Posted on June 8, 2010 with No Comments
Here you’ll find some quotes that some really nice professional authors have written especially for us! You might see bits and pieces of them in our tips, but they’re helpful on their own, so read through them a bit!
“Write a lot and read a lot. Writing is like working out. The more you do it the better you get at it. Anytime something gets an emotional reaction from you, write it down. Doesn’t matter if it’s something that may not get published. Good wrestlers don’t run a lot of stairs when they’re in a match, but they run a lot of them getting ready and it puts them in far better shape. Read any and every thing, but read a lot in the genre you want to write in. The best teachers have put it out there for you. When you get in your writing groups, talk about how an author did something that impressed you.
Never let anyone tell you you can’t do it. That’s pure b.s. All kinds of people will tell you how hard it is to get published. Take them to a bookstore. There are a lot of books in there. Somebody’s getting published. A lot of somebodies are getting published.
Don’t let writer’s block scare you. Every author gets it on every book. It exists to try to make you give up. Just consider it the opposition.”
–Chris Crutcher, author of Deadline. http://www.chriscrutcher.com/
“Bricks before houses. In other words, learn to spell, understand what words mean, and learn how to construct a proper sentence while you’re still at school. I learned all these things in primary school and it has been of untold value to me. Sure, imagination and creativity is important and wonderful, but without those bricks your beloved story will crumble.”
–Sally Odgers, author of so many books that she’s lost count, including the Jack Russel: Dog Detective and Pet Vet series. Her website: http://www.sallyodgers.com/ Her series: http://www.jackrusselldogdetective.com/
“If you want to be a writer, the most important thing to remember is not to start out writing a book. George Orwell said “Writing a book is a long, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness” (from Orwell’s essay “Why I Write”, 1946). Orwell is a famous pessimist, but he’s right; it’s trippy to try and write a book and keep the characters in your head for months on end. It’s much better to start out with short pieces — stories about your own life are the easiest — and go from there.”
– Ned Vizzini, author of It’s Kind of a Funny Story. More at http://nedvizzini.com/faq/#professional
“When something isn’t working on a work-in-progress, I put it away for a while and continue with another manuscript. I’ve always had more than one story started – that way, I never have the excuse for ‘writer’s block’. Another suggestion is to leave the computer and go for a brisk walk – honestly, walking seems to clear the head. Problems resolve themselves if you allow the brain to do it.
Of course, sometimes the problem could be that a writer is not facing the inevitable – like scrapping 10,000 and re-writing. Shudder! But you do end up with a much better story”
Sheryl Gwyther, author of Secrets of Eromanga, and Princess Clown. Read more from her on writing perseverance here: http://sherylgwyther.wordpress.com/2010/01/12/perseverance-is-the-word/
“I’m a Brisbane multi-genre writer with 3 books very close to Publishing.
If you seriously want to get published …
- Write EVERY day.
- Join as many face-to-face writing groups as you can.
- Learn your writing craft. Sign up to Writing courses.
- Learn how to Critique and find Critique buddies.
- Start up a website and network with other writers.
- Keep writing. Never give up.
Good luck on your writing journey :)) “
-Karen Tyrell, author of three books currently very close to publishing, including Me and Her: A Memoir of Madness. http://www.karentyrrell.com
“As in a marathon, those that stick to it the longest get to the finish line. Perseverance is half the battle. The other half is finding stories that literally stop you in your tracks and keep invading your dream state. A great story is one that you don’t have to fight, but comes naturally, and you can’t stop thinking about it. Then you know it’s memorable.
One very important thing: for first drafts, always give yourself permission to write badly. I don’t know a writer out there who’s first draft doesn’t suck. It’s supposed to. You have to just get everything out of your head onto paper without over analyzing it. Don’t worry if it’s a horrible sentence/paragraph/page. Get it down fast and keep moving! Most people get stuck trying to make every page perfect out of the gate and they never finish. Writing is all about the rewriting. Once you have your horrible first draft, you can see what you have to work with, and what flies or dies. Use any words, no matter how bad, to convey the thought and move on.
