A whole week into 2014 and people up and down the country are silently acknowledging that their New Year’s Resolutions have already bitten the dust: chocolate has been eaten, gyms have been avoided, cigarettes have been smoked.
But my Twitter timeline is full of people with a much more long-term resolution for 2014: the writing resolution. So I figured now might be a good time to offer my Top Ten Writing Tips in the hope that, in 51 weeks time, you’ll be looking back not on broken resolutions but at the first draft of your novel.
- Write, write and write some more.
- Carry on writing even if it’s rubbish and you hate it and you think it’s the worst thing that anyone’s ever written, ever.
- Once you hate what you’ve written just a little bit less, give it to someone you trust to read and comment on. If your partner is very diplomatic and doesn’t mind being shouted at when they don’t immediately say it’s a masterpiece, this could be them. If they’re not, even the strongest relationship will struggle to avoid at least one flounce out of the room accompanied by the words ‘But you just don’t get it!!’
- Ideally your trusted reader won’t be someone who’s spent their entire life telling you that everything you do is wonderful. This rules out parents. Because any parent who’s managed to smile and clap with genuine approbation because you’ve learnt to recite a nursery rhyme is unlikely to be the most objective of critics. Ditto your grandparents and possibly your best friend. Find someone a) who reads a lot; b) whose judgement you trust; and c) who isn’t openly rivalrous with you. It could be someone you’ve met on the internet or someone from work or just an acquaintance. Just make sure it’s someone whose opinion you genuinely value.
- When the lucky person who’s been designated as your First Reader gives you feedback, try not to react immediately. Because unless you’re a literary genius who’s created a masterpiece on their first draft, it’s likely that some of the feedback you’re given will be negative. Or, as the person giving the feedback will couch it, ‘constructively critical’. Listen to the feedback and then do absolutely nothing with it for at least 24 hours. This is the only way to avoid feeling that a) you were right all along - your writing is rubbish; b) it’s all been a waste of time; c) there’s no way to salvage it; d) you hate the person who’s given you feedback. It’s amazing how a day’s reflection can take the sting out of the editorial tail. Tomorrow all those plot suggestions will suddenly seem eminently doable. And possibly even right.
- Be kind to yourself. There are days when writing is hard. Just like running a marathon is hard or doing a really long day in the office is hard or being up with sleepless kids all night is hard. But stick with it and it will get easier. Or, at least, not quite so painful.
- Remember that writing is a job. Just like any job. Even if it’s a second job you’re fitting in around the job that pays the mortgage or the job building plasticine dinosaurs with your children. And like any job, you just have to sit down and get on with it, even when you're not really in the mood. So if you say you’re going to write for two hours every evening, don’t allow yourself to leave your desk until that time is up, even if you’ve done nothing bar Point 8. Because eventually the part of you that would rather be watching TV or surfing the internet or hanging out with your friends will learn that you Mean Business.
- However, prepare to spend a lot of time becoming very well acquainted with the view from your window. Staring into the middle distance - aka thinking - is an integral part of the writing process. Just try to ensure that you turn back to face your computer screen - and, ideally, tap away at the keyboard - at least once an hour.
- Read everything you can get your hands on. Read novels, essays, poetry and newspaper articles as though your writing depends on it. Because it does. Inside every good writer is an avid reader: it is, quite simply, the best way to learn your craft.
- Don’t give up. Three words that are so easy to say and yet often so hard to adhere to. But if there’s a little voice inside you niggling, away telling you that it wants to write, listen to it. Indulge it. And give it a chance - a proper, determined, disciplined chance - to be heard. It might just be the best thing you ever do.