Traditional Publishing

The write stuff

By Steve Myers – Saturday February 27, 2010

For a start, what they don’t tell you is that writing is bloody hard work and you need a little bit more than just a good imagination and access to writing materials. They are the tools, but you can’t go from imagination to page without spending the time putting it all down and refining it. Added to that, getting "discovered" is like trying to get Victoria Beckham to smile. So you need to be passionate about your reason for writing.

They say that everybody has a novel in them somewhere. It could be argued that everyone also has a gall bladder in them too, but there aren’t many out there who want them to share its contents with us. They also say that people should write about what they know, which is reasonable advice as far as it goes. But if you are a district nurse attending to the incontinence needs of elderly widows in Orkney, having the hero of your first novel be a Cuban-trained mercenary infiltrating the bio weapons division of a nuclear facility in Minsk might demand a little more research than you’re prepared for. Then again, the day-to-day workings of a district nurse emptying bedpans had better contain at least a little illicit sex in the sluice room if it’s going to even halfway work.

I used to dream of being the next Stephen King or Anne Rice. Both focused their major successes on long, involved, cleverly plotted stories with a large number of characters. I wanted to write like them for quite a while, but then I’d have to write about a suburban family moving to New Orleans, where they’ve inherited a plantation and discover their young son has a gift for reading people’s minds whilst hiding from rabid Chihuahuas; and their older daughter is the last living relative of a coven of lesbian witches, destined to spend every birthday painted purple and hanging from a chandelier. Just write, write and then write some more. Sort out the crap from the crystal and be your own original, not a bad copy of someone else.

There is no such thing as writer’s block. You might just be stuck on an idea, but you can still write. If you've no idea what to write, just sit down and write about getting up, what you did that day, anything, no matter how banal you think it is. It's not for publication, but the very act of writing gets the brain flowing, and if you are writing about boring minutiae, then chances are your brain will strain to find something more interesting to focus on.

Print out whatever you do write and put it in a drawer. Don't take it out for a few days, and then look at it again. The print will fool your brain into thinking you're reading something someone else has written (handwriting won't). You can then be more objective about what you're reading.

Don't rely on spellcheckers. They're great as far as they go, but they're not perfect. If you're proofreading your own stuff read it out loud to yourself as you look at the pages. You'll find that your mouth will stop your brain, because whilst your eyes may skip over a mistake, your mouth knows it's not right, or it may need some extra punctuation to make it clear.


You don't need to have every aspect of the story in detail before you start, but some idea of where you want to end up is a good idea. When I started out, I found it really easy to get the villain disappearing from a locked room with no windows, etc. but then had no clue how he did it!

Don't do a Dallas or a Colbys. If your main story is about spoiled rich people in the oil industry, having one of them suddenly abducted by aliens strains belief at the best of times. If you're writing a sci-fi story that happens to be set then, fine. But if you've spent the first twenty chapters re-writing Gone With The Wind and suddenly it's ET Phone Home, it's a bit like coming home and finding Graham Norton in bed with k.d.lang. And only primary school children are still allowed to get away with "it was all just a dream".

Show somebody you trust your work. If you can't let someone read it, then you're never going to get much further. Ask for constructive criticism, and make sure that you'd prefer them to be honest. You don’t need "yes-men". It might boost the ego, but it won't help the writing if it really needs it. Edit carefully, proof read, or get someone to do it for you. But like children, a t some point you have to let them out into the world to fend for themselves.

Keep writing. Try different forms; try different lengths, from short "flash" fiction to longer novel length chapters.

There’s a very well known expression: "a writer writes". It’s very true. You can have the most incredible stories and ideas floating around in your head, but if you don’t put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard, nobody’s going to know about them. Take a chance, expect rejection, and remember that the most prolific (if not necessarily best) writers were usually panned first time round.

About the Author

Steve has been writing since he could use a pen. He's the author of over 30 books for young adults on a variety of social issues, which incorporate fiction and fact in one place. He's also a regular columnist for Brighton's Kemptown Rag, where he writes articles, crosswords and fiction pieces. He works with a variety of schools doing the more boring side of writing: policies, plans, evaluations and all that good stuff. He's now setting up, with friends, a writing competition site: BrightonCOW (company of writers), which will be up and running soon, with some pretty good prizes for all kinds of writing. Watch this space!