Work on as many types of stories as possible. Most people put all their eggs in one basket and spend years on one story. But if that story never takes off, guess what? You’re back at square one,. Explore and play with as many different tones and genres as possible. It took many, many stories to find out what it is I do well. But I wouldn’t have figured out what that was if I had not cast the net wide and far. I never would have guessed I’d be writing the kinds of stories I do now, not in a million years. Surprises lie in wait. Embrace them.
Some writers say Write what you know but I say, Write what you don’t know. I’m much more engaged exploring topics I know nothing about because I am eager to find out or fascinated by the new. You don’t need to have walked on Mars to write a sci-fi epic, nor do you need to kill someone to write a murder mystery. Research, learn, explore the unknown and then use your imagination.”
Greg Neri, author of Surf Mules.
“Remember that writing is like any professional work: it takes practice, persistence, and time. Look at professional musicians or professional athletes. They put in years of hard work before they’re good enough to give concerts or try out for the Olympics. It’s the same with writers. Make it your goal to become a good writer (not an easy thing!). Write a lot, read a lot, go with what interests you. If you really are meant to be a writer, you’ll know when you’re good enough to aim for publication.”
Jeanne DuPrau, author of The City of Ember.
Writing is hard for everyone – beginning and experienced, published and unpublished, young and old – but that’s exactly what makes it rewarding when you complete something. If you find yourself daunted by a massive project ahead, just remind yourself of why you love writing. Whe you’re writing that first draft, don’t put pressure on yourself to make it publishable… Just enjoy this part of the process!
Steph Bowe, soon to be 16 year old author of Girl Saves Boy
“I’ve been in the same writers’ group for more than twenty years, which is unusual for several reasons. One is that after a while, the members’ comments become too predictable or familiar, or the group gets too social and stops workshopping. Another reason is that the group can change with new members coming in, and it’s not what you want anymore. But my writing group friends (and they are close friends after all this time) all write different things, and over the years have gone off and studied writing. We also produce a twice-yearly poetry magazine that keeps us on our toes.
But there have been many times we’ve flagged, and this is why a lot of groups die out. There seems to be a natural life span! Somehow we’ve kept going because we’re all focused on getting published and being professional – it helps a lot!
Some things to think about when you’re forming a group include:
1. Are you all on the same wavelength? Are you serious, or just wanting a pat on the back? Nothing wrong with encouraging each other – that’s the great thing about a supportive group – but sometimes members don’t want to revise or workshop seriously. They just want everyone to say how great their writing is!
2. Can you meet on neutral ground? It’s not a necessity, but it does help. Your local library or community centre might be able to provide a meeting space.
3. Can you meet regularly? This is important as it’s part of everyone’s commitment to the group. “Yes, I can and will come every fortnight, unless I’m really sick.”
4. Can you workshop honestly and constructively, without being hurtful? If you’re not sure, are you prepared to learn? Critiquing is a skill, like anything else, and commenting on other people’s writing will help you enormously with your own – if you approach it seriously.
5. Can you regularly provide writing for the workshop group? Some people start well and then stop writing and start making excuses. Being in a group can actually provide a constructive deadline for you to produce your next chapter, or two more poems.
One of the things my group started doing ages ago was to celebrate publication successes. So any time you got something published, you had to bring a cake or cookies! We love doing this.
Some of the things to be wary of in a group are:
1. Members who critique destructively. The best way to deal with this is for others to speak up and say (for example) “This is really only your opinion, and you need to be more constructive. Do you have good suggestions for how the writing can be improved?”
2. Members who have reasons other than writing for being in the group. They can sidetrack the critiquing sessions, and also discourage members from writing – if they aren’t writing themselves!
3. Members who brag. We all love to celebrate each other’s successes, but bragging is negative and can make some members feel inadequate.
4. Members who think they know more about writing than everyone else, and like to prove it by taking over the critiquing, or criticising other people’s critiques. It’s all a learning process! Even well-published authors may have fewer skills in other areas.
5. A focus on publication is great, and helps you stay serious, but it can become the overriding purpose – craft, revision and helping each other to the best of your ability is really what a group is about.
