Advice For Writers By Writers
Most of the author interviews I have done for this website include this question: What advice would you give to aspiring writers? Their answers are listed below. Interestingly, many of them will tell you not to bother unless you are absolutely positively passionate about writing and there’s nothing else in the whole world that you’d rather do.
What advice would you give to aspiring writers?
“Read as widely as you can. Read the classics of your field and of others too. Observe wherever you go and the people you meet – how they really speak, how they behave. Base your characters on your observations, not on how people have behaved in fiction (especially the conventional kind). Tell as much of the truth as you possibly can. Enjoy language.”
- Ramsey Campbell (author of The Doll Who Ate His Mother)
“It boils down to self-denial, self-motivation and the hard graft of delivering sound goods within the time frame. Yet that's merely the beginning. When your biography is on the shelves, you can help yourself by being available for signings, media exposure and further promotional strategies. Moreover, it's too easy to reap the church-mouse harvest of being lackadaisical about business. If you've the energy, it may be wise to develop an intense - and possibly unwelcome - inquisitiveness about every link of the chain from sub-editing to pressing plant to market place.
Finally, I've never relied on a literary agency, preferring to trust in my own tenacity and string-pulling. Publishing is full of dodgy geezers who have failed in other fields. Nonetheless, if you become a client of a reputable company, you could be guaranteed work for as long as you can hold a biro.”
- Alan Clayson (author of The Rolling Stones: Beggars Banquet)
“I'd start with the dictionary then take it from there. Just to read is enough. Newspapers. Poetry. Classic novels. Hello! magazine. Pornography. Anything and eveything.”
- Ben Myers (author of The Missing Kidney)
“Believe in yourself, tell the truth and don’t give up.”
- Garry Bushell (author of Two-Faced)
“Don’t! Or more accurately, don’t think of writing as the soft option. Too many people see knocking off a few words here and there as a bit of a doss, and it can be, but it can also be a real grind, and the self-discipline can be demanding. It’s also a very difficult way to make a living – never knowing when the next cheque’s showing up is no fun. There are a lot of people out there who’d like your job, and most editors and publishers know that, and aren’t afraid to take advantage of it. So expect to be jerked around by idiots (no difference there from most jobs I guess) and to have more than a few lean months living off toast and blind optimism. If you understand all of that, and still fancy picking up the proverbial pen, then good luck – you’ll need it – in my experience shit floats rather more buoyantly than cream!”
- Gavin Baddeley (author of Lucifer Rising: A Book of Sin, Devil Worship And Rock n' Roll)
“Just keep writing. And do it every day. Set yourself a target, be it a certain amount of words or time at the keyboard every day. That way you can work out a method to get through the dry spells; to be able to keep writing and producing even when the ideas aren’t coming to you naturally is a necessary tool for writers. And never dodge a deadline: I’ve been an editor and respect that there’s always a commercial consideration with any work. If you can’t hit a deadline there’s bound to be dozens of others who can. And, at least from my perspective, I’d recommend not trying to be too clever when writing; if you can cut through the crap in a few short, sharp words, why bother trying to impress someone with your impressive vocabulary and risk losing their interest? Save that for your Pulitzer acceptance speech.”
- Jeff Apter (author of The Dave Grohl Story)
“Try to live some life, to have some sexual, political, economic, social, musical adventures, experiences, disasters. Throw away your comfortable conventional life, just flush it down the toilet. Spend a lot of time alone. Learn how to listen. Learn how to write. Read some good writers. Steal other people’s stories. Study the world of publishing if you want to be a book writer because you’re wasting your time pitching the wrong publisher for your project. It’s a business (even though there’s not all that much money in it for most writers) and if one goes into a business, one needs to know one’s way around the business. Always strive to be entirely readable. I don’t have a lot of time for writing which strives, almost deliberately, to be challenging. Everything one writes should be accessible to most readers, no matter how meagre their reading skills. Don’t have a gameplan for world domination; just get on with the hard lonely slog or writing.”
- Joe Ambrose (author of Moshpit Culture)
“Be ambitious, but not impatient: sometimes there’s not enough delineation between those two concepts. Read loads of books. Watch bands, get drunk, have fun. If you don’t love writing and reading as much as you do music then think about whether you really want to do it. It isn’t a competition. Really. Oh, and buy a pen. I like black ones.”
- Joe Shooman (author of Whose Space Is It Anyway?)
“Frankly, if you can do anything else do so. It’s not easy to do, the profession is overcrowded, most writers can’t support themselves solely by writing and you need to have something unique to say or sell in a climate where the industry is more comfortable with the familiar than the unusual. Otherwise, read widely – and that includes comics, magazines, newspapers, history, etc – and not just in your genre or special interest comfort zone. Work on the prose: learn how to write a good sentence, paragraph, page, chapter, story, while finding an authorial voice appropriate to whatever you’re writing. Don’t get so hung up on being a writer (ie: going to parties, conventions, award ceremonies) that you skimp on doing the writing (the sat-at-a-desk bit).”
- Kim Newman (author of Anno Dracula)