It’s been a big year for the So You Want To Be A Writer podcast team!
Not only have we screamed past the ONE MILLION download mark (you’ll find my 15 favourite interviews here), with a LIVE event at VIVID Sydney (book now!) in the works, but we’re happy to announce that we’ve written a book!
So You Want To Be A Writer: How To Get Started (While You Still Have A Day Job) by Allison Tait and Valerie Khoo will be on sale from 8 June (be at our event to be the first to own it!)
Here’s the blurb
The ultimate guide to making your writing dreams come true!
Want to write a novel or earn an income as a freelance writer, but not sure how to go about it? Authors Allison Tait and Valerie Khoo – co-hosts of the popular So You Want To Be A Writer podcast – will give you the steps you need to make your dream a reality.
In this book, you’ll discover everything you need to be a successful writer, including how to connect with people who will help your career grow and productivity tips for fitting everything into your already busy life. You’ll also explore how to keep your creative juices flowing and where to find other writers just like you.
This book lays out a blueprint to help you get started and thrive in the world of words. With advice from over 120 writers, you’ll tap into proven wisdom and find the path that will lead YOU to success!
Here’s what five of Australia’s favourite authors have said about the book
‘Practical, grounded and inspiring. When a thousand voices tell you that you can’t, you need a voice to make you believe you can. This book is that voice.’
Candice Fox, #1 New York Times bestselling author
‘So many pro tips in here from working writers. This is like Tim Ferriss’s Tools of Titans but exclusively for writers. I loved it.’
Tristan Bancks, award-winning children’s author
‘Perfect for the person who wants to write but doesn’t have the confidence or the know-how to start.’
Pamela Hart, award-winning historical fiction author
‘Essential reading for any aspiring writer.’
Graeme Simsion, international bestselling author
‘Val and Al were a godsend to me before I was published, offering a guided tour to the world of publishing that was otherwise closed to me. Their advice is highly, highly recommended.’
Dervla McTiernan, international bestselling author
And here’s a picture of the co-authors on the day (nearly a year ago) we decided to write a book
We are thrilled to bring this book to our podcast audience, our writing community and to new and aspiring writers everywhere. It will be available through a range of online booksellers, here and overseas, so stay tuned for more details.
If you’d like to read more about So You Want To Be A Writer the book, or register your details to receive notice as soon as the book is on sale, you’ll find all the details here.
Are you new here? Welcome to my blog! I’m Allison Tait and you can find out more about me here and more about my online writing courses here.
I can’t believe it’s that time of the year again! I’m taking a break from the online world for a few weeks at the end of this week, so I thought I’d start sharing some of my ‘new year’ posts early, starting with this one.
I’m always fascinated to see which of my ‘writing’ posts resonate the most each year, and this year is no different. So here they are, in descending order from 10-1, the 10 most popular posts about writing on this site in 2018. (Click the title to see the full post)
The one superpower that all published writers have
Industry Insider: How do you know when a story is finished?
Ask the writer: How to build your author platform
Starting Out #3: Do you need to do a course to be a writer?
6 skills you need to make it as a copywriter
Writing for kids: How to create remarkable characters
Writing for kids: 10 top writing tips from bestselling author Jacqueline Harvey
My top 3 tips from nine years of author blogging
Industry Insider: How to tell when your writing is ‘good enough’
10 things I’ve learnt from writing my debut novel
Want more? You’ll find all of my posts about writing here.
Are you new here? Welcome to my blog! I’m the author of two epic adventure series for kids 9+, and you can find out more about me here. Click the images below to discover more about my books.
One of the most interesting aspects of any author workshop is the Q&A section at the end. You might remember this post, wherein I advised authors to be prepared for ‘anything’ when it comes to this particular aspect of a talk. But I confess I was caught short during my recent visit to the Burdekin Readers’ & Writers’ Festival.
In my defence, it was the end of a very long, hot Friday, in a (mostly) year 9 workshop, when a year 11 student put up his hand and asked me this question:
How do you know when a story is finished?
I was focused on structure, so I blathered on about getting to The End, about three acts, about reading a lot of books so that you have an innate sense of story structure.
And then I thought about it all weekend. Because, of course, he wasn’t asking me about how to get to The End of a story, he was asking me how you know it’s time to Let Go of a story.
Which is a really, really good question.
Such a good question, in fact, that I decided to get some help to answer it. So I asked a few author mates for their perspective and they all gasped in horror – because the answer is at once simple and complicated.
But then they – in all their award-winning, bestselling glory – gave me their answers, which you’ll find below. They write across a whole range of genres, demographics, and styles. They write novels, novellas, short stories, and essays. Some have 30+ books to their names. In short, they know their way around a story.