-Sherryl Clark. Sherryl’s website is at http://www.sherrylclark.com/ — her blog is at http://www.sherrylclark.blogspot.com/
Check out her new site at http://www.poetry4kids.net – it’s all about poetry for kids!
Motormouth – her new verse novel out in March 2010.
This next one’s really long, but it’s REALLY worth reading when you have the time.
Teenage Tips on Publishing
How I go about writing
Okay, first thing to be said is that no one writer writes like another.
I’m from a family of writers; when I was 7 years old my Mum made me promise not to be one on the basis that it was a ridiculous job. ‘Be a doctor, for god’s sake’ I think was the gist of what she said and well, here we are…
The point is, coming from a family of scribblers I’ve seen how my parents write. I touch type at around 90 w.p.m. and when I write, it is really a question of sitting down at the start of a project and getting up about six weeks later at the end of a project, having forgotten to notice the time that passes. I just charge at a thing and once I’m into it, I don’t stop. My mother, on the other hand, plans everything perfectly. She types at 45 w.p.m. and every sentence is finally crafted. Where I will average around 8000 words a day once I’m really into a book without much scheme of where I’m going, my Mum will very sternly do 2000 words a day, strictly regulated and planned. My Dad types with two fingers and doesn’t ever start writing until well into the afternoon, and again, his style is entirely different from mine or my Mum’s. So while I am going to tell you (fear not) how I go about writing, have no worries – others work entirely differently.
Yes, always have a plan. It doesn’t have to be a very precise one – god knows mine aren’t – but I never go into a book without knowing Who Did What To Who and where it’s ending. As a result, I have characters, and I know what character has offended which other character, and I know where my last fifty pages are going to be and what must be revealed in them, but I tend not to know the exact process of how I get there. I am a fantasy writer, I tend to end with spectacular, cataclysmic events, so the flexibility of the genre allows me a certain degree of liberality when writing the middle sections. This works well for me, as it keeps me interested – I am always surprised when my characters start dying. I mean, the logic of the work will usually dictate that if your heroes are going up against a monumentally villainous uber-villain then really, someone’s gonna die, but I never quite know who or where until the moment it occurs. If motivation is something you’re having a problem with, then honestly, I can recommend a certain laxity in planning, simply because you yourself may be surprised and engaged by what you come out with. A well-built character and a well-built event will have their own logic and their own momentum which can sweep you along.
That said, if you are writing crime, then I would absolutely say plan every detail. In a detective novel, you cannot afford to not know at every single stage who is hiding what; ruthless is the word. China Mieville plans every chapter of his books perfectly, has a game plan which he sticks to. Ruth Rendall, so the legend goes, writes her detective stories, reveals the murderer (always someone utterly implausible) and then goes backwards through the book to insert the clues that justify her choice of villain. Raymond Chandler when once asked what the hell was going on with one of his plots is supposed to have replied ‘just have a man come in with a gun’ which while not exactly helpful, does wonders for sweeping a narrative along. The ‘have a man come in with a gun’ school of narrative construction can keep you engaged too, if you’re having trouble working out where to go next.
I keep a notebook. Because I was a teenage schoolkid with a love of physics and a tendency to read comic books, I learnt the Russian alphabet so I could keep my notes in secret; you may be cool enough, dear reader, to not have to go that far! But I do recommend keeping a notebook. You’ll be amazed by the things you see in day-to-day life that can be inspiring. One of my most recent books was inspired by a bit of graffiti I saw on the side of a meat market in London – GIVE ME BACK MY HAT – from which I managed to get an entire city in mortal peril. I am also a fan of writing the Good Bits. Every writer hates doing exposition – doing it well is dead tough – and loves writing the funny or the exciting parts. So while I type my novels, I tend to be writing little bits of dialogue and random chats with character freehand long before I ever sit down to write properly, as a way of getting to know a character better and just generally getting more excited about the book. You’ll be surprised what can come out of a random bit of scribbling.
