Useful writing tips are not that easy to come by. There’s a lot of ‘read widely’ and ‘write lots’ in the writing advice given out – and for good reason. Those two tips are the cornerstone of any writer’s career.
But when it comes to the nitty gritty, the really useful writing tips, you have to pan a bit harder for the gold.
Which is one reason that Valerie Khoo and I ask every author we interview for the So You Want To Be A Writer podcast for their top three writing tips.
Trawling through the transcripts of 450+ episodes takes a lot of time, so I’ve pulled this selection from more recent episodes.
For hundreds of other tips, check out our book ‘So You Want To Be A Writer: How to get started while you still have a day job’, or listen to all 450+ episodes. There’s an awful lot of gold in there!
In the meantime, click the episode number next to each author’s name below to listen to their full interview.
14 useful writing tips from Australian authors
Chris Flynn, ep 337
“You’re not always working on the book that you think you’re working on. Sometimes you’ve got a bunch of ideas, and those ideas are parts of different stories. Other times they seem like very different ideas, but they’re actually part of the same story, but you just can’t see it yet.
Loads of writers will write hundreds of thousands of words before they can see where the 60,000-word story is.
You need to keep going.”
Katherine Firkin, ep 341
“It doesn’t have to be fun. Quite often I see [on social media], the comment that if you’re not enjoying [the writing], you shouldn’t do it. And I understand people mean well, but I think you need to push through. I remember going through my second and third draft hating myself, hating life, hating my writing, but I pushed through because I had made that commitment to myself to get it done.
It doesn’t always have to be fun, and it’s not always going to be fun. But you need to treat it as a job, drag yourself to the desk and get it done.”
Christie Nieman, ep 349
“Tell people you’re a writer. Once you put it out there, you’ve got to put your money where your mouth is.”
Meg Keneally, ep 367
“I have to know three things about every character that I write and make sure that I know them intimately: what they love, what they fear, and what they want.
As in what they really want, not what they think they want or what they appear to superficially want, but what is really driving them.
If you can answer those questions, and if you spend a bit of time interrogating yourself about the answers to those questions, then it automatically leads to characters which are more fleshed out. And it leads you through the story as well. Because that last one, what they want, is what’s going to drag your character through the story so that you can torture them, as we like to do, and throw up obstacle after obstacle that they have to overcome.
Torturing characters is fun.”
Lian Tanner, ep 369
“Learn to take criticism. It’s absolutely crucial. If somebody gives you criticism, you don’t always need to take it, but you do need to think about it . Look very seriously at what they said, and try and improve your work in the light of what they said.”
Benjamin Stevenson, ep 373
“Don’t kill the dog. Because people don’t like it when you kill animals in books and films. So avoid the household pet. Humans, they’re up for grabs, but household pets, definitely not.”
Will Kostakis, ep 379
“Write for joy. Write the truth and write for joy. Don’t write for money, because you will likely be sorely disappointed.
Write because it lights a fire inside of you. And that is where success comes from. If you’ve lit a fire inside of you, the odds are, you know, you’re going to light a fire inside somebody else.”
Sophie Green, ep 418
“Get out of your own way. We can all put a lot of obstacles in our paths, including saying that we’re not good enough to do whatever it is we want to do.
We can trip ourselves up with those obstacles. And we can keep tripping ourselves up for the rest of our lives if we want.
But ultimately, if you do want to write something, and complete it and show it to people, you need to get out of your own way.”
Tim Ayliffe, ep 426
“Never be afraid to hit delete. I think that sometimes we can spend a lot of time trying to polish something that isn’t quite there, or rewriting and rewriting because we think that will improve it.
But one of the most difficult lessons I’ve learned is that if you’ve written yourself into a corner, don’t try to get out of it. Just delete the corner and start again.”
Karen Wyld, ep 430
“Break down the barriers for yourself and others. Even if you’re not aware of those barriers, there are others out there who are experiencing them. Learn what they are and bring people up behind you. form your support squad, whether that’s online or in real life. Find your supports.”
Matt Murphy, ep 432
“Australian history is unwritten. It’s all sitting there, in dusty archives waiting to be unearthed. Look at the work of Tania Bretherton [The Suitcase Baby, The Suicide Bride]. She digs up fantastic Australian history stories and brings them to life. And it’s my honest belief that there are many stories that are sitting there waiting to be unearthed.”
Tony Park, ep 433
“Do your research retrospectively. Write your manuscript – put all your time and effort into getting your story down and writing it – and put the details in later.
If I don’t know something, whether it’s a fact or a figure, how to fly a helicopter, how to perform emergency surgery, or what type of weapons someone who’s going to use, I just put in a filler. I make it up and I just write a little note to myself in bold – even just the word check in brackets – and then I carry on writing my story.
When I get to the end, and I do my first edit, I go through the manuscript from start to finish. I may or may not still need that piece of information. If I do then I go about finding it.”
Amy Suiter Clarke, ep 434
“Explore different types of story. There are a lot of craft books out there, but a lot of craft books are written by people with the same experience. So one of the things I tried to do is to make sure that I’m reading books that are written by people who aren’t from Western cultures.
Look for craft books and novels written by authors of colour, and particularly authors of colour from different countries, because you’ll experience different storytelling techniques that are absolutely incredible, and so unpredictable, because you’re not used to reading stories told in that format. It’s such and education, and its enriching as both a writer and a reader.”
Kyle Perry, ep 440
“Focus on your sleep. When you get good sleep, your brain does all this amazing stuff, especially in dream sleep, in REM sleep, and your creativity is hindered if you don’t get enough sleep.
I’ve noticed that if I am not looking at my sleep, my writing just falls apart like threads. And I don’t think enough creatives are encouraged to prioritise their sleep because we are taught to ‘get out there and hustle’. Whereas in reality, if you sleep, I guarantee you’ll see greater output.”
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