Sunday, 6 May 2012

Advice to writers

There is an enormous number of 'how to' books for witers. There is an infinite number of online discussion forums, blogs and writers' websites which give advice to writers. One could spend all one's time reading these and never get any actual writing done.

The only piece of advice that no writer should ignore is to pay attention to grammar, spelling and punctuation. Most of the rest may be used as a basis for experimentation, to help each writer discover what works best for him or her.

Much of the advice given to writers is conflicting. To plan or not to plan; to approach an agent first, or a publisher. Some seems to be unrealistic. Authors who self  publish are told that they will need to spend two full days a week on promoting their work forever, not just at publication.

Self published authors, whether in print or on Kindle, do need to work hard to get their work noticed, as Roz Southey  has recently blogged. But anyone who can spend two full days a week on promotion and still find time to write must have no day job, no family responsibilities, no house or garden to look after, no shopping, cooking, washing or ironing to do, no other hobbies or interests to pursue and no friendships to nurture.

One piece of advice often given to writers is to ignore the phone, not look at e-mail and refuse invitations. Friends will still be there when the writing is done, it's said.

Obviously if a writer has a deadline approaching, then the social life needs to be put on hold. And any aspiring writer who is out pubbing and clubbing every night and so has no time to write should perhaps re-examine his or her priorities.

But writers can become isolated, especially those who do not have other jobs that take them out of their homes. Writing a novel in particular can be a long hard slog. We do need to take a break, get out, talk to other people (in real life, not via e-mail or Facebook or Twitter) and refresh and restock our imaginations.

Human nature is our business, after all, and we can't study it while huddled over our keyboards in our studies. We need to get out, engage in people watching, strike up conversations.

A walk is good. It provides fresh air and exercise and a chance to think about the next scene or chapter. But it  perhaps lacks opportunities for interaction with other people.

Buses are good for writers. From the top deck (where there are double deckers) one can see unfamiliar views. (The view from the top deck of a bus was a plot point in at least one crime novel.) If the bus is quiet one can think about one's plot while enjoying the ride.

If the bus is busy, there will be plenty of opportunity to gather material. The conversation going on in the seats behind might provide an idea for a short story. The elderly lady next to you might tell you her fascinating life story, or what your town was like sixty or seventy years ago.

So my advice to writers this week is - go for a bus ride!

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