Click their names to find out more about that award-winning, bestselling stuff on their websites, and the title of their latest book (in brackets) to find out more about it.
11 top Australian authors share how they know a story is ‘finished’
“It’s never finished! I had to re-read The Paris Seamstress for the eleventy-billionth time to proofread it for the US market after it had been published here in Australia and I made changes to it yet again! So I prefer to think of a manuscript as “as good as I can make it at the time” rather than finished. Finished is obviously much shorter and punchier to say though!
So the moment when I submit a manuscript is when it really is as good as I can make it right then. I’ll always leave a manuscript to sit for at least a couple of weeks before I send it anywhere, have another look at it and then, if I’m just tinkering rather than really editing or redrafting, it’s reached the stage when it’s ready to go.
For interest’s sake, I did 13 drafts of my very first novel before it was accepted for publication; I now do around 5 or 6 drafts. I know they’re not perfect – that even the published book isn’t perfect – but it’s my best work at that moment.
Which is a good test – can you say, hand on heart, that you’ve done everything possible and given it your all and made it your best possible work? If so, then it’s ‘finished” – for now!”
Jack Heath (Liars #1: The Truth App)
“You know you’ve finished the plot when the reader can guess the rest. You know you’ve finished the first draft when you can’t think of any other things to change, and you can’t stand the thought of looking at it again. But you’ll have to read it at least four more times to implemented everyone else’s suggestions – that’s when the book is finished.
Melina Marchetta (Tell The Truth, Shame The Devil)
“I find that if I can read a hard copy without scribbling notes on the page, then that’s it.”
Anna Spargo-Ryan (The Gulf)
- When you write something, you know what’s supposed to be in it, all the background information and research. You have all this context that a new reader won’t have. In that sense, I think it’s very difficult to know when your own work is finished. Writing a book is a team effort. I rely on other people – not to tell me whether or not the story is finished, but to help me see why it isn’t.
- I also think you get to know your weaknesses as a finisher. I write rushed, terrible endings. I know that the first time I write an ending, it’s not finished, and probably still isn’t finished until I’ve rewritten it four or five times. I always think it’s finished, but I’ve come to know better.
- “Finished” always comes sooner than I expected. I’ll be writing and writing and then, suddenly, it will be done. That happens to me at first draft stage, and at final proofreading stage. It’s like a magic trick (the only magic trick that exists in writing).
- Lastly, most writers – and other artists – will tell you that nothing is ever truly finished. There’s a point at which you just have to abandon it. I sometimes read over my published writing and think, oh yeah, I would change all of these things. But you could honestly keep on doing that forever, and I think often you wouldn’t even necessarily make it a better work on the whole. Would this sentence be better written a different way? Maybe. Will it make the whole book so much better? Probably not. I read once that the painter John Olsen (I think) would take a brush to exhibitions and touch up his work while it was hanging on the gallery walls. There’s a point at which you have to recognise you’ve done as much as a project needs and that’s not the same as doing everything you wanted to do, but it doesn’t make it any less finished. Let it go.
Pamela Freeman/Pamela Hart (The Desert Nurse)
“I know it’s finished when the characters/plots etc don’t bug me when I’m waiting in line, or at the traffic lights – if my mind is disengaged and the book doesn’t appear in it, it’s probably done.”
Krissy Kneen (Wintering)
“I know I am about to be finished when a new book starts to knock on my brain. I get the urge to move on because the new book feels so much more interesting. I start to read and collect material that relate to the next book. This is how I know I am about to finish a project. Pretty soon after this I can put the final sentence in, read over the book and just feel the urge to submit it. Moving on is a sure sign it is done.”
Alan Baxter (Devouring Dark – coming 6 November, 2018)
“I know it’s finished when I’ve had it read by a couple of people I trust and addressed their concerns, and it subsequently doesn’t keep knocking on my brain for more. I never trust that feeling unless others have read it, too.”
Cat Sparks (Lotus Blue)
“When it comes to judging my own work on this score, I am almost always wrong when I initially decide a story is done. Everything I write needs to be composted for at least three months, enough time for glaring errors of style and judgement to become visible to my own eyes. Sometimes longer.”
Ian Irvine (The Fatal Gate – The Gates Of Good And Evil #2)
“I don’t show my work to anyone for an opinion, I judge it myself. And I like to meet my deadlines, so I normally submit on the day or a few days later. Occasionally, well in advance, I might ask for an extra month, in which case I treat that as a firm deadline.”
