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Writing Tips for New Writers

G D Penman By G D Penman Published on December 2, 2015

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So you are a fresh faced young writer, just emerged from your MRA program or high school or the womb or wherever it is writers pop up from. You think to yourself, what should I do to become the literary success that I know that I can be? What advice is there out there for someone like me who wants to write a novel and live off of the mounds of royalties that are about to come rolling in?

Don't worry little baby writer, I am here for you. I am here to impart all of my wisdom from years of being an unpublished fantasy author, a moderately successful critic and a fairly decent editor directly into your eyes and hopefully your brain. Writing tips from down here in the pit of despair.

WRITING TIP NUMBER 1: Don't write.

You have just emerged newly formed into the world. You need to learn some key things before you touch pen to paper, or fingers to keys; You need to learn how stories work and you need to learn how people work.

You should read excessively, you should read every book that you can lay your hands on, examine them closely and work out how the stories go together. While you are reading great books take some time out to read some bloody awful ones that everyone hates too so that you can learn to make the distinction. So far you have probably just been reading the genre that you are planning on writing, that is deeply stupid. Go and read a ton of non-fiction on a load of different subjects, you will never be an expert in anything but you will learn enough to find the germ of a story hidden away in every odd fact. Go learn the mechanics of other genres too. Approaching a mystery story from a romance author's perspective is going to create something completely unique.

If you don't understand how human beings think then all of your characters are going to be flat, all of your dialogue will be stilted and your plots are going to fall apart. Go get a terrible job, spend time with people who are as different from you as possible, ruin your first few romantic relationships by carefully examining them in detail to try to work out how they slot together. Have a life for a little while without worrying about writing, you have your whole life to write, you only have a little time to become interesting.

If you fail to read enough then your writing is going to be bad. It is that simple. If you don't learn the rules of fiction then you will not know when to break them. There are plenty of god-awful novelists out there that you can look at for examples. If you fail to read outside of your genre and you fail to learn about people then you end up with something like the Eragon books. Technically sound but emotionally hollow. Regurgitating the tropes and clichés of its genre without creating anything new.


You are going to spend an awful lot of time as a writer, not able to write. That is either because you are off living a life and doing those things necessary to continue living that life or because you are banging your head against the brick wall of writer's block, editing an earlier draft or just generally hating yourself for this particular life choice. During those times when you cannot write your brain will, shockingly, continue to function. You will have ideas. You will think of just the right thing for Bob to say to Alice when they are finally re-united. You will realise that the book works much better if the protagonist's goldfish was the killer all along. All of these things will occur to you and the very next time that you sit down with your manuscript, boiling over with pent up energy you will have forgotten every bloody word.

Carry a tiny little book of paper with you everywhere. Write every stupid idea down and slowly but surely they will migrate around the pages, mingle together and produce something that will someday be worthwhile.

WRITING TIP NUMBER 3: Stories are like presents

If you are getting a present for somebody you don't know you have to give them something general. If you get somebody a “general” present they are not going to like it. They will smile and nod to your face and toss it in the bin the moment your back is turned. You need to work out who your story is for, what they would like and then write a story just for that imaginary person. Most of the people that get that very personal present are not going to like it but the one person that the present was really for is going to adore it and treasure it forever. You can't please everyone with your writing. You are going to have people dislike what you write, some of them vehemently, but you are going to make one or two people so happy that it will startle you. If you are very lucky, people on the periphery of that one person that you wrote the story for are going to like it and you might get paid for it.

WRITING TIP NUMBER 4, 5, 6: The actual writing bit

Here is the technical stuff:

Write a single line to describe the events in each chapter of your book; congratulations you now have a plan for your book. Feel free to ignore it once you get going, but for now it lets you feel like you know where you are going.

Write the first draft as quickly as possible while caring as little as possible about it. Then get comfortable because you are going to be going over it and over it until it somehow transforms into a good book.

The most important thing that you need to know is that if you have followed the rest of the tips up until now, you should have developed some instincts for how a story should go. There are a plethora of little hints and tips to help you along. Write the most interesting part of your character's life. Always follow the action. Show character traits and actions, don't recount them after the fact. Obvious tips that you will have picked up from every bloody writer and editor since the dawn of time.


No matter how good a writer you are, you are too immersed in your own work to be able to look at it with the dispassionate eye to make sensible decisions about it. Also, there is a distinct possibility that you are an idiot and too stupid to realise it. Find an editor to fix your book immediately after you have stopped trying to fix it yourself. Either by flinging it out into the wild world of publishing and hoping it crawls its way out of a slush pile or, more likely nowadays, paying a professional freelance editor to get your manuscript into order.


Just go and write. The first few books you write will be terrible and haunt you for the rest of your life but eventually you will be writing something worthwhile and then it will be truly soul crushing when those books get rejected for no apparent reason.

G.D. Penman writes about queer monsters for a living. He is the author of Call Your Steel, The Year of the Knife, Heart of Winter, Apocrypha and many other books. He is also a full-time freelance ... Show More

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