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21 Tips for Writers of All Ilks

May 31, 2010

Saturday morning I sat next to Benjamin Solah in the Melbourne Town Hall  to hear the words of wisdom from the Emerging Writers Festival’s five ambassadors  – Guy Blackman, Natasha Campo, Jill Jones, Sean Riley and Julian Shaw. We were two of perhaps several hundred eager up-and-coming writers looking to emerse ourselves in the experience of those who have trod the path before us. And we weren’t disappointed.

At the end of the session, what struck me most was – writing is writing – whether you’re a song writer, a journalist, an academic, a poet, a film maker or a novelist – and there are commonalities to the creative process of writing and how to make it work for you.

Following are 21 tips distilled from the 35 given during the panel session.

  • Arrive late and leave early – get straight to the heart of the narrative.
  • Defend your work and keep your creative dignity – learn to say no/no way/go f*ck yourself – because no one else will stand up for your work – and remember you cannot write someone else’s vision.
  • Don’t show your work to family and friends – you will erroneously become attached to what they think is brilliant – which in fact is likely to be absolute crap.
  • Go out and live your life – do not allow yourself to become stuck in a hole of your own creativity – especially when you’re creatively blocked – being in the real world is the best antidote.
  • Make up the rules for what you want to produce – in a global market there are an infinite number of possible niches with people willing to pay for your work.
  • Build an audience online – utilise a website or a blog to connect with readers – capture them through a mailing list – don’t be afraid to give away free stuff.
  • Back yourself – don’t ask others for permission to do what you want to do.
  • Know you can do it yourself – you do not need the backing of major publishing houses/production companies – the rules are changing – look for those you know, who want to work with you, and your idea.
  • Persevere – your yell is someone else’s whisper and whispers are pervasive, it will get heard – work on several projects – this keeps you energised and working creatively even when one project isn’t firing.
  • Utilise a multi-media approach – there are audio books, podcasts, youtube as well as thinking further afield such as combining/selling photos and music with writing.
  • Embrace festivals – nothing is ever to small to be part of.
  • Look after yourself – writing will ruin your health – so take care – consider writing standing up (apparently Hemmingway did this) and making use of pen and paper rather than chaining yourself to a computer.
  • Get to know your process – work out when and where you work best and do it your own way – try to write every day, even if just for a few minutes and carry a note book with you so ideas don’t escape you.
  • Trust the intuition of your readers to know where something doesn’t work – but don’t trust their advice on how to change/fix it.
  • Don’t write to a presumed audience – there is no point in second guessing your niche market – just write!
  • Promote yourself in public – but allow space to doubt yourself in private.
  • Write simply and vividly.
  • Don’t hold back and don’t protect yourself – say things no one else has said before – turn off the inner critic/editor
  • Collaborate – work with new people and don’t be afraid to change circles of friends – there are always new opportunities out there.
  • Be professional – submit on time, to the required word length, to the brief agreed on – editors like writers who they can rely on.
  • Cultivate a community of writers – writing can be a lonely enterprise, but it doesn’t need to be – other writers understand where you are, what you’re thinking and feeling.

Which piece of advice strikes a chord with you? Why do you think this is the case? How can you incorporate it into your writing life?

Jodi Cleghorn’s favourite piece of advice is #2 and is wondering when she’ll hear it for the first time when she’s wearing her editor’s cap. Thanks to my lovely Melbourne writing friends, Ben Solah and Jason Coggins, for making my first EWF a memorable one. You can find more of Jodi’s musings at Writing in Black and White.
  1. June 3, 2010 1:21 am

    The advise to defend your work really struck me because so often we’re told to let go and trust an editor. Maintaining that balance can be hard but if you understand what you’re trying to say with the story and know when criticism goes against that, then I think you’ll know in your gut which is a hard thing to work off.

  2. clearbluewindow permalink
    June 3, 2010 11:49 pm

    Thank you for sharing these tips. For someone just starting out “Get to know your process” is probably the most relevant tip for me right now!

  3. June 4, 2010 10:44 am

    The piece of advice that I always need to take more to heart is to get out into the world and experience things. I have a tendency to hole up in my room, especially when I get into a creative rut -that only sends me further into that rut, because I’m stuck repeating the same actions over and over again. It’s always nice to be reminded that there’s a big wide world out there for me to explore.

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