'The best books, reviewed with insight and charm, but without compromise.'
- author Jackie French

Thursday 24 March 2011

Blog Tour - Ian Irvine's Top 10 Writing Tips

KBR is delighted to welcome author Ian Irvine on his book launch blog tour! Ian is the author of the sensational Grim and Grimmer series and KBR is celebrating the release of his latest book - The Desperate Dwarf - by hosting Ian on tour!

Here Ian shares some absolutely priceless writing tips we know you will love. And be sure to check the end of the post for Ian's blog tour schedule. He's visiting some pretty spectacular sites. Jump on the literary wagon and join the tour!

1. Motivation and Persistence

Whenever I’m giving a talk, I discover that lots of people in the audience want to become writers, but how does anyone find the time in their busy life to do so? Well, writers have to write, and if you only write one page a day, that's a book in a year. If you can't write a single page a day, do you really want to be a writer?

In my view, the most important attributes aren’t writing talent, but determination and persistence. There are thousands of talented writers around, but few ever become published authors. Storytelling is a craft that takes years to learn, and if you’re not prepared to work at it as hard, and as long, as you would to become a concert pianist, a professional footballer, or a lawyer, it’s unlikely you’ll succeed. It took me nine years to find a publisher for my epic fantasy quartet, The View from the Mirror. That’s a common length of apprenticeship.

2. Essentials of a Story
At its simplest, a story involves a character in a setting, faced with some kind of problem or obstacle (i.e. someone or something that wants to stop him) which the character has to take action to overcome, in order to achieve his/her goal. The choices that the character makes in response to that problem create the story. Longer stories go through many cycles of conflict, crisis and resolution, but as long as you focus on the protagonist’s goal, the actions taken to achieve it, the contrary actions of the antagonist, and the resolution of each scene and the story itself, you will have a strong story.

And by the end of the story something should be different – either the protagonist, the situation or the attitude of the reader.

3. Getting Started
Writing, like painting or any other art, can only be learned by doing it, a lot. If you want to write, don’t enrol in a writing course. Just start writing, and concentrate on storytelling rather than beautiful writing. Write a wonderful story and editors will probably want to buy it even if it’s got flaws. Poor grammar or the odd writing flaw can be fixed, but if there’s a lousy story beneath your scintillating prose, few editors will touch it.

4. Set Yourself a Target and Stick to it
Set yourself a writing target (say 500 words a day or whatever you can manage) then stick to it. Keep a running record of your word count every day. Write every day if you can. If you can’t, organise several days a week where you can write for hours, uninterrupted.

Why does this matter? It’s not the actual target that counts, but the sense of progress it gives you: the steady accumulation of words that soon adds up to a first draft and a record of your achievement. But also, it’s hard to get into the flow of a story; it can take hours each day, and if you don’t write for a few weeks it can be a real struggle to get back into the story. Storytelling works best when you maintain momentum to the end.

5. Don’t Look Back
Don't re-read your story yet, because the editor that lurks inside every writer will find so much to criticise that it'll put you off – it’s difficult to be a creative writer and an analytical editor at the same time. Put your story away for a couple of months and write something else.

Don’t pester a writer you know to read your first draft and tell you whether you’ve got talent. Even after twenty-four years of writing, I would never give my editor a first or second draft. I’d be too embarrassed because I'd know how much it would be improved after I'd done more work on it. Don’t insult your teachers by giving them rubbish – learn the basics of your craft before you seek advice.

6. Revising and Editing
After the break, read your story all the way through. You'll find a lot you don't like, but also a fair bit that you do. Now you can start on the real part of writing, which is revising until you're happy with what you're written.

Once you've revised your draft a few times, you'll need help, perhaps by joining a writers’ group, or seeking a mentor, and by learning the art of self-editing. The difference between professional writers and amateurs is that professionals know how to self-edit. Editors may buy a wonderful story in spite of its other faults, but there’s a lot of competition out there and the way to get published is to be more professional than everyone else. Brilliant writers often don’t get published; professional ones do – particularly those that never, ever give up.

