Look back at some of the best writing advice and author interviews, as we select our Writing Magazine highlights of 2013.
Sentimentality in writing is in the same ball park as the transparent patter of a double-glazing salesman, or the insincere ‘Hi, and how are you today?’ script of a cold-caller – as soon as you read it, or hear it, you somehow can’t believe it.
Tony Lynch urging us to banish overstated sentiment from our writing
Take the bedroom scene out of the bedroom… Think the garden shed, the kitchen, a museum. In my book, Fiji on Fire, Fiji on Ice, a particular scene took place in a unisex restroom – sounds a bit off-putting, but you had to be there.
Yvonne Walus encourages us to write believable and refreshing sex scenes
Waiting for those ‘miraculous’ moments of inspiration to come knocking is a waste of time. Writing – placing the words on the screen or paper – is what this craft is all about.
Don’t be afraid to write rubbish, said Michael Madden
“I’m not against a bit of lampooning and I don’t think one should take oneself too seriously! I think the outsider perspective in writing is very useful.”
Marina Lewycka on writing with a lighter touch
Be Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Targeted
Joanne Borrill reminds us of the SMART way to stick to your writing resolutions
What is becoming increasingly compulsor is the need to publish in electronic format. Whether you plan to create physical books or not, it is no longer true to say ‘the future is online’. The moment that is online is now. The future is not stable. The future is mobile.
Rebecca Woodhead encourages us to embrace the e-volution
“If you want to tell the world about the Henrician Reformation, then write a history book, but if you want an exciting story, become a storyteller. Telling the story is the key.”
Bernard Cornwell on the secret of successful historical fiction
It’s important to separate work and non-work time. It’s so easy to slip into a routine of checking emails until bed – or even in bed – and not switching off. This isn’t healthy for body or mind. The danger is you’ll reach burnout, or lose your motivation, or all your friends.
Freelance Linda Harrison with wise words on setting yourself up to work from home
Many published authors will never publicly admit their doubts, fears and technical shortcomings… You might be surprised to hear how many really quite famous names are obliged to trim, rewrite and restructure before their books are ready to be bought. It’s because the learning process seldom ends, and because few authors ever reach the evolutionary perfection of someone like Elmore Leonard.
James McCreet assuages any doubt about becoming a “real” writer
“I was on a flight that was delayed and got taken to a hotel and a weird young woman latched onto me and basically insisted I share a room with her. Nothing to do with crime happened but it was a weird night because she was basically having a breakdown and she decided to appoint me as the person who had to look after her.”
Sophie Hannah on the real-life inspiration for her latest thriller
Following up your initial contact is an essential part of the querying process that increases your chase of landing a commission and is often the thing that separates the would-be freelancer from one who is constantly in print.
Anna Baness on the freelance writing ‘numbers game’
A character ‘fleeing’ is more powerful than a character ‘running’. All words have some kind of connotation in the mind of the reader – is there a verb choice that will better tie to the atmosphere of your story?
Alex Davis on building suspense and scares
“The disastrous thing in life would be to say, ‘I think I could have written a book.’ At least have a go and fail.”
No-nonsense advice from Jeffrey Archer
Is it safe and snuggly? Humorous and loud? Quirky and fun? As you write it, which images and colours spring into your mind? If you can’t easily imagine or define it, maybe the editor can’t either.
Pitch a picture book, advice from children’s author Amy Sparkes
The process of interviewing these men comes close to a prolonged therapy session: one in which they have the space and opportunity as never before to unburden themselves. One soldier I spoke to over a period of seven days so I could write his story gave an interview to the press in which he said that I had ‘saved his life’ by writing the book.
Damien Lewis on the reality of writing contemporary military non-fiction
“Agents must stay on top of new technology and techniques to help each author build his or her career without fully relying on the publisher, where budgets are shrinking. So an agent’s role is growing into more of an overall management position, enabling the writer to write.”
Agent Jennifer Muller on the shifting dynamics of the publishing industry
“Writer’s block is just the writer being afraid to start. Start it! It doesn’t matter if it’s rubbish. You can write it again the next day.”
Barbara Taylor Bradford backs up Jeffrey Archer
Work out to which displacement activities you are most susceptible. Banish them by whatever means necessary. If that means working on an internet-disabled laptop with the curtains drawn, then so be it.
Take a hard-line to increase your writing time, said Liz Gregory
An editor only has time to read a paragraph or two. If you need more than 150-200 words to get your story idea across, it probably isn’t a very good idea to begin with.
