By Alysoun Owen
Are you chewing the end of your pen (or digital equivalent) as you seek creative inspiration?
Is your writing at a point where you are not quite sure what to do with it next?
Becoming a better writer is all about knowing what questions to ask. The best books and groups and sites on perfecting your writing will suggest – not dictate – how you should interrogate your own intentions and your own work.
Advice from fellow writers and publishing professionals – editors, agents, publicists, self-publishing providers – can help you improve your writing.
William Ryan is an experienced novelist and writing tutor, whose work has been shortlisted for numerous literary awards. His new book the Writers’ & Artists’ Guide To How To Write is the distillation of these years of experience and practice; his own and the insights he has received from his students. Across a series of chapters, he charts the stages in planning and researching, structuring and scene-setting, character creation and fashioning of convincing dialogue, and crafting and redrafting a novel. This advice is relevant whether you are writing the first in a YA fantasy trilogy, a police procedural or Regency-era romantic fiction for adults, a memoir or a collection of short stories.
His final chapter gives invaluable advice on what to do when you think your manuscript is complete. First, ask yourself if it is really ready for submission or publication. And if you think it is, then it might be time to start looking for a literary agent or to research which publishers are welcoming submissions, or if the self-publishing or crowdfunding options are worth investigating.
If you are not seeking publication, then taking advice from William and the hundreds of other authors who have shared their thoughts in the pages of the Writers’ & Artists’ publications across the years, is just as useful. Improving your writing, working hard to make it as good and as satisfying as it can be for you and for your readers is what we all aim for. Having some books by your side that you can dip in to for inspiration or practical support can be just the incentive you are looking for to redraft a troublesome paragraph, or to give you the confidence you need to kill off a character who is hovering on the sidelines of your plot, refusing to take a meaningful role in your story.
If you are looking to improve your creative writing skills and enhance the quality of your writing; whether you write prose or poetry, fiction or non-fiction, articles or longform texts, or are tempted by the precision and concision of scriptwriting, then investing your time and some pennies in getting some solid, practical support might be a wise decision. Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook (once published under the august A&C Black imprint and now part of Bloomsbury Publishing) is a brand with a pedigree. It has been dolling out advice and providing updated contacts and other support for writers (and artists) for well over 100 years. The first edition of the Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook was published in 1906 and has been updated and added to every year since then. Its mission has always been to provide the scaffolding to support new writers whatever their immediate or longer-term needs might be. Established authors share their experiences, inspire and cajole new writers in their pursuit of creativity and as they contemplate what kind of writer they want to be.
Le mot juste
Writing should be a joy – however challenging – not a chore. The advice you absorb should be just that: suggestion, not a set of prescriptive rules you need to slavishly adhere to. How To Write and The Right Word, both published by Bloomsbury this Spring, offer step-by-step assistance and exist to encourage you to explore your own writing path. They pose questions and provide options so you might start to ask yourself questions about your work and learn to interrogate all aspects of your writing. They exist to help you become a better and more fulfilled writer.
Can you distinguish a copula from a dangling participle? Should you include an extended metaphor or antimetabole in your writing? It doesn’t matter if such terms mean nothing to you, but you might be intrigued by them. If you are curious about words – their origins, the use of language in a sentence or a paragraph or a line of verse, and are always looking for ways to enhance your writing by employing literary devices or avoiding clichés, then think about adding The Right Word to your bookshelf.
A sense of community
Writing is a solitary occupation, and can be isolating, but as Write On! and organisations like Pen to Print as well as Writers’ & Artists’ prove, it does not mean you need to be alone as you practice, refine and start to share your work. Communities of like-minded individuals can be supportive and challenging. Visiting spaces and places where you dare to have your work-in-progress critiqued by those you come to trust, or who already have experience of the frustrations and joys of all stages in writing and editing a manuscript, can be hugely beneficial and motivating.
Relying on more than luck
Fellow writers are quick to offer ‘good luck’ to new writers on the block, knowing well that luck is only one small contribution to getting a writer noticed. It undoubtedly plays its part, but good, robust, quality writing that readers want to read is what really matters. You can up your chances of success and enhancing your luck, by taking on board advice that is offered. Do your research, take notes, flex your writing muscles, and carve out a 20-minute window of writing time each day if you can. Read books such as those referred to here, join a class or writing group offered by Pen to Print, read books by other writers: the classics and recent bestsellers and, importantly, enjoy the challenges and delights of writing your own stories.
Getting down to it
Can books and online sites really tell you how to write your bestselling novel, or in which ‘voice’ to narrate your story? After reading William Ryan’s How To Write from cover to cover, will you produce a manuscript that can be sent out to agents or publishers, or entered into one of the ever-growing (and welcome) competitions open to writers? Of course not. But what they can do is put you on the right track.
Where do I find a conducive space to write? How can I carve out some moments each day to tap out a few sentences or paragraphs? How do I know if my main and subsidiary characters are authentic and will engage my intended reader? Is my script too short, too long, too original, or not unique enough? If you spend all your spare hours mulling over such questions, then you are not doing what writers should devote most of their spare time to: writing. Too much research (procrastination) and not enough doing can be a curse. But, once you have practised, and written and perhaps been published too, you will be in the position to share your experiences and practical tips with the next generation of fledgeling writers who follow in your footsteps.
What is a successful piece of writing? As The Right Word suggests, it is – like the well-chosen adjective or well-crafted sentence – what feels right for the context in which it is used, what reads right to the writer-creator and to the reader.
SPECIAL OFFER for Write On! readers from Bloomsbury this spring:
The Right Word: A Writer’s Toolkit Of Grammar, Vocabulary And Literary Terms
SPECIAL OFFER for Write On! readers For 20% off The Right Word, use the discount code:
WRITEON20 at www.bloomsbury.com/therightword.
The Writers’ & Artists’ Guide To How To Write: How to plan, structure and write your novel by William Ryan
SPECIAL OFFER for Write On! readers For 20% off Writers’ & Artists’ Guide To How To Write, use the discount code:
WRITEON20 at www.bloomsbury.com/howtowrite
For more information about the support that Writers’ & Artists’ can provide, take a look at www.writersandartists.co.uk; recent titles are listed on www.bloomsbury.com/uk/superpage/writers-and-artists-guide-to-series/
Alysoun Owen is the Editor of the Writers’ & Artists Yearbook and the Children’s Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook, both published by Bloomsbury in July each year and the author of the Writers’ & Artists’ Guide To Getting Published (Bloomsbury 2020). She runs a publishing consultancy and is a regular speaker at festivals and writing events on how to get published.
Competition: Pen to Print, in conjunction with Bloomsbury, are delighted to be offering two lucky winners copies of The Writer’s & Artists’ Guide To How To Write and The Right Word by William Ryan. Click this link to find out how to enter.
Becoming a better writer is all about knowing what questions to ask.