The 10 Best Writing Tips Ever*

*Other good writing tips are available

The Prime Writers have pooled their experience to share the 10 best tips for getting focused, sorting wood from trees, and keeping your writing mojo when all around you are losing theirs.


Keith Mansfield says, ‘ I see the opening as the scaffold that lets you write and get into your story which hopefully then starts to flow. But like any scaffold, yoscaffoldu probably have to take it down after you’ve built the house. It’s often only when we’ve reached the end that we really know our story and then it’s worth assessing dispassionately whether the opening is the right one and how much is unnecessary filler versus how much usefully sets everything up and hooks the reader into the story you’ve ended up telling.’



From Dominic Utton: ‘This quote is supposedly from Ernest Hemingway, though some dispute that. wine-bottles-820x500By which I don’t mean literally write drunk… but write with a freedom and joy and lack of inhibition – and then when you edit come at it with thoroughly clear-headed strictness and precision. Write like you’re the best drunk in the world, edit like you’re the most sober person who ever lived.’


Beth Miller says, ‘I don’t know who said it first, but now I say it all the time to writing students. I also repeat it, mantra-like, to myself when I’m tempted to spend an hour moving a comma. It means: get the words down, any old how, just bash out the story, and go back later to make it nice. Getting the words down without being critical of them is the thing.  Andrea Bennett agrees: ‘The phrase I use is “you can’t edit an empty page” – stole it from someone, don’t know who. You have to get something down, no matter how rubbish you think it is, or how not in the mood you are, so that you’ve got something to come back to and improve, or even to delete in a fit of pique – but it will still move you forward.  Karin Salvalaggio similarly urges us to ditch the inner critic: ‘You’re never more alive than when you’re lost. All your senses go into overdrive, you’re hyper alert. The same theory applies to writers. You’ll never stumble upon uncharted territory if you’re anxious about getting it right the first time. You need to get ‘lost’ when you’re writing to wake up your senses. Another piece of advice – First drafts should be messy. There will be times when you’re not sure how all the pieces will ever fit together. Though somewhat alarming, this is completely normal. It takes a lot of long hard hours to make a book so you just have to get your bum back in that seat and persevere.’ This includes writing that may offend your close friends or relations.  Fleur Smithwick says, ‘If you write a passage and then reread it and your first reaction is, Gah! I can’t write that my mother/father/granny/teenage offspring will read it and be horrified/shocked/practically vomiting with embarrassment, then for goodness sake, take a deep breath and leave it in. I’ve yielded in the past and regretted it.’


Claire Fuller reminds us of the E.L. Doctorow quote: ‘Writing is like driving at night in the headlightsfog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” Because I don’t plan my novels, writing them can sometimes seem very scary (I don’t know where they’re going) and hard work (I don’t know where they’re going). This quote reminds me that it’s OK to write in that way, and I will get to the end of my trip.


Alison Layland says, ‘During or at the end of my first draft I make a table showing each chapter with details of the viewpoint character, what happens in the chapter etc. so you can see alandscapeny imbalances and make changes/shift the focus where necessary. It also includes details of timelines so you can check for continuity inconsistencies (especially after any reshuffling!)’



Sarah Vaughan says, “Try to leave out the parts that readers tend to skip.” (Elmore Leonard). Particularly with editing but even with my first draft I’m increasingly trying to write in a way that’s more taut. Do we need to know this? Do we know it already? Is it boring? readerDoes it move the story on or reveal anything fresh? Though I initially hated cutting and rewriting 55k words of my second novel, it taught me that nothing is sacred; and it became liberating to slash and burn. Kerry Fisher agrees: ‘My creative writing teacher’s best tip ever: ‘This is fiction: we can skip the boring bits’ i.e. cut the detail unless it adds to the story.’


From Vanessa Lafaye: ‘Get them to tell you their stories in their own words. Just start them talking and write down what they say. It not only produces rich back story, it can provide usable text. After this exercise, which I may do more than once, I really feel like I know them. If I get stuck on a particular scene, I’ll do a quick interview from the key POV, and then I see how to move on.’


Sarah Jasmon finds this helpful for meeting goals. ‘Whether it’s a daily word race, or reporting word counts at the end of each week, or being part of a feedback group with regular submissions, build your peer writing community to keep you going. It also sets mini deadlines, so you can focus on getting to the end of the chapter, or the end of the page, rather than becoming paralysed at the thought of a whole damn book to write.’ commnityAlison Layland agrees: ‘Find a critique partner or small group of writers (face-to-face ideally, or if that isn’t possible, online). Whatever your personal processes, you get insightful feedback on your work in progress and also mutual support (“you are not alone”) at all stages of the journey. Regular meetings and discussions also focus you and keep you on track.’


Christina Banach explains it beautifully: ‘Whether you’re a plotter, a pantser, or a tweenie, it’s important to get to grips with plot and structure and to recognise that the two aren’t the same. Plot consists of all the things that happen to your characters during the stostructurery, i.e. incidents that challenge her well-being. Structure is deciding whereabouts in the story you place these incidents; it’s what makes the story in the writer’s head accessible to the reader. You imagine a plot and create a structure.’



Finally, Louise Beech provides possibly the most important tip of all, which can sometimes be the hardest thing to identify: ‘My top tip is so so simple: write what you love. If you write what you love (as in what fires you, what interests you, what you can’t not write) you’ll always want to do it.’




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