From Dan Brown to Ian Rankin: Here are 10 great writing tips from bestselling authors
Whether you’re a competent writer facing a creativity drought or a newbie wondering how to get started, these solid pieces of writing advice from successful storytellers will show you the way.books Updated: Jan 09, 2018 10:30 IST
When you are struggling with a story or trying to get used to the discipline that writing demands, it helps to share notes and learn from those who have been there and done that. So whether you’re a competent writer facing a creativity drought or a newbie wondering how to get started, these solid pieces of writing advice from successful storytellers will show you the way:
Clarity is key
Clarity’s important to me. I forget who said that ‘Prose should be as clear as a window pane.’ I’m very much in that school, and it’s the kind of fiction I like to read. The kind of writing that I like to read is writing that is clear.
Inspiration can be simple
Well it usually starts with one image: a patient in a bed talking to a nurse, perhaps, or a boy walking across a field eating a stalk of celery—something as simple as that. Then I have a time period, and I have this image, and that’s how my books begin. I don’t have this great scheme of a plot or any sort of idea for a novel in the beginning. I kind of investigate this little key-hole of an image, and then the book grows out of that.
You are the audience
Write a book you’d like to read. If you wouldn’t read it, why would anybody else? Don’t write for a perceived audience or market. It may well have vanished by the time your book’s ready.
Solid research is a must
Solid research enables genuine description—that is, writing filled with specifics. Examples of “specifics” might include the exact flora or fauna of a given setting, the accurate jargon of a technician, or something as simple as the step-by-step method for cooking a regional recipe. The inclusion of specifics will increase your writing’s credibility, depth, and appeal. What’s more, the research process often unveils dramatic options that take your plot in directions that you (and your readers) did not expect
Feet on the ground
Don’t romanticise your ‘vocation.’ You can either write good sentences or you can’t. There is no ‘writer’s lifestyle.’ All that matters is what you leave on the page.
Write like yourself
“One cannot imitate a writer’s approach to a particular genre, no matter how simple what the writer is doing may seem. You can’t aim a book like a cruise missile, in other words. People who decide to make a fortune writing like John Grisham or Tom Clancy produce nothing but pale imitations, by and large, because vocabulary is not the same thing as feeling and plot is light years from the truth as it is understood by the mind and the heart.”
You characters are always real for you
There is no such thing as a singular experience of a place, a time, an event, a gender. Think about how your characters live through what is happening to them rather than attempting to write the definitive account of any experience.
The trick is making writing into a daily habit. Same time. Same place. Same hot beverage of choice. Every. Single. Day. Again. And. Again.
Go offline when writing
“I do sometimes have to step away from social media for a while. I love social media and I love talking about books on Twitter – but sometimes it can take over. I had to force myself to leave social media after the Referendum vote last year because it was too distracting.”
Perseverance and a thick skin
Have faith in your abilities, and the confidence that you have a story worth telling. But be open to advice and criticism. You need perseverance and a thick skin, and you also need a measure of luck. I’d been getting published for over 10 years before I ‘made it’.
– Ian Rankin
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First Published: Jan 09, 2018 09:30 IST