Melissa Hill


Writing Tips

Firstly, this information is based on my own personal experience, and nothing here is set in stone as every writer does things differently.  But here are a couple of things that might help writers starting out.  


Writing Tips


1.  A simple one really, but very, very important when you are starting out; do not put undue pressure on yourself.  If you start comparing your writing to that of other - published - authors that you admire, then you will be terribly disheartened.  Remember that most authors have perfected their craft over time and under the guidance of professionals in the publishing industry. Your first attempts are never going to compete, so don't shoot yourself in the foot before you begin!


2.  Try to write as often as you can - just to get into the habit. The only difference between a person who wants to write and writers is just that - writing. No one will ever write the book for you and talking about it won't get it written either.  So, do a little bit every day if you can, even if it's just a paragraph. Then, slowly but surely the story will take shape and you will find that scenarios or characters will start appearing on that blank page.


3. Use the active voice whenever possible. Say "Johnny threw the ball," not "The ball was thrown by Johnny."


4.  Write what you want. People often say you have to write about what you know, but I don't think this is necessarily the case. Think Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter - not exactly everyday life, is it? Yet as readers, we lap up these stories because they are written from the heart and with a true passion.  Whatever you write about, write about it because you want to. Don't try to write about things you think the reader wants to read about, or try to guess the market.


5. Following from above, don't be afraid to experiment in order to become comfortable with your own voice but whatever you do, don't try to imitate someone else's voice - this is self-defeating.


6. Less is more. Say what you mean in the fewest possible words.


7.  Don't be afraid to use 'said' when writing dialogue. This is one of the most useful tips I ever learnt in relation to writing and I picked it quite by accident. I was reading a novel in which every second character 'shrieked' or 'yelled' or 'grinned' or 'laughed'.  It was very off-putting and really slowed the pace of the dialogue.

'Said' is a word that sort of disappears on a page - the eye tends to skip over it (try it when reading, and you'll see what I mean) yet it serves its purpose. Sometimes, particularly when starting out, writers feel that they have to use their full arsenal of alternatives, when really, all they need to do is write 'said'!


8. Another point on dialogue. When finished writing a scene that consists of mostly dialogue, read it back out loud to yourself. You'll find that if it doesn't sound natural out loud, it probably isn't, and you may need to shorten sentences or sharpen responses.  Additionally don't use dialogue to fill in back-story. This is an extreme example but most people wouldn't say in normal conversation. '"Mary, I've known you since we were five years old, when we met on the first day at school when I picked you up after you fell off the rocking horse. Why won't you believe me?"  Assuming both parties were friends, then they would both know this, so you would need to fill the back-story in some other way like: 'Sensing her distrust, Johnny was at a loss.  He and Mary had been friends since .... and then the dialogue. "Mary, why won't you believe me?"'  


9. Read as much as you can and read critically. Study what works for you and what doesn't, but again, don't make too many comparisons. Remember that you are on a learning curve.  While I'm on the first draft of a novel, I will not  - under any circumstances - allow myself to read another women's fiction novel. I'll read thrillers or non-fiction but nothing like I'm writing myself, otherwise, I get really disheartened despite the fact that mine is still a work-in-progress.


10.  Writer's Block - Feeling stuck at times is very common and completely normal. If you allow yourself to get hung up on this, the so-called block may prove self-perpetuating. I like to call slow or 'blocked' phases little speed bumps. You may need some time to think things over and iron out plot points before you're ready to make further forward progress on the story. Still, try to write a little every day despite this. Start another scene or another chapter - you can always go back to the 'blocked' scene later. Or alternatively, you could just do the ironing. If you hate ironing as much as I do, this may well inspire you to get writing again.

Best of luck!