One of the many great things about recording the So You Want To Be A Writer podcast is that I get to interview some of the best writers working in Australia, and the world, today, giving me direct access to their creative minds, their industry knowledge, their process. And from this comes some of the best writing tips a person could hope to find.
Here, I’ve collected six favourite pieces of advice from recent podcasts, and I’ve linked each author’s name to the notes for that episode, so that you can listen to the full interview or read the transcript.
On writing picture books
“I think that beginners often try to just do too much. You really want one clear story line and one theme. The best picture books are really quite simple. But, of course the difficulty is to get that simple it often has to be very complicate to start with and then you need to edit it down.” Judith Rossell
On finding your voice
“In today’s age of easy digital self-publishing we see people who finish their very first work and put it up for sale. That is rarely a good idea. One, even if you happen to have a great grasp of the English language, your grammar, your punctuation, if you don’t have any of those issues, you will still not know who you are as a writer or what your stories are meant to be at that stage in your writing career.
“Every author has a theme, every author has a strength, every author has a weakness, and you have to recognise what those things are.
“For me, I feel that it takes three novels to do that. I tell people to write three books and then think about publishing something, because you will have learned so much about yourself and your style at the end of three novels that you will be able to really put a work up for sale that is very reflective of you and something that you can be proud from now until you pass on.” Sylvia Day
On writing memoir
“I would say what not to do is to start planning the whole thing out, because for most people they get overwhelmed with that, with the hugeness of the task and how to incorporate that 360 degrees of life that is all around them, it becomes absolutely overwhelming.
“I always recommend what I call the patchwork quilt method where you just make one small piece and another small piece, you do that for a while. You don’t even think about where to go or how to put it together or what the overall thing is for a start. That’s the way to get started, otherwise you will be stopped before you even begin.” Patti Miller
On where ideas come from
“… Listen, just always be listening, because there are stories everywhere. I hear so many people say to me, ‘I would love to write, but I don’t know what to write about.’ And there’s no point in trying to write if you don’t have a story to tell, because every page will be painful if you’re trying to force something that doesn’t exist. But there are stories in every conversation you have with every human that you interact with, there’s a story. So, always be listening and always be paying attention. I think that’s really important as a writer.” Lindsey Kelk
On writing romance and ’emotional punch’
“Let’s start with what an emotional punch isn’t … Most people and beginner writers think emotional punch is about characters emoting. It’s not. It’s delivering the emotional punch to the reader. It’s those moments, you know it yourself, when you’ve read a book and there’s a moment when you tear up, or the moment when you go, “Oh…”, and a moment where sort of long after you’ve finished the book you still dwell on that scene, that’s the emotional punch.[To write it], you build a connection between the reader and the characters. Reader empathy with characters is something very underrated, but I think is really important … The writers who are the most successful, connect [readers] with their characters.” Anne Gracie
On writing (funny) for children
These days I can make a pretty reasonable prediction [about what kids find funny]. In the early days I didn’t necessarily know it was funny. I get the funny bits by actually just starting with a premise, that is a little absurd, like a bum that can detach itself and run away from the owner. Now, that’s a funny premise, but then I follow it absolutely logically. I go, “Right, that’s what has happened, what would you do?” If your dog ran away you’d ring the dog catcher, so if your bum ran away you’d ring the bum catcher.
And then I use a structured planning process where I go, “What’s the worse thing that could happen next?” Your bum has gassed the bum-catcher. How would you solve that? The bum catcher with dying gasp gives you the bum catching equipment and says, “You’ve got to catch it.” And then you go, “No, no, I can’t… I don’t know how to do this.” And then he dies and then you have to do it.
I’m utterly ruthlessly logical and I’m not trying to be funny, I’m just trying to solve a series of increasing absurd problems and then I just trust that’s going to be engaging and amusing for the reader.” Andy Griffiths
If you’d like more writing tips, check out my Q&A series.