General Writing

Writing: getting started

QuoScript writing advice

So far, the posts on this blog have been about reading and writing and their interconnectedness. Future posts will continue to celebrate the relationship between the two, but, whether you are a writer, have always wanted to be one or only just decided to have a go, you probably think it’s time we began talking about the stuff of writing itself; in particular, how to get started.

Some would-be writers agonise for years before they begin to write: fear is the greatest inhibitor to becoming an author. It would be easy for me to say, “Don’t be afraid – just give it your best shot,” but it would also be glib and not very helpful, because my guess is that, if you’re indeed someone who agonises, you’re not just afraid of failing (after all, virtually no-one will know if you feel you have fallen short), but frightened you’ll discover you have to abandon the idea of writing and your life will be the poorer for it.

To address this, you need to think about why you want to write. Is it for fame? For money? For esteem? To please others?  Or is it because you really want to write? If the latter, you may also belong to a very important sub-group of those determined to write: you may find the task of writing itself difficult, disconcerting or even dull, but there’s some impulse inside you that makes you know you have to do it. In other words, you have the writing itch.

If you have the itch, nothing will satisfy it except writing. Fame, money, esteem and pleasing others may be welcome, if often elusive, by-products, but it is the itch itself you have to address. In some ways, this is a good place to be, because, however many setbacks you encounter, you’ll still know that you have to write in order to fulfil yourself. There are writers who not only accept such knowledge, but also embrace it: at festivals, I’ve met authors who just want to write and are there to improve their writing, but have no intention of getting it published. Often, they have demanding jobs and write for relaxation, but they still want their writing to be the best it can be – which in my view is what all writers should aspire to. 

Such placid authors are in the minority, however. Most writers dream of the day when they will see their work in print – and it is true that when your first book, article or poem is published, it feels like one of the best days of your life. Authors with an unwavering ambition to be published never give up: I’ve met one writer whose first nine novels were rejected before one was finally accepted for publication; I have read about authors who have fifteen unpublished manuscripts gathering the dust. I’m not sure that I could carry on as long as that, but every author is either very lucky or exceptionally talented if everything s/he submits finds a publisher; even famous authors still get their work turned down sometimes. I have myself written two novels and a novella which will never see the light of day and I think it’s important to regard such works as apprentice pieces on which to cut your teeth, learn your craft and discover what works and what doesn’t in your writing.

If you’re writing for money, you’re likely to be disappointed. “Don’t give up the day job!” is my repeated advice to authors, particularly those who have just achieved a modest success – for example, by becoming a finalist in a writing competition. Only a very few published authors make their living from writing. The average earnings of an author in the UK are £7,000 per annum – quite respectable, you may think, but consider that favoured minority at the top who are earning millions and how they bump up the averages. 

Writing for esteem can work, especially if you have a known audience and don’t beat yourself up too much, but you do have to be capable of judging your own work with a discerning eye. It may be a cliché that most authors read with distaste the purple passages they constructed the day before and so axe them, but it’s often true – and essential for self-preservation and continuing development as an author. Writing to please others can also encourage you to write, although do take care not to fall into the trap of allowing yourself to be lionised or rubbished by undiscerning family and friends; ultimately, neither the adulation of your little sister nor the (possibly green-eyed) gimlet eye of your best friend will improve your work.

If you feel you need formal help, there are many books and manuals on how to write, some by famous authors; I have some of these myself and have dipped into them over the years. I have found them helpful, but not as useful as being able to call on a skilled mentor or a firm but fair editor (I do realise that not everyone is lucky enough to have one of these, particularly when starting out).

As QuoScript develops, we want to help as many new – as well as established – authors as we can. We’ll offer to mentor some of the authors who contact us and of course we’ll provide full editorial support for those whose books we choose to publish. We’ll use this blog and other areas on our site to provide guidance on specific aspects of writing and we’ll ask established writers to write posts on their own paths to being published and to explain the obstacles and triumphs they encountered along the way.

This is the beginning of an exciting adventure for us, one on which we hope some of you will accompany us. Your first step is to pick up your pen or dust off your keyboard and just write something – describe a character, paint a picture in words, start on the outline of your novel. And if you wish to, and find them useful for keeping up the momentum, keep on reading these posts – more will be coming very soon.

Best wishes,

Mary