Creative writing

Getting started

Are there shortcuts to winning a publishing contract with a big publisher? Yeah, sometimes. Being caught in a compromising position with the right brand of celebrity can occasionally do the trick. But if you want publication on merit because you’re a damn good writer, then take a look at the toolkits and techniques described in How to be a Fantastic Writer.

There are loads of great websites for writers, and loads of bad ones.  Some writers take pains to share useful information. Here are some great sites: Fantastic Books has a regularly updated list of resources for writers. Stuart Aken hunts down and shares useful stuff.  Many writers keep a ‘useful resources’ page on their website. It’s worth checking out the authors whose style you particularly like.

What follows is a random selection of things I found useful in learning the craft of writing.  Give it a try but remember, we’re all different.  Find what works for you.

Moving on

Linda Acaster—novelist and writing coach.  Typical Yorkshire critiques, blunt, to the point and usually on the chin.  What I find so useful is Linda’s way of getting at the fundamental flaws in a manuscript. Having Linda rip my work to shreds has taught me a lot.  These days I can rip it to shreds fairly well myself.       Linda’s blog


Marina Oliver—also novelist and writing tutor.  I see Marina very much as the tutor to teach the nuts and bolts of the craft, the tricks and tips to get you off the ground.  She has a whole stack of How To books to her name. if you’re setting off in a new direction, Marina will likely have a book that suits.                                     Marina’s site


Look at books like James Frey’s How to Write a Damn Good Novel, or Stephen King’s On Writing.  They don’t cover the basics of getting started, but they tell the story of how good writers work.

And try out online workshops such as the Internet Writing Workshop or the Word Cloud


Are there any?  Which set (of the hundreds on offer) are going to work for you?

When Danuta Reah and I teach our writing workshops, I do the geeky stuff, the tips and tricks, the handy blueprint; she does the inspirational, the advanced linguistics, eloquence and fluency.  Our target audiences stretch from someone starting out – here’s how to approach your target magazine – to a best selling novelist whose work-in-progress sags in the middle – here’s a formula to tighten it up, here’s how to give your writing the colour and movement of dramatic cinema.  We’ve written all this down and it’s available in The Writers’ Toolkit: a manual for writers of commercial fiction.

I have just four rules of writing:

We can all sit and stare at a blank page, so:

1.  Take responsibility: only you can make it happen. Sure, some people get lucky and some don’t, but you’ll get nowhere railing against fate because you don’t get the breaks. Be positive. It’s your life. It’s up to you to make it happen.

2.  Give yourself the best chance: Learn the craft. Learn structure, viewpoint,  characterisation, markets, everything. Don’t fight the fight with one hand tied behind your back.

3.  Be proactive, not reactive: If you’re serious about writing, make room for it. Make writing a part of your life. If you wait for time to become available, it won’t. Watch out for how you prioritise.

4.  Learn to put words on paper. Learn to sit and write without stopping if only for a couple of minutes. You’ll be surprised how it helps.  It might not be the way you will construct your finished work, but getting words on paper is hard so teach yourself how to do it.