3. Show, don’t tell.
So, you’ve got a great idea for a world. It’s rich and complicated and exciting and you know it very very well, but you’re finding yourself spending thirty pages at a go explaining it to your reader. If you’re finding writing something slow, the reader is probably finding reading it slow, and everyone’s getting a bit bored and a bit depressed and all things considered, you’re wondering when you can actually get on with the story. In which case, my recommendation is this – just jump straight in. If your story starts with Jim the cabin boy being kidnapped, then don’t spend fifty pages following Jim on the way to the docks, just start, bang smack, with Jim being kidnapped. Readers are remarkably good at picking up stuff fast, looking at simple clues and extrapolating big truths, and more to the point, you’ll find yourself getting into the story faster and probably therefore finding it easier to write. While I personally loathe prophecies in fantasy, there is a certain something to be said for doing four lines on page 1 saying – ‘this is the world. This is the truth. And here is the story’ and getting pages of waffle out of the way. Have a gander at the first page of the Maltese Falcon – in about five lines we know that our character is a hard boiled private investigator with a new case, without the writer having to lift a finger to tell us so.
4. School can be cool.
So yeah, I hated geography as much as the next kid, but looking back on it, school did kinda help hugely with the writing thing. Not English Literature, I’m afraid – I disliked the English syllabus probably above all others – but things like history, physics, chemistry, classics, even damn geography. Put it like this: when I was writing fantasy novels set in Victorian London about a fairly bonkers inventor, I was studying… you guessed it… Victorian History, Victorian Literature and Physics. When I was writing novels about Satan going on an international adventure full of rampaging immortal gods, I was reading classics, myths, and studying European geography. Everything you see – everything – can be useful to you as a writer. Stories are hidden everywhere, from tales of kings and princes to the smallest personal dramas. Open your eyes…
5. Write what you love.
WRITE WHAT YOU LOVE, PEOPLE!!
Not what others think you should write, not what you think it would be cool to write, not what you think it’ll be commercial to write, not what you think your teacher would want you to write…
No matter how strange or how tragic or how nerdy – I am a fantasy writer, guys, I cheer the nerd…
Write what you want to write!
Raymond Chandler (god) was once asked to review a book by his publisher. He wrote back saying, basically, ‘sure, the book’s well crafted. It’s got plot and narrative and all that stuff… but I can’t give it a good review because the writer, well, he just doesn’t hear the music’. Good writing, really, really good writing, is the stuff that catches you and draws you in and when you’re writing it, and when you’re reading it, you forget that these are words on the page, and what this actually is, is a story, and a world, and a brilliant one at that. It’s that immersion that you’ll be looking for in order to enjoy writing, and you will not achieve it if you are forcing yourself to write something that you don’t enjoy. So no matter how strange and how frightening it may seem, write what you want to write.
6. If in doubt, delete.
I know that this is supposed to be about how to get yourself motivated to write, but honest to god, guys, there’s nothing quite as good as a sensible bit of deletion. Put it like this… you’ve written half of your first novel. You know it can be good, you know it can be great, but you’ve written yourself into a corner now with one twist in the narrative and you don’t know how to get out of it. You’re slowing down, you’re struggling, sweating and cursing trying to write yourself out of this particular hole, and you can feel your motivation ebb away. Under these circumstances, don’t try and write yourself forwards against great odds. Go back to the point where it went wrong and delete. If something doesn’t work for you, it’s only going to hold you back. Slice and dice!
General Advice on Getting Published
Assume the worst. (And hope for the best!) I know it’s a rubbish thing to say, but honestly, there are hundreds and hundreds of adults who every week are rejected by agents and publishing companies, and they have the nasty disadvantage that they aren’t as young as you are and thus have fewer options. There are few enough teenagers writing that publishers are going to look at you and go – on the one hand – ‘good god, a teenager, writing a novel, how interesting!’ – and on the other hand – ‘oh god, a teenager who thinks it can write a novel, how depressing.’ Which one you get is often down to a question of luck.
