Ten top tips for writers

  1. Don’t think about writing; write. The only way to improve your writing craft is through practise. Even writing something that isn’t all that good will help to get your brain in gear and spark off more creative ideas.

  2. Show, don’t tell. You’ll hear this a lot and takes a while to master. But it is the key to carrying your reader along with you and making them invest in the story. Readers like to make up their own minds about characters and decide whether they like them or not. It’s no use telling them that Arthur is good and kind and brave – they need to see him being kind and brave or they won’t believe it. Similarly, you shouldn’t need to tell the reader that someone is upset. If an upsetting thing has just happened the reader will assume that for themselves. What you should aim for, as far as possible, is for the reader to experience the story along with the protagonists, reacting to every shock and triumph in sympathy with them.

  3. Use all the senses. Don’t just describe what a scene looks like. Smells, sounds and tastes are hugely evocative.

  4. Edit, edit and edit some more. Cut out words and sentences that aren’t pulling their weight. Most people find their writing is improved by making it leaner and tighter. Read your text aloud – you’ll be astonished at how many snags and awkward phrases you discover that way.

  5. Keep it simple. You don’t need all those adverbs and adjectives. You probably don’t need that wonderfully poetic simile. Be confident enough just to tell the story.

  6. There is no substitute for getting quickly into the conflict of the story. Readers usually won’t wait for fifty pages for things to get interesting. (Although many did with The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, which proves that all rules exist to be broken.)

  7. Less is more. Readers have imaginations and will fill in the gaps – and they usually enjoy doing that more than reading a three paragraph description. A few distinctive details are usually enough. Note that in most genres, readers don’t need to know much about what the characters look like, unless it’s a plot point (eg the witness said the murderer had a beard, Donald has a beard, does that mean he’s a suspect?). In To Kill a Mockingbird do we ever get a physical description of Scout? Does it matter?

    Similarly, it is often wise not to reveal too much about characters straight away. Tell the reader enough to make them interested. Leave enough untold to make them curious. They’ll keep reading to find out.

  8. Don’t be afraid to write about something you know little about. We can all use our imaginations to put ourselves in our characters’ shoes, even if they are twelfth century peasants or cavemen. Human nature doesn’t change wherever or whenever your story is set. But if you are writing about twelfth century peasants, you’ll need to do your research. Your research will give you far more information than you actually use. A few well-chosen period details will ground your story in reality. Beware of drowning the story in a display of your historical knowledge.

  9. Who are you writing for? Why? If you want anyone outside your friends and family to read your story you’ll need to stop every so often to think about the audience for your work. Are you giving them what they want? Will the story grip them, surprise them, keep them turning the page?

    Is it the type of book you would want to read? If not, why not? Very few people can successfully write books they wouldn’t want to read themselves. You might think you know what that audience wants, but you’ll have a much surer and more instinctive grasp of the market if you yourself are part of it.

  10. Never give up. You didn’t start writing because you wanted to be rich and famous (did you?). It’s because you have stories that you want to tell, characters you want to get to know and worlds you want to explore. And it’s an enormous amount of fun.


Copyright - Edinburgh Writers' Club