Dmetri Kakmi (Mother Land, plus essays, short stories and novellas)
“For me a piece is never really finished. You can always do better. But I do recognise when I’ve done the best I can for the time being. I stop and send it to my trusted editor, who then pushes me beyond whatever barriers I might have. Ultimately though I know when a story is ready to go into the world, flawed or not. It’s a gut feeling.”
Jacqueline Harvey (Disappearing Act – Kensy and Max #2)
“I know it’s finished when I feel like I’ve brought together the loose ends and untangled the mysteries – the last line really needs to give me a feeling of ‘ahh, it’s done’ (either that or I’m crying tears of joy for my characters).”
I hope you found this helpful! Are you new here? Welcome to my blog! You can find out more about me here.
For more brilliant writing advice and tips from top authors, check out my book So You Want To Be A Writer (How To Get Started While You Still Have A Day Job), co-authored with Valerie Khoo.
There’s nothing quite like the experience of having your first novel appear on bookshop shelves. And nothing quite like the learning curve involved in getting the book there in the first place.
Today, I’m pleased to welcome debut author Louise Allan to my blog, to share the process behind getting her first book The Sisters’ Song (Allen & Unwin) from idea to published novel – and all the things she learnt along the way.
Take it away Louise…
10 things I’ve learnt from writing my debut novel
Sometimes I look at my book and can’t believe I’ve written one! I didn’t start my working life as a writer but came to it much later than most. But being older didn’t excuse me from doing my writing apprenticeship—I still had to learn the craft and it wasn’t at all easy. There were hair-tearing moments, disappointments, times I needed to take a break, and times I needed to talk myself into returning to my keyboard.
Here are some of the things I’ve learnt along the way. This list is by no means exhaustive, but includes tips about the craft of writing as well as organising your time.
1. Get your bum on the chair
Don’t make excuses, just do it! Yes, it might be easier once the kids are all in high school, or once Christmas is over, or once you have a dedicated writing space, but if you keep putting it off, you’ll find you’ll be forever waiting because the perfect time will never come. You’ll never get a clear diary. Your kids will always have something on. Your writing space will never be perfectly set up. But it doesn’t matter—start anyway. Even 30 minutes a day. Don’t put it off. Just start. Get those fingers on the keyboard and start typing. It’s the only way to write a book.
2. Protect your writing time
Protecting your writing time is an active thing, and don’t let anything encroach upon it. Put off making the beds or vacuuming. Don’t cook a couple of nights a week, or keep meals simple. Decline coffee shop invitations. Don’t volunteer on the P&C or for canteen duty. Turn off the wi-fi. If you write best in the mornings, tell the repairman he can’t come until the afternoon. Book appointments for when you’re free and only when you’re free. Shut your door and stick up a sign that tells the kids not to interrupt you:
I found saying No the hardest thing of all. I felt guilty, as if I was letting people down. I kept telling myself that this was my time and I was entitled to it, and eventually, people stopped asking me to meet them or volunteer, which caused more guilt. I reminded myself that mums who work outside of the home can’t do these things either, and that my writing was now my job.
3. Mix with other writers
They’re your tribe. They’ll understand you more than anyone. They’ll be genuinely interested in the book your writing and they get your need to write it. Being around them will keep you motivated, just by reminding you why you started it in the first place. After you’ve been rejected, they’ll tell you about theirs. They’re very helpful people, great sources of advice, support and comfort. And when your book comes out, they’ll be your biggest supporters.
4. Get online early
Everyone tells you this and you might think it will take away from your actual novel-writing time. It’s also rather daunting, especially at first, and you’ll feel a bit vulnerable. You also feel as if you’re putting your work out there and no one’s listening.
I started a blog and Facebook page in early 2013 when I’d was about to finish the first draft of my novel. I had 39 Facebook followers for quite a few months, but I kept going, posting consistently and trying to be myself. I made a lot of mistakes, but only those 39 Facebook followers know about those!
Over time, I’ve relaxed and got better at it, and slowly built up a loyal following. Because we’ve been together for nearly five years, my followers and I know each other well, and since the release of my book, they’ve been amazing, jumping on board and championing it.
So, start a blog and Facebook page early even if you feel as if no one is listening. Be yourself and post consistently. Don’t worry if you make a mistake—just hit the Delete button! Give people time to come, and when your book’s published, you’ll have a group of followers who are more than willing to support you because they’ve been with you all the way.
5. Try things out and experiment
Writing’s meant to be fun, too, so explore. Go off on tangents. Be adventurous. Be free. There are no restrictions, not when you’re drafting. Write your deepest fears, your most embarrassing moments, even things that might seem really wacky and over the top. Overwrite a scene, you can always pare it back later. Or delete it.
