Sometimes writing can be completely mind-numbing. Here at Dancing Bear Books, we really value what the writer goes through and can completely empathise with the struggle as both of us are writers in our free time. Here are some hints and tips for budding writers to help you on your journey.
1. Writing what you know
Write what you know is the age old phrase passed around every online blog. To some extent this is true, but in many it's wrong. Take this with a pinch of salt because in our experience it can't be so literal. Story is about truth, and inside truth is empathy. If you can empathise with someone, you can write what they are thinking and feeling quite easily. Just make sure you are respectful, tactful and authentic in your writing. Do your research and don't be scared to role up your sleeves and dive into some good old fashioned detective work.
2. Share, Share, Share!
A first draft is as bad as it gets and you can't be too precious about that. Share your work with others because they have a perspective you don't. Embrace the different readers and writers around you and take advantage of their point of view. Sharing my work in the past has been incredibly helpful, it's changed the story for the better and made my work much, much stronger. Also, be mindful of leaving advice when it's not needed but be open to change.
3. Out With the Old and in With the New
Break conventions and traditions and try new things. Sometimes it's fine to embrace traditionalism and it's important to note where it's needed, but subverting tropes and cliches and searching for innovation is the way to create a stand-out piece. If you are going to be inspired by something, take something you've seen someone else do and make it your own. You don't want to be the next Jane Austen or the likes - you want to be the next you. You are the element that makes your story unique.
Writing is NOT about spelling and grammar, it's about story, voice and authenticity. That's not to say send along your manuscript riddled with mistakes but it shouldn't be your first concern. That is what proofreaders are for. Spelling and grammar are things you can learn, the art and creativity in writing is something you are born with. This is a common occurrence in many of the creative industries where the art comes second to the technicality. This is all sorts of wrong. Substance, originality and voice is what matters to us as artists.
5. Submissions/Covering Letters
This is a fun and frustrating one. We've been on the other side of submitting our work to agents, publishers and magazines. Here is our advice (take this with a pinch of salt because every receiver of work is different and looks for different things). Follow the submission guidelines the best you can. Sometimes you make mistakes in letters - that's totally fine and try not to overthink it. It isn't the end of your career because of a spelling error or a minor mistake. However, make sure you actually write a letter, don't just attach your work in the email and put something along the lines of 'Work attached'. For example, here at Dancing Bear Books we have submission guidelines asking for certain things to be included in the body of the covering letter. It's important to follow these as we need all the information to consider the work. If it's not included in the letter, we'll likely pass up on the work and not chase up for the info due to the volume of work we receive. Be polite, professional and humble. This is a collaborative industry and we are all looking for artists that we can work with well, if you don't have a good attitude you won't be considered. And finally, rejection is not your enemy. Rejection is a sign you are trying and it's not personal or a comment on your ability as a writer. It's likely it just doesn't fit with whatever that magazine/agent or publisher is working with at the time. Be gracious and keep persevering.
6. Online Presence
Make your online presence reflect you as a writer, and be mindful of what you post because (much like employers) editors and agents will likely look you up on social media. Think about your public image and what kind of message it sends. For example, here at Dancing Bear Books we are really supportive of diverse issues, so when we select work we look for writers that publicly reflect our ethos.
7. Don't Over-Think It
Don't get stuck in your own head when it comes to your writing. This is a creative endeavour so be creative and don't get to bogged down in self doubt. Self doubt is a normal part of being a writer and everyone experiences it. You aren't less of a writer because there is insecurity in your work. Keep going, you're awesome!
8. Making Something Meaningful
Make work that means something. This is maybe the most important tip on this list. Make your work mean something and not in a pretentious 'metaphysical arty' kind of way but in a grounded 'I have something to say' kind of way. This is your moment. Make it count.
9. Find Your Approach
There is no right or wrong way when it comes to approach. Sometimes you have a plan and sometimes you're playing it by ear. Ignore the '10 Commandments of Writing' posts you find online because you just need to find your own way. If you do want to plan, do that but for those of you who don't find comfort in these wise words. Terry Pratchett once said “I certainly don't sit down and plan a book out before I write it. There's a phrase I use called "The Valley Full of Clouds." Writing a novel is as if you are going off on a journey across a valley. The valley is full of mist, but you can see the top of a tree here and the top of another tree over there. And with any luck you can see the other side of the valley. But you cannot see down into the mist. Nevertheless, you head for the first tree.” If you don't make a full plan, make sure to consider foreshadowing, structure and themes while you write. (This can always be done in the second draft).
10. Read What You Want to Write
Finally, read the kind of work you want to write. I once met a writer who said they read nothing and alas, I can't remember their name nor any work they've produced. To become a master of your craft you must study and study hard. Read as much as you can and consume the work you love again and again.
We hope this list has helped, they aren't rules but (hopefully) helpful guidelines and tips. Good luck with all your creative endeavours.
Lucy and Kristel of Dancing Bear Books Ltd.