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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. May 31, 2010 1:19 am

    Great tips! I think I like “Back yourself” best. It’s scary to do, because everyone has moments of self doubt. But I’ve been thinking lately, what’s the point of sitting around, waiting approval and being told what to do? Even if I produce utterly woeful writing and fail at life generally because I ignored nay-sayers (most of whom reside exclusively in my head), at least I did what made me happy !

  2. May 31, 2010 3:18 am

    “Promote yourself in public – but allow space to doubt yourself in private.”

    I have the greatest difficulty selling my self in public. Whether it’s writing, teaching or any other aspect of life. I know I have gifts and I know what they are. And interestingly enough, experience shows that others know too. But I still have trouble putting that across to others. On the other hand what you call private doubt, is surely the healthy side of self-promotion. Otherwise who knows where it might take you.

  3. adampb permalink
    May 31, 2010 6:55 am

    Lots of ideas here to digest. I like “Write simply and vividly.”
    Might print this list out and stick it to my writing desk as a continual reminder.

  4. May 31, 2010 9:32 am

    Great article! I think the one that struck me the most was that writing can be solitary but doesn’t need to be. Wonderful insights and advice. Thank you for sharing it!

  5. May 31, 2010 12:55 pm

    Where do I begin?
    Persevere. Yes, especially ‘whispers are persuasive’.
    Back yourself. Definitely, give yourself permission – that is even more difficult.
    Defend your work. Tough but critical, personal vision matters – a whisper in a howling wind can be heard (see above).

  6. May 31, 2010 8:19 pm

    What a wonderful and useful read–so much so that I have shared it (in the form of a blogpost) with my fellow Restless Writers! Check it out: Keep ’em coming!

  7. lostlibrarygirl permalink
    June 1, 2010 5:41 am

    Two of these tips seem especially relevant to my circumstances:

    1 -“Make up the rules for what you want to produce” – Thank you for not boxing me in to some preconceived notion of what to write and what will be read.

    2 -“Don’t show your work to family and friends” – Recently I’ve been letting my husband be my first reader and often we are both frustrated with his attempts to critique. We’ve been married for 12 years and are still the best of friends. What I really want from him in a critique is to point out the gaps between what’s on the page and what’s in my head. But he feels that he can’t read my work objectively because he already knows what’s going on inside my head. I’ve realized that besides his constant praise, I do need a reader that can show some objectivity. This is why I started my blog and began writing for [fiction friday].

  8. June 1, 2010 10:26 am

    “Make up the rules for what you want to produce.” What a freeing statement.

    “Cultivate a community of writers” The best thing I have done for my writing is getting to know other writers.

    “Collaborate” I take it back, this is the best thing I have done for my writing. I am currently involved in two collaborative projects (with some of the same people. *wink wink Jodi*
    It’s amazing to me how much depth and insight into your writing can be gained from collaboration. It’s also liberating to have people you trust and admire writing along with you; journeying and growing along side you. They have the ability to say “Hey this is crap” and you can be OK with it. It’s not personal; and when they say “Hey this is awesome”, it’s so much more uplifting.

  9. June 1, 2010 6:25 pm

    Very good advice here. I like the point to “not show friends and family your work”. That is very hard to do because they are the ones who appreciate your work the most, but perhaps they are not giving the best advice to write for a larger audience.

  10. Madison Woods permalink
    June 2, 2010 12:40 pm

    >>Don’t hold back and don’t protect yourself – say things no one else has said before – turn off the inner critic/editor<<

    This is the one that makes the most impact on me. Until I'm completely finished, I don't think I'll even share with anyone what the basic premise is, because it says something totally crazy (in my opinion). But it wants to be written, so I'm trying to ignore my critic and just let it out.

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