Authors who just write books are rare. Even the most successful authors tend to have something else going on in their lives; charities, teaching, public speaking, lecturing, or they tend to have worked in a career already – lawyer, doctor, scientist etc. – which has left them with something to fall back on. Do not rely on writing as a career; you never know where it’s going to go next. In my case, I am a writer, sure – I’ve been one since I was 14 years old and am still churning them out today. But I also went to university to study History, which opened up a lot of options for me, and am currently in the process of graduating from a technical theatre course so that I can spend my time not-writing as a freelance lighting technician. It can be possible to live as just a writer; it is very, very unwise to assume you can get away with. More importantly, a writer will always have more to write about if they’ve seen more in their lives; travel, adventure, meeting people, going places, talking and reading and seeing, these are all going to provide you with fantastic material for your future works, and having other things going on in your lives besides writing is the best way to experience it.
If you can write as a career, then it is a fantastic, wonderful, exciting thing. But do not go into the business blind; be aware of the risks, and above all, enjoy yourself.
How to Deal with Agents
Get an agent. Seriously; remember the thing about hundreds of adults being rejected every week by a publisher? It’s almost guaranteed if you don’t have an agent. Most publishers won’t pick up a submission unless it comes with an agent’s letter – they are the gate keepers and they are very, very much on your side.
So, the next question of course being, how to get an agent and what to expect? There are certain tricks and several rules. A literary agent will take a percentage of your income from any sale you make; somewhere between 15-20%. Much more than this and you can start to raise your eyebrows sceptically. On the plus side, this 15-20% is tax deductible (at least in Britain!) and while the idea of paying tax may seem utterly, obscenely alien to you, if you do get something published well then, it’s gonna crop up. Much, much more important, an agent will actually get you access to publishers; they know people in the business, they’re out to protect, defend and of course, sell you and all your works. They need you, sure, but you definitely, definitely need them, especially as a teenager. Get a good agent and you’re pretty much set. They will tell you if you’re in danger of being screwed and, brilliantly, also open doors to places you’ve probably never even thought of – foreign rights, TV rights, audio rights etc. – which can be the key to achieving success in the long-term.
If an agent asks you to give them money for their services, then they’re a con. Every penny they make they make from money a publisher gives you, not money you give them. Run.
Sure, there are bad agents out there. When looking for an agent there are things you can keep an eye out for. An agent who represents someone who’s writing you like, is more likely to like the way you write. It is a simple truth that we all tend to write in a similar style to those books we enjoy to read; it’s not a sin, it’s definitely not a crime, it’s just the way the human mind is wired. Thus, an agent who enjoys the works of your favourite writer will probably also enjoy your works and is more likely to represent you. The internet is a wonderful tool for a little advanced recon. In the UK there’s also a book published – the Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook – which is invaluable in terms of researching publishers, agents and the general rules of the game. Most local libraries stock one. I don’t know if it’s published in the US – if it is, get a copy! It can be tempting to apply to the really big literary agencies, who represent big and famous writers. Sure, this can be a good thing, in that they’re clearly successful and probably have a lot of influence, but always bear in mind that if your agent represents Stephen King, well then, he’s probably made for life and doesn’t necessarily need to work too hard to represent you. Don’t be afraid of looking to smaller agencies.
Agents do sometimes look to things like competitions and anthologies when thinking about acquiring ‘talent’ (which is, incidentally guys, what you lot are). While not nearly as pro-active as writing to an agency directly, entering competitions and submitting short stories to magazines is a good way to start off, get some cred and just good practice anyway.
In terms of presenting yourself to an agent or publisher, then I’ve got good news and bad news for you. Good news! It is trendy to be young. (Go figure.) A publisher’s heart leaps up with delight whenever he hears that the author of a book is young, talented, interesting, and with a curious story to tell. Being published as a teenager, incidentally, is a curious story worth the telling. If you happen to have travelled to Antarctica recently or run a penguin sanctuary, all the better. Publishers will 99% be looking to buy you on the merit of the book, but as this exciting world of celebrity biographies and novels tells you, it does no harm to have some sort of interesting personal story to tell. Don’t worry if you consider yourself about as charismatic as boiled potatoes – let’s face it, I am – your youth counts for an awful lot! (The trick, I’m told, is to embrace your inner nerd, and in doing so, become cool. Somehow.)
