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10 Essential Writing Tips

Saturday, 1 September 2012

We're all familiar with those lists of writing tips that do the rounds. Quite how we're supposed to remember them all while actually writing often escapes me. But, by way of an antidote, I thought I'd post some of my own.

Warning: may contain irony.

  1. Don't confuse your readers by dropping them into the middle of the action at the start of a story. They'd much prefer it if you filled them in on everything that has happened previously. Complete biographical details of the main characters are always good. Then, when you get to the part where something actually happens, your readers won't feel confused or intrigued.

  2. Don't be lazy and make your readers exercise their imaginations. That's your job. Much better to spell everything out in minute detail. Don't make your readers have to work out how a character did something, tell them. Adverbs are invaluable. Strings of adverbs and adjectives are especially good. The more you use, the more vivid the descriptions and the less effort the readers will have to put in.

  3. Don't invent complicated, original characters. Readers will have to go to a lot of effort to work them out. Much better to reuse a well-known character or archetype everyone is familiar with.

  4. Tell, don't show. You can get everything across much more quickly that way. Dramatising a scene with a bunch of sensory details and character responses is just a cheap way of padding a story idea out.

  5. Your first draft will be the best. It may have a few rough edges but it will be dynamic and exciting and true to your original vision.

  6. Impress your readers with your vocabulary. If you use lots of obscure and complicated words they'll realise how clever you are and want to read more.

  7. Don't worry about correct grammar and spelling. Editors and publishers will recognize a great story regardless of any syntactical slip-ups. Seriously, they won't mind. They'll probably think any little mistakes are endearing.

  8. If you get a rejection from a publisher, immediately email them back to explain why they got it wrong. Editors love to engage in a discussion like this and they'll almost certainly realise their mistake and agree to publish you.

  9. If you're stuck for a novel idea, simply look at the current bestseller lists. Another book along similar lines to any of those is bound to do well.

  10. And finally, if you don't immediately achieve bestselling succes when you become a writer, give up. Don't waste your time honing your skills. It just means the world isn't ready for you. Maybe try painting instead.

Did I miss any essential tips? Do let me know!


  1. How about when you get a rejection along with your email telling them they got it wrong, ask for a critique of your work while you're at it. They love that and next submission they'll be sure and remember you.

  2. Cate - Ah. You spotted my subtle humour.

    Karen - Absolutely. Any editor would have the time for that!

  3. if you get a story rejection, immediately delete your story. No point in sending it elsewhere, you're only embarrassing yourself.

  4. Ha! Good stuff, Simon!

    Might i add: You should never edit. Never! Doing so will alter the original voice of the story and take away from its charm. Editors especially love stream of consciousness murder mysteries.

    And editors love when you submit a story in comic sans, along with a 5mb photo of yourself included in the cover letter. This shows that not only are you a writer, but that you also appreciate art, which, as we know, is essential for anybody who would be dubbed the next literary great.

  5. Deborah - Good one. Always very tempting...

    Sam - Ouch; sounds like you're speaking from experience there!

  6. Excellent tips, Simon! Here's a couple more which always work for me:

    To freshen up a boring scene, try jumping around between the points of view of different characters. This will add a touch of dynamism and keep the reader on their toes.

    If you get to the end and find you've left a major plot strand unresolved, just bring in a long-lost relative of the main character to explain it. Readers will be in awe of your inventiveness.

    Also, ALWAYS ALWAYS ALWAYS submit your work in person. A good trick is to find out where your agent or publisher lives and wait on the doorstep. Alternatively, follow them until they use a public toilet then slip your manuscript under the partition from the next cubicle. They'll already be sat down and will probably appreciate a bit of reading material.

  7. Great tips, Lee. It's a shame no one tells you this stuff isn't it?

  8. Irony? What irony? These are the best tips EVER.

  9. Oh, THAT's how you do it. Now, I see what I've been doing wrong. ;)

  10. Thanks, Golden Eagle. I'm delighted they are of some use!

    Nicole - Glad to be of help!

  11. Excellent advice! Love it:) But you forgot to add that when submitting to agents and editors, always include a gift of some kind in the envelope. A few handfulls of glitter, at the very least, or a teabag in a mug, so they can put their feet up properly while reading your stuff. For best results, you can't beat a live puppy.

  12. Thomas, "For best results, you can't beat a live puppy" - good advice in many situations!

  13. Hehe. Too funny.

    My tip would be, 'Always complete all any non-writing jobs before writing. That way, the five minutes you actually have left to write will be zen-like and guilt free. Well, at least until you start thinking about tomorrow's jobs'.

  14. Ellie - good one. A tip I have a tendency to follow...

  15. *snorts*

    Ya know, I've read a lot of work by writers who must use your list as a sort of bible ;)

    ~ Rhonda Parrish

  16. Rhonda - I'm delighted to know I'm so influential!

  17. I'm still laughing. Congrats on meeting your W1S1 goals.


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