I don’t believe any writing is ever wasted, even if it doesn’t make it into the final version. I have 190,000 words sitting in my ‘Outtakes’ folder, and every single one of them was necessary to making the final version of my novel what it is.
6. Accept feedback
I can’t stress this one strongly enough, especially when you’re starting out. Actively seek feedback whenever you can. Join a writing group and share writing with each other. If there’s a writer-in-residence at your local writers’ centre, they’ll often look over a couple of chapters, and give you pointers which you can then use to go through the rest of your manuscript. Before sending your work out to agents and publishers, consider getting a formal manuscript appraisal. Work with a mentor even.
Separate yourself from your writing while you’re getting the feedback. Talk about it as if it’s an object and not part of you. Look at it as critically as you can. Tell yourself that it will make it better, because that’s the aim, after all. Don’t defend it and don’t get upset. If you’re not sure of what the critique means, just ask the reader to elaborate. Even if you disagree, listen anyway and think about it.
In my personal experience, I’ve never encountered anyone with an ulterior motive. Every single person has been trying to help when giving me feedback.
Besides, if your book is ever picked up by a publisher, believe me, they won’t go easy on you during the editing. If you want to be a published author, at some stage you’ll have to get used to hearing feedback.
7. Be prepared to rewrite
Following on from the previous point, no first draft is ever ready for publishing. Nor a second or third. It’s tedious and hard, but you just have to sit at the computer and go over your words time and again. I’ve lost count of my redrafts and rewrites, but each time, it’s improved it. Believe me.
8. Writing a novel takes a long time
It takes a long time to write 90,000 good words from your imagination onto the page, structured in such a way as to take the reader on a enjoyable ride. There are no corners you can cut, and if it’s your first novel, there are no ways you can avoid making at least some rookie mistakes. Then there are family, paid work and general living that also get in the way. Sometimes, the words just won’t come, and you’ll need to take a break.
It took me six years to write my novel, which sounds like a long time but doesn’t actually feel that long because I was busy all those years. Now that it’s published, I’m glad it took as long as it did—the story has benefitted from the extra incubation time.
9. Don’t give up
Never, ever give up. Remember the Ira Glass quote. Aim for that ideal vision of your book that you have in your head, but go easy on yourself as you head towards it. Allow yourself to be a learner and make mistakes.
10. Write for yourself
Write the novel you want to read. Chances are, others will want to read it, too.
Louise Allan’s first novel, The Sisters’ Song, is out now with Allen & Unwin. The manuscript has previously been shortlisted for the 2014 City of Fremantle—TAG Hungerford Award and awarded a Varuna Residential Fellowship. Find out more about Louise and her wonderful book here.
Interested in writing your own debut novel? You might find these links helpful.
Six reasons you should start writing your novel now
Writing is all about trust
An inconvenient truth about mothers and writing
It’s time for my annual round-up of ‘most popular posts’. I have a few categories this year, including posts for readers and posts for authors, but I’m starting with posts about writing because, well, I know how much my community loves them.
So here, in descending order from 10-1, are my top 10 posts about writing for 2017.
10. Some books are harder to write than others: 7 tips for getting to The End
A terrific guest post from author Allison Rushby about finishing a manuscript
9. 6 tips for getting back into the swing with your writing
How to start writing again after a break
8. 3 ways to make yourself write when you really don’t want to (but absolutely have to)
Winning the title of longest blog post headline of the year, this guest post from author R.E. Devine really hit a chord!
7. How to edit your own writing: 5 top tips from an editor
In which professional editor Nicola O’Shea shares her thoughts on how to wrangle a manuscript edit
6. How to get the words written: 10 tips for writers
Answering the number one question I am asked by aspiring authors: ‘How do I get the words written?’
5. What publishers really want (in their own words)
A rundown of seven podcast interviews with publishers – a great way to hear exactly what publishers are looking for, from the horse’s mouth.
4. Six reasons you should start writing your novel now
This remains one of my perennially popular posts – read it and get started!
3. How to edit your own writing: 5 top tips from a writer
In which I share my thoughts on how to wrangle a manuscript edit
2. How to tell when your writing is ‘good enough’
I asked nine Australian authors for their answers to this perplexing question
1. 5 Brilliant Things You Can Do For Your Writing in 2017
The really brilliant thing about this post is that these are all totally brilliant things that you can also do for your writing in 2018!
Are you new here? Welcome to my blog! I’m Allison Tait and you can find out more about me here and more about my online writing courses here.
Would you love more writing tips and advice? Check out my book So You Want To Be A Writer: How To Get Started (While You Still Have A Day Job), co-authored with Valerie Khoo and based on our top-rating podcast.
Buy it here!