Saturday, 22 December 2012

Post-NaNoWriMo tips #5 - Research

Research is something you need to do before you write, but it's also very important after you've written. If you want to take your writing further, by being published, you need to learn about the industry you're getting into.

If you're interested in pursuing traditional publication then research the agents or publishers you want to submit to. Find out which authors and novels they already represent/publish, find out what they're looking for. Follow them on social media, look at their website or blog and ALWAYS READ AND FOLLOW THE SUBMISSION GUIDELINES. That one is important enough to deserve all caps, trust me.

If you want to go down the self-publishing route, find out the different options that are available for print and digital publishing. Join forums, chat to people who have already been there and find out about their experiences. Look into the best ways to market your book without annoying everyone with constant spam - "You can buy my book here!"  "Look at this review for my book!"  "Here's another link to my book, and my Facebook page, and my Goodreads page!" - I see far too much of this on Twitter, and it has not yet persuaded me to buy a book. I buy from authors who interact.

But I digress. When I first started submitting work to agents, I didn't have a clue what I was doing, because I hadn't spent long enough researching the query process. My submission itself was awful and unprofessional, I didn't really know what genre my novel fitted into, so I'm not surprised I was rejected. Now that I know a lot more about the industry, I am confident that my next submissions will be a lot smarter, clearer and more professional. I can't guarantee I'll get an agent, but I've got a lot more chance than I did a few years ago.

Research takes time but, like editing, it's worth it. Better to spend a few weeks really getting to grips with what traditional or self-publishing is really about than to leap in blindly. The more you know, the more chance you have of being successful.

Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Post-NaNoWriMo tips #4 - Editing

Once you've completed tip #1, the next thing to do with your manuscript is edit it. Some people like to dive straight in, whilst others prefer to put the novel aside for a few weeks so that they can come back to it with fresh eyes. Either way, it's an essential part of writing.

When I first completed a NaNoWriMo novel, my idea of what editing entailed was pretty narrow. I read through it pretty quickly, corrected any typos or grammatical errors, then sat back with a big grin on my face, mightily pleased with myself. What I know now is that was not really editing.

Of course, spelling and grammar are an important part of editing, but I don't often have many of those mistakes to fix - I'm not bragging, it's just one of my strengths. They are just the beginning, however. Editing involves looking at the whole story arc and deciding if the plot, pace and characterisation are all used to their best advantage. It involves looking at your prose and your dialogue, and deciding if your writing is as strong as it could be. To properly edit, you have to pick through your writing, turning over every sentence and deciding if you've expressed exactly what you want to express, or if there's a better way of doing it.

I took a self-editing course with the Writers' Workshop, which was really valuable. You don't have to take a course, as there are plenty of resources online to help you with editing, but it's really a worthwhile experience having feedback from professional editors and writers, as well as fellow amateurs. The most important thing is not to rush it - producing an excellent novel takes time and effort, as I have learned over the years. If you put in the necessary editing work, you will see results in time.

Sunday, 16 December 2012

Post-NaNoWriMo tips #3 - Reading

This is my favourite part of being a writer - reading. Ok, it can also give me a bit of angst about the quality of my writing, or lack of it, but mostly I enjoy it. If a person says to me, "I don't read", I honestly have no idea how to respond. That's like telling me they don't breathe.

A writer who doesn't read will not be a very good writer. I won't listen to any argument on that subject. Reading stimulates the imagination, the same imagination a writer relies on to come up with their own ideas. Reading also helps the writer to understand different aspects of writing, such as voice, characterisation and dialogue. It can help with grammar too.

It's important to read the genre that you write, although I like to read various others too. It helps to see the differences between genres, as well as the similarities. I don't just mean from a commercial point of view - understanding the market, etc - but from the point of development as a writer, too. I didn't really understand what genre my novels were until someone pointed me in the direction of similar books; I just wrote the stories that were in my head.

Basically, I just think you should read because, well, why wouldn't you want to?

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Post-NaNoWriMo tips #2 - Community

One of the best things that has come out of my personal journey as a writer so far is the community of other writers that I've met. Writing can be a very solitary pastime, so it's important to maintain contact with others who are going through the same process.

The forums on the NaNoWriMo site can get pretty quiet in the off season, but there are still plenty of people around to interact with on some of the boards. Personally, I love Twitter for interacting with other writers, and it's great for following a lot of published authors and finding out what they're up to. There are many other writing sites that have a community, including the Writers' Workshop.

For those who want to venture into the real world, most larger towns and cities will have a writing group who will meet regularly to share their writing or just to chat. Writing festivals and book festivals are also great places to meet fellow writers and book lovers, as well as to meet published authors and take part in workshops.

Find a way to get out there and spend time with other writers, whether it's in the real or the virtual world. You'll learn from them, you'll make friends, and you'll develop as a writer as a result.

Sunday, 9 December 2012

Post-NaNoWriMo tips #1: FYS

Welcome to the first of my post-NaNoWriMo tips. I'm going to share a bit of advice based on things I've learned in the last few years. After the frenzy of November, it can be a bit bemusing where to go next. So, the first tip I have to offer is this: in the immortal words of Chuck Wendig, first up, finish your sh*t. (He knows what he's talking about, as you can see here).

It may seem like I'm stating the obvious, but the first thing to do is finish the first draft of your novel. I wrote 75,000 words in November but haven't finished the first draft yet, so that's what I'm working on this month. There are so many people on the NaNoWriMo forums who say "Oh, I really need to finish my novel from 2009...." - no no no no no. Finish it now. Don't start that new and exciting idea that's suddenly sprung up in the back of your head that is so much more interesting than this novel; get this draft finished first. By all means, write that idea down, don't let it escape, but stay focused on the task in hand until it's finished. You can't do anything with an unfinished novel, except complain about it being unfinished, and nobody but you cares about that.

Sunday, 2 December 2012


To everyone out there who took part in NaNoWriMo this year, I want to say a huge congratulations - regardless of how many words you wrote, you did something. You made a commitment to write, and you did your best to live up to that, which is the first important step on the journey to becoming a writer.

This is only the beginning. Over the next few weeks I'll be blogging some post-NaNoWriMo tips. These are all based on the learning curve of my own experience over the last two years. Now, I'm by no means an expert, but hopefully I can share a few bits of advice that I've picked up, often by making my own mistakes along the way.