Guest Post: My Top 5 Writing Tips
A lot of writers seem to like to beat themselves up. I’ve done it myself. Why are we so unkind to ourselves?! ‘I haven’t written enough – what I’ve written isn’t good enough – I’ll never write as well as such and such!’
These kinds of thoughts can no doubt assail any writer from time to time, but I want to suggest that this sort of internal critic is not particularly useful. Instead, try and turn the internal critic – a kind of internal enemy – into an internal supervisor, who is able to critique but also encourage. This is a technique I try to use generally in life – it can be applied to writing and most other things too.
For example, instead of thinking, ‘I’ve got writer’s block – I’ll never write again!’ how about, ‘The words aren’t flowing at the moment – but this has happened before and I know it doesn’t last forever.’ This is about being kind to ourselves.
Sadly, there is no fast track to improving our craft. But rather than feeling tempted to despair and criticise ourselves, we can tell tell ourselves we’re putting in the hours so we know there is more stuff on the way and at least some of it will be good.
Find your unique writing zone
My ideal writing zone is to have days of free time at my disposal – take a week off by myself – then I know that each day I will be able to fit in one or two long sessions of writing, which guarantees 12,000 or more words in a week – heaven!
I realise this is quite a luxury – and this is why my novel took nearly six years to write.
Failing this, organising a weekend by cancelling all appointments and switching off my phone also works well.
By contrast, when I’m editing, I like to print out sheets of paper and work at it while sitting on a train or on the Tube – it doesn’t matter if it’s noisy and busy.
But this is just what works for me. The trick, I think, is to find your own best writing place and style – then make it happen.
Do courses or join a writing group
I’ve been writing for years, whether professionally as a reporter/editor or creatively and, while sadly I’m not a best-selling novelist, I had somehow acquired the idea that I must be pretty good.
Then, recently, a friend asked me to write his memoirs – something I hadn’t done before – and I had to admit that I didn’t know how to approach it. I could guess, but it would be just that: guesswork.
The fact is, with the many styles and genres of writing – journalism, academic writing, novels, memoirs, essays – few if anyone has good grasp on them all. A simple solution is to do a course.
When I started the memoir writing course, I admit I felt a little huffy: ‘What can you show me? I’m so experienced!’ And yet, the course was a revelation. Turns out that writing a memoir is not dissimilar to novel writing – you spent time in the moment with the protagonist, describing the scene, drawing on the senses, using ‘show don’t tell’ and including dialogue. I was amazed and inspired.
The fact is, whenever I do a course – or join a writer’s group – I always learn something new.
Speak with your own voice
For many years, I think I held myself back by trying to be what I thought a writer should be, rather than being myself.
I imagined I should be writing profound life-changing literature. But the truth was, I didn’t read much of what passes for high brow literature; I preferred short comic novels or sci-fi or quirky left-field fiction. You could say that, in writing terms, there was a mismatch between my ideal self and my real self.
Then I was inspired by the work of Philip K Dick. Not specifically by his writing – although I like it, especially the ideas he conveys – but by the fact that he wrote so much. Just have a look at his bibliography – it’s vast!
I had a light bulb moment. Rather than thinking I had to slave away trying to be the next Tolstoy, I thought: I’m just going to churn something out like PKD did! This might not be the most noble approach to writing, but it set me free.
I thought: I’m just going to start and keep writing and see what comes out. No longer feeling a need to check that every sentence was Tolstoyesque (is that a word?) I simply wrote from the heart. I thought: I don’t know what’s going to come out – but it will be mine alone and I can be proud of it regardless; I can only be me!
Dare to go on a journey – dare to be challenged and surprised
From my experience – whatever I’m writing – it’s working best when I get myself into a place where I’m completely alone with the laptop and the words. I allow myself to focus, to pay attention, to sink into the work. In this place, characters in a novel might suddenly say something I’m not expecting. The characters take on their own life. I feel like I’m ‘in the zone’. It’s intense, and I can generally only maintain it for two hours at a time.
What’s happening? My belief is that when we write we are accessing our unconscious in a powerful way. The unconscious is always there, but writing seems to be a way of drawing out hidden parts of our psyche.
For example, I had this insight. I knew the main protagonist in my novel was a cipher for my own wishes and struggles in life; but then I realised the whole cast of characters represented different parts of me: the goody-goody, the selfish one, the brave one, the angry one, the vulnerable one, the noble one. When we allow ourselves to open up to ourselves, we open up a conduit to the unconscious, and we might be surprised – and perhaps challenged or delighted – by what comes out. I believe this approach to writing can also be cathartic and therapeutic.
About the Book
Mike Brooks was born in Edinburgh, grew up in south Manchester, and now lives in London.
After completing a psychology degree at the University of Central Lancashire, he trained as a journalist and went on to work for various newspapers and publications in Manchester, Yorkshire and London. He is currently the editor and communications manager for an international development agency.
His first outing in fiction was the satirical comic book The Big Holy One, published by HarperCollins, which poked fun at religious extremism, thereby delighting non-conformists and enraging fundamentalists.
His taste for quirky off-beat literature continued with the publication of Al McNac’s Almanac, a spoof 19th century almanac, which contained elements of steam punk before the term had been coined. Next came a number of short story projects.
In recent years, Brooks has turned his attention to novel writing, with a particular focus on futuristic fiction as vehicle through which to critique our modern world and life as we know it. His debut novel is in part the fruition of a life-long passion for exploring spiritual, philosophical and psychological ideas. The ultimate questions, he says, are ‘What is life all about?’ and ‘Why is advertising so annoying?’.
When not writing, Mike Brooks is an amateur musician and a professionally-trained