your story. And if you can afford to have this done professionally then do. Editing is a difficult discipline and arguably the greatest hurdle a writer faces. It was Hemmingway who famously opined that any writer must have their own ‘bullshit detector’. If you do not have the discipline to cut out irrelevant paragraphs, even though you’re convinced of their literary genius, your manuscript will find its way into the bin quicker than you can say first edition!
- Revise, revise and revise. And when you’ve finished revising, revise once more. But don’t rush or kid yourself into thinking that you can simply whip through that revision in a few weeks like I did. Big mistake! Try a few months. Therefore if you plan on querying literary agents in the new-year, then maybe you should be thinking more towards the end of that year? Unfortunately, creativity simply doesn’t play nicely with timelines. So instead of expecting it to cater to yours, plan on needing more time than you think you need.
- One day, eventually, the editing process will become a little easier. There is a simple term for this that I will share with you now. It’s called ‘The light at the end of tunnel’.
- Do not be immune or upset at criticism. It is as much a part of the creative process as creating a character. Never take it personally although naturally, receiving critique can sting a little. But to offer that kind of insight takes time, attention and guts because nobody really wants to give you negative feedback. This is another tick in the minus column for creative writing courses that shower hopeless efforts with undeserved praise. But remember that those close to you whom you have trusted to view your work, give it to you do it because they care, and because they actually believe in you.
- Writing is an endless learning process… I don’t know if it’s any way possible to ever truly master it. But we can keep getting closer by continuing to look for the lessons in our writing. You actually become a better writer, the more you write, without even noticing it.
I’ve learned so much during my journey toward my first published novel which can only stand me in good stead as I reach the end of my next one. But let me tell you the biggest lesson of all. It is that despite all the early mornings, late nights, and cramming my novel into the corners of my life for almost three years, it was totally worth it. Good luck to you.
1st November 2016.