I am not Lee Child, James Patterson or Michael Connelly. This may be a relief for some of you (though I would argue that two of the three are very good writers and the other was until he franchised, but then it’s all a matter of taste).
Nor am I ever likely to win the Booker or Miles Franklin.
And completing the rule of threes (read Christopher Booker’s Seven Basic Plots), I still need an editor (and when a reader complains about grammatical errors, I blame her, my primary school English teachers…okay, okay, it’s my fault—my name’s on the cover).
I have had a respected mainstream book publisher publish my novel (and the second is on its way).
I read prolifically.
I am a Professor of Psychiatry which gives me some real claims on insight into the psyche—in this case, of the would-be author.
(Note rule of three again).
Many people want to write. A ‘retirement’ plan. An unfulfilled desire. Because they have a fascinating life.
First tip: it took me 18 years of post-school study (while working in the area, except when a med student) to become a Professor of Psychiatry, 12 years to be a psychiatrist. There are many more successful psychiatrists than there are successful authors—and more Professors of Psychiatry if you count success as being an income over say $100,000 a year. The message? To be a good writer takes work; whether it be combined with study in the area or not (a PhD in literature will not guarantee you a publisher; I did 2 short courses, 2 masterclasses and a five day intensive as well as reading Booker’s text and Sid Field’s Screenplay), to be a writer you have to…write. I had three unpublished manuscripts of 140,000 words plus, each (with reject letters), and 10 published (3 novels, 7 novellas) under a pseudonym, plus several published short stories (none of which were great, but they were great practice with positive feedback), before I wrote the manuscript that got accepted.
Second Tip: You can’t edit a blank page (I think someone famous said this). Don’t keep re-writing the same page or line—finish the damn thing and then edit it, get people to read it, people you trust to give you honest but kind criticism, and brace yourself to receive it. Everyone has to rewrite the first chapter and page (well almost everyone). Are you more afraid of rejection than dying without trying? If so, either get therapy or find retirement plan, profession or content yourself with the whimsical memory of a dream. If you go for another profession, I suggest not acting, which has an even higher rejection rate.
Tip Three (and I could give more, but in line of the Rule of Threes, this will be my last): Plan. I know it sounds very sexy to be a ‘pantser’ (write by the seat of your pants). If it works for you, fine, but if so you probably aren’t reading this. It is hard to get writer’s block if the plan says you are writing chapter x and these three things have to happen (and you adhere to the write rule and don’t re-write, looking for the perfect sentence). The hard work goes into the planning and thinking. Even if you only do the plan loosely as I sometimes do, and then have to go back and mould things to fit, or as you write the direction changes and you need to rethink, you have a direction—forward.
So write blogs, enter short story competitions (particularly ones that even with payment, offer feedback), do short courses, read some key texts, read the genre/type of book you want to write. And don’t for a second think because you have had something interesting happen to you, people will want to read it. They will only want to if you write it well, applying all of the techniques and structure that books have and need.
Good luck – and enjoy!
Great tips, Anne!
Thanks, Anne. I enjoyed your Master Class at the Brisbane Writer’s Festival today. I was the grey-headed old geezer in the front row who talked too much. I am in the process of plotting my first action story and had really bogged down. Your session opened my eyes. I’ve been stressing over the fine detail that I know must ultimately form the story, but I’d overlooked those fleshless bones that the story needs to get up and get going. I’ve found writing short stories mostly pleasant. I now know I was “pantzing”my way through 3000 words and I can’t if 90,000 are required. So your “four women go and three return” exercise was a godsend, for me. Thanks a million!