Linda Harrison on pitching articles like a pro
“We’re not doing a very good job at learning from history. Most people learn about the Holocaust at school and it is very removed from you. There is also this assumption that the Holocaust is a Jewish issue because 6m Jews died during the war. Well, 5m non-Jews died during the war. It’s a human rights issue.”
Jodi Picoult on the motivation behind her latest book, The Storyteller
A willingness to interact online, to speak out on subjects – personal or otherwise – to get copy in quickly, and an open-mindedness about where your coverage is being placed.
Traits writers needs to maximise their publicity, according to Biteback publishing publicist Ella Bowman
One of the unsung advantages… [of e-publishing]… is that the length of your work becomes much less important. A story can be as long as it needs to be, whether that is a 1,000-word flash fiction tale, a 6,000-word traditional short story, a full 100,000-word novel or crucially, a 15,000-50,000 word novella.
Gary Dalkin on the level playing field of e-publishing and how it is rejuvenating the neglected novella form
“When I was very young I was attracted to these stories in the newspaper and I would read them, not only stories of people committing crimes, but also stories of great heroism. Human interest stories always interested me.”
Elizabeth George on why she wanted to write crime
Give it a daft name; talk back and vent your frustration; note down his negative comments then get back to your writing; write fast, with a timer if necessary; allow yourself to write rubbish.
Helen Yendall’s advice for getting rid of your writing gremlin
The trick is to avoid tricks, and to think about your character as a person first and foremost, rather than a child or an adolescent.
Author Robert Williams on creating a convincing youth narrative voice
“My friends were talking about them as ‘warrior monks’ and I thought how can you be a warrior and a monk at the same time?”
Historical author Robyn Young on the initial appeal of the Knights Templar
Try choosing one or two dishes from each five years of your life, from childhood on – something you still can remember the recipe of that you really enjoyed.
New ideas for food writing from Diana Cambridge
Join some existing ideas together in order to make a more substantial piece – borrowing the plot from one of your other short stories to act as a subplot in a longer work, for example
Advice on recycling and re-using your ideas from Liz Gregory
“You start to know that such-and-such a clergyman is not such a good fellow; you start to know that that bit of road needed to be mended and all the trivia of the thing trigger your consciousness and the people living there today become more of your consciousness.”
Edward Rutherfurd on the perils of long-term people watching
I usually work on two projects simultaneously, switching from one to the other when I get tired. I write at high speed, letting the words spill onto the screen as fast as my fingers can fly. I don’t worry about typos or possible plot flaws; those can be fixed later.
Freelance Carol McCuaig, who wrote and sold 250,000 words or articles and short stories in less than a year
If I am taking the trouble to answer your request, I expect you to show me the courtesy of replying promptly. Within a half-hour is ideal. That’s why we have email. At a pinch, I am willing to wait for two days. But that’s it.
Freelance Devyani Borade turns the tables on editors with some submission guidelines of her own
“It’s like getting a big lump and carving it rudely into something. Then each draft is like sculpture; it’s like smoothing out each bit… Then the last draft is like sandpaper and you have really rough sandpaper at the beginning and it gets finer and finer and you are finally doing little things like changing a word.”
Tracy Chevalier on the process of redrafting and rewriting
While they were being productive, I went for long walks. I carried a notebook to record ideas, but otherwise I didn’t write a thing. Actively not writing can be just as productive as sitting down and getting the words on the page.
Just one alternative to NaNoWriMo, from author Julie Cohen
One of the best tips is not to use the word “interview” at any stage of the proceedings – it’s so loaded and official to some and can make both interviewer and interviewee nervous. Even now, I often approach experts requesting “a quick chat”.
Expert interview tip from freelance Alex Gazzola
“I could never write memoir because the facts would get in the way. I would be wondering, did she really say that? Did the nurse come in? What was the real nature of her illness? Did I go on a Tuesday?”
Melvyn Bragg on choosing to fictionalise
When the writer relaxes, words flow.
Nan Lundeen invites us to unleash our inner cow to let the words flow like milk
A writer who produces a short piece of fiction no longer has to worry about finding a publisher willing to take a risk: you just go straight to market.
Grumpy Old Bookman Michael Allen on how the marketplace now favours writers
“If you can do anything else, and something else can make you happy, do that because writing is really hard. But if you know that all the odds are stacked against you, and still nothing else can possibly make you happy, then you don’t really have a choice. You are already a writer.”
Novelist Natasha Solomons sums up how we all feel
To revisit any of these articles, recent back issues are still available from our store. All issues are always available digitally.