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Writing Advice

In this section, you will find a collection of blogs dedicated to writing advice. So, if your manuscript is starting to drive you crazy, or you’re not sure how to get started, read on for the push you need to create your masterpiece.

Advice for writers from Jodi Picoult

Cressida DowningI recently went along to see Jodi Picoult talking about her new book, House Rules, at an event put on by Toppings Booksellers in Ely. As you would expect from someone on her 17th book, she does a tremendous amount to get her books written, and to promote them when they come out.

The questions ranged over many of her previous books, asking how she came to write about so many contentious issues. A lively woman, you get the sense that Jodi enjoys setting the cat among the pigeons, but she always researches meticulously. For Plain Truth, she spent a week milking cows with an Amish family, and for Second Glance, she shadowed ghost hunters, which led to some fascinating stories.

I managed to ask her quickly for her one sentence of advice for aspiring writers, and she said: 'Go on a writing course'.  I hesitate to say she approaches her writing like a business, but she is undoubtedly one of the most professional authors I've met, so it makes sense that she would suggest training.
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Did your characters vote?

Cressida DowningThe country has recently been gripped by election fever - or bored rigid by politics (delete as appropriate!), which brings up another factor for writers.

As I mentioned in my post on the weather, when you are writing about characters in the 'real world', it's important that you don't leave out everyday life.

Some novels focus on the political and the personal, but even if your novel is simply set during contemporary times, don't forget what is happening during those times.

So if your novel is set during May 2010, even a line about the election will keep it sounding real. If your characters took a flight in April 2010, were they affected by the ash cloud? If your novel is set in September 2001, how did the US terror attacks filter through to their lives?

You may even find that dropping in a factual event can send your plot or characters in unexpected directions.

Alternatively, you can use current events by ignoring or subverting them. For instance, Mark Lawson's novel Idlewild …
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Words not deeds

Alison BaverstockThis is an interesting time to be a lover of words. We sit poised, the rhetoric of the campaigns still ringing in our ears, yet all the while aware that within days every nuance of every stated principle will be torn apart, whether by fish knife or meat cleaver.

The political speeches turn to political epitaphs; forensic dissection of character as revealed through language and gesture.

Like most of us I find this fascinating, but would hate to put myself through it. Nick Clegg revealed on the campaign trail that he had once written an (‘embarrassingly bad’) novel, and Douglas Hurd penned political thrillers such as Scotch on the Rocks (co-written with Andrew Osmond) and Vote to Kill.

Disraeli of course combined politicking and novel writing, but are writers more than usually underepresented among those who seek election? I think we should be told...

All best, Alison


Alison Baverstock is the author of Marketing your book, an author’s guide (A&C Black) and is …
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Rule 4: Quality not quantity

Mohana RajakumarThis is the fourth of my pieces on setting up a writers’ group. We have already covered what type of writers’ group you’d like to join (Rule 1), setting your group’s goals (Rule 2) and learning from others (Rule 3). In this final post in this series, we’ll take a look at how to deal with slow patches in participation.

A few weeks ago, we held the last of our Doha Writers’ Workshop meetings before the summer holidays. It was a talk by a poet who lived in the community. She was vibrant and shared from her heart. There were only four women in the audience. But did this diminish any of the interaction? Or the fact that shortly after the presentation, one of the other women and I struck up a conversation in the parking lot?

We had all been inspired by the poet’s 10-year history of writing and the evidence of her craft. Although the formal meetings for our group were now concluded, we agreed to meet in a smaller group for a few more weeks before leaving for the holidays.
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What is the greatest reward of writing?

ThomasEKennedysq2This is the 3rd in a series of four guest posts from author Thomas E. Kennedy, each focusing on questions that have empowered him - and could also empower you - as a writer.

Q: What is the greatest reward of writing?

Thomas E. Kennedy:

Rewards for your writing sometimes seem scarce. How much are you paid for a story or a poem? How many copies are published of the magazine in which it appears? How many people actually read it? How often do you even earn a word of encouragement for what you’ve written?

Of course we do want to get our stuff out there; we want it to be read. But at some point every serious writer will recognize that of all the rewards you get or do not get as a writer, the single most important reward must be the act of writing itself. It is a gift and privilege to be able to write, and surely every serious writer has experienced this reward when she or he is working at top end – when you are in perfect harmony with the place your words come …
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