7. Books
There are thousands of books on writing, and these are the best I’ve read. They all concentrate on the art of storytelling.
  • Maass, Donald (2009). The Fire in Fiction. He identifies the problems his literary agency sees thousands of times a year, and tells you what to do about them.
  • Lukeman, Noah (2002). The Plot Thickens. Terrific chapters on characterisation, suspense and conflict, a lot of stuff I’ve never thought of before.
  • Cleaver, Jerry (2002). Immediate Fiction. No one has ever explained the craft of storytelling more clearly or simply.
  • Lyon, Elizabeth (2008). Manuscript Makeover, Revision Techniques no Fiction Writer can Afford to Ignore. A terrific book.
  • Bell, James Scott (2004). Plot and Structure. The best book I’ve read on this topic.
  • Kress, Nancy (2005). Characters, Emotion and Viewpoint.
  • Vorhaus, John (1994). The Comic Toolbox. Better than all the other books on comic writing put together. He demystifies what everyone else makes complicated, and shows simply how humour works.

8. The Reality of being a Writer

Don't expect anything from your writing apart from the personal fulfilment of having learned your craft and created a work that didn't exist before. By all means hope to get published, and dream of having a bestseller or even a long string of them - people do, after all. To succeed, you have to write the best story you possibly can, for the genre you're writing in, and be professional in every other way. And when you do succeed, enjoy the adventure while it lasts, but don't expect it to last forever.

A rare few will ignore all this and do brilliantly, but they're the lottery winners. Everyone else has to work at it. Just don't expect success or you're bound to be disappointed. If you write books that sell, your publisher will love you. If you don't, it's goodbye.

9. Getting Published
When your story is as good as you can make it, remember that the big publishers get upwards of 5,000 fiction manuscripts a year, of which they will only publish as handful. Don't contact a publisher or literary agent till you've done at least half a dozen drafts, because it’s in the redrafting that you really learn to become a writer.

The wrong presentation is likely to result in your work being chucked straight in the bin, so find out the submission guidelines from the publisher or agent’s website and follow them to the letter. Learn how to write a great query letter, and how to pitch your story in no more than half a page. When they ask to see your work, remember that 98% of manuscripts are rejected by the end of the first page, so your best writing has to be up front.

10. What are publishers looking for? And readers?
Writer Louise Cusack louisecusack.com, while showcasing Aussie authors in New York a while back, asked a group of New York editors and agents what they were looking for in a novel. The best answer was, “A good story well told.”

Don’t follow trends, because tastes change and styles date. What's quaint and quirky, or dazzlingly original, one year will be passé the next. Even genres can boom and bust: westerns have practically disappeared and horror goes up and down from decade to decade. So do authors: it’s remarkable how few of the big names of 20 years ago are still big today.

Luckily, one kind of writing never goes out of fashion - a great story with strong, well-drawn characters that the reader can identify with (if not necessarily like). But always remember that you're competing with all the other writers in your genre, in the world, and you're only as good as your last book.

Finally, I wish all the writers reading this the very best of luck, because luck, and serendipity, are also important for writerly success. That’s my 11th point.

Ian Irvine, a marine scientist who has developed some of Australia's national guidelines for the protection of the oceanic environment, has written 27 novels. These include the internationally bestselling Three Worlds fantasy sequence (The View from the Mirror, The Well of Echoes and Song of the Tears), an eco-thriller trilogy and 12 books for children. His latest book is Grim and Grimmer 3: The Desperate Dwarf.

Learn more about Ian at ian-irvine.com and on facebook at facebook.com/ianirvine.author 

Follow Ian on Tour!

15 January 2011                    
Ripping Ozzie Reads - Book Promotion

9 March 2011                        
A&R Edwardstown - On Writing Children’s Fiction

21 March 2011
Kid’s Book Capers - Review and giveaway

22 March 2011
Dee Scribe - Writing Ike’s Character

23 Marc 2011
Our Lady Of Lourdes School - General Writing

23 March 2011                      
Tristan Banck’s Blog - Creative Process/Workspace

24 March 2011
Kid’s Book Review - Top 10 Writing Tips

28 March 2011                      
Robyn Campbell - About the writing life and this book

28 March 28 2011                     
George Ivanoff, Boomerang Books Blog - 10 things I enjoyed most about writing this book

31 March 2011
George Ivanoff, Boomerang Books Blog - 10 things I found hardest about writing this book

6 April 2011                          
DC Green - Where the character and story ideas came from

11 April 2011