Erin Kelly: My Writing Tips

Erin Kelly: My Writing Tips

Write your book! There has never been more support out there for new writers, from expensive writing courses to free online peer groups and networking events, but until you have the words on the page, no one can give you feedback.

Internet blocking software could be the best investment you ever make. If you can, write ‘clean’ – I do my best work when I haven’t already checked Twitter or Facebook that day.

Your friends and family will tell you vaguely that your book is ‘good’ because they love you. That is kind but unhelpful. When I wrote my debut novel The Poison Tree, I shared the first few chapters with a handful of booklover friends. Most wrote back along the lines of ‘Nice’ or ‘I’d like to read the rest of it.’ One friend, Helen, went through the manuscript telling me what worked and why, flagging unclear passages and pointed out that in 1997 characters would still be paying for their Evening Standard and browsing the internet through Ask Jeeves or Lycos. She is still the first person to read all my novels.

The first time you let someone read your work will feel about as comfortable as standing naked in the centre of Oxford Circus during a snowstorm. This is a normal part of the process, and will acclimatise you for the howling frost of online reviews.

Read, and re-read. I have a friend who taught himself how cars work by taking one apart, and that’s how I learned to write novels; by going over my favourite books forensically, noticing things like viewpoints switches, foreshadowing and misdirection. Close re-reading is the nearest you’ll get to crawling around in your favourite author’s head and finding out how they did it.

Read widely. It’s brilliant to know the genre you’re writing in but if you only read the kinds of books you want to write, a) you’re missing out and b) you risk subconsciously copying, or writing only in the tropes and clichés of that genre. If you know you’re good at plotting, read books that dig down into character. If you’re already confident in your voice and style, pick up a page-turner.

Novels are about a change in a character’s life: the most profound change, the before-and-after of their life story. So are chapters. At the end of every chapter, ask yourself what your protagonist has learned, or realised, or achieved, that they had not done at the chapter’s beginning. If nothing has changed, ask yourself if that chapter has really earned its place in your novel.

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