Bad news. My agent, who I love and respect, told me around about the time of my fourth novel that she never usually took clients on under the age of 45. (I was about 17 at the time.) Her reasons being: 1. Anyone under the age of 45 generally doesn’t have enough to say to fill a book. I can write a whole essay on this subject… and perhaps will… but I’d say if you’re still sat here, reading this, then you’re probably not going to be in that category. 2. Anyone under the age of 45 is terrible at taking editorials. And yes. This last point is absolutely bang on true. Authors are notoriously bad at being edited. You have to appreciate the fact that if you’ve spent anywhere between three months and a year pouring your heart and soul into a novel, for some random publisher who hasn’t written a word in his life to turn around and say ‘I liked it, but can we change the main character please?’ is horribly distressing. However! Repeat after me – Editorials Are Good For You. I mean, sometimes they’re not, sometimes you’ll get an editor with the literary equivalent of tinnitus, but generally, these guys know their stuff and it is your job as a professional to be entirely open to what they have to say.
Tips on Pretending to be Professional
(Or: Fake it, ‘til you make it.)
One of the most important things you can do as an aspiring teenage writer, is learn to present yourself as a professional. There are certain things the industry will expect and as a young writer it is more important for you than possibly anyone else that you get it right. So, in increasing order of tragic-but-true, here are some very professional things you gotta think about:
1. Always submit a manuscript double-spaced. Publishers will, honest to god, reject your book off-hand if they have to squint. Double-spaced, 12pt Times New Roman is absolutely the way to go.
2. Remember to include a title page – name of the book, name of the author etc.. But don’t, for god’s sake don’t, do anything more to it than that. Don’t try and make it look clever or shiny or give it an exotic font or a colour – eyes will roll.
3. When writing a letter to an agent about yourself/your novel, keep it to no more and no less than one side of typed A4. An agent wants to know key things about you: have you written before, are you going to be easy to work with, are you marketable, are you friendly, are you open to criticism, is the book any good? This last they won’t be able to judge until they’ve read the book, but they’re much more likely to read the book if they like the letter. Your age will cause them to be surprised; the maturity of the letter in which you freely admit to your age and explain that you are open to all advice and editorials and wish only to become a fully rounded professional, will keep them reading further. I hate to say this, but it may be worth enclosing a passport photo of yourself, simply because this may help with the whole are-you-marketable thing.
4. If you are submitting to an agent before you’ve written the whole novel, then beware. Yes, this is done in publishing – the standard format is a 2,000 word synopsis of the book plus sixty pages of (double-spaced!) sample text. But synopsis is much harder to sell than the book itself, particularly as you, dear reader, are young, and an agent is going to wonder whether you will ever finish it. Remember! You have time… I would advise you to try and do a complete submission at least for your first novel, rather than a synopsis.
5. Keep in mind how much editing you’re going to have to do. I mean, even if your novel is a triumph of literature, your agent is still going to have queries, and then your publisher is going to have queries, and then when he’s done, your copy editor, then a proof reader are all going to have queries. If you ever get to that stage, remember to familiarise yourself with proof reader’s marks – they will serve you well in the long-run.
6. Everyone in publishing knows everybody else. This means that if you do decide to throw a fit at a publisher about the fact your cover has a picture of a lizard with a gun on it even though it’s about Arctic explorers in the 1700s, remember that word will quickly spread of your difficult moods. Again, your agent is a wonderful thing – they are bad cop to your good cop, the ones who are paid no less to go out there and kick up a fuss on your behalf. It never, ever hurts to stay friendly, smiley and merry in the face of all things, however much you may be cringing inside.
7. Finally, a bit of absolute teenage-specific advice. I was published when I was 14 and my way of dealing with it, in terms of school and friends, was to try my very best to ignore it. If you are published, at any age, your head will explode, it will be the most exciting thing that has ever happened to you, you will find it hard to breathe. But remember, for god’s sake, remember, when you are at school you are just a student; when you are sitting an exam, you are just an exam number. Writers are notorious for going a little bit bonkers, and let’s face it, teenagers aren’t exactly renowned for their hormonal stability. I think basically what this boils down to is this – write, by all means write, and rejoice in your writing, and have a great time writing, and, I hope, have a successful time writing. But try not to be a twit.”
Catherine Webb (more recently publishes under “Kate Griffin”), published Mirror Dreams at 14.