We love our presenters here at the Australian Writers’ Centre – all of them are either writers or industry experts, meaning you’re getting schooled by people who don’t just talk about the ‘biz’ – they’re out there in it.
To illustrate this point, here are 10 of our presenters (that’s our favourite number lately) dispensing their top chunks of advice for writers – from their own experience or industry. Take note!
1. Pamela Freeman (presenter for Creative Writing Stage 1, Fantasy, Science Fiction and more, Write Your Novel, Advanced Fiction Writing Techniques)
“I like Pat Farmer’s advice, which is ‘the number one reason your book will never be published is that you haven’t written it’. If you want to be a writer you have to write, and you have to prioritise it.
“People say, ‘Oh, I would like to write a book, if only I had time…’ If you are watching three hours of television a week, you have time to write a book.”
2. Patti Miller (presenter for Life Writing)
“I always recommend what I call the patchwork quilt method where you just make one small piece and another small piece. You do that for a while. You don’t even think about where to go or how to put it together or what the overall thing is for a start. That’s the way to get started, otherwise you will be stopped before you even begin.”
3. Judith Rossell (presenter for Writing Picture Books, Writing Books for Children and Young Adults)
“Don’t give up. People get very dejected by rejections from publishers. We’ve all had lots, even really well-known writers get rejected. It’s really important to see that as what it is: your book doesn’t fit them right at the moment, or it’s not something they can see a way of selling right at the moment. It doesn’t mean that you’re a terrible person, it doesn’t mean that you’re not a good writer. Try not to get discouraged by that stuff. Just keep trying to improve.”
4. Kate Forsyth (presenter for Creative Writing Stage 1, History, Mystery and Magic, Plotting and Planning)
“A problem that I see is that people aren’t taking the time to edit and rewrite. They finish a first draft and they think that is all that needs to be done. You have all kinds of little problems, things like overuse of favourite phrases, weak chapter beginnings, chapters that are too long, weak metaphors – things that a good cut and polish and that a good rewrite, a deconstruction rewrite, would fix. But because they’ve spent so long writing their first draft, and they’re all in that kind of giddy joy of first finishing it, they don’t take the time to do the rewrite, which should actually really be as much work as the actual first draft was.”
5. Bernadette Schwerdt (presenter for Copywriting Essentials)
“One thing is your belief in yourself – ‘Who else is going to tell me I’m a writer, except me?’ The day I believed ‘I’m a writer,’ I went out and started calling myself a writer. I felt like a fraud to be honest, saying ‘I’m a writer,’ like the Fonz trying to say ‘S-s-sorry,’ and I just thought ‘You know, I’ve just got to commit to it.’ And when I did, nobody blinked an eye. They said ‘Oh that’s very nice. What are you writing?’ They just took me on face value. That was a really interesting moment too, so from that moment on, I said, ‘Okay, that’s it. I’m a writer.’”
6. Tim Gooding (presenter for Screenwriting Stage 1 & 2)
“I think you should look at scripts. Go online and Google free feature films or free short film scripts. Read those scripts and get a bit of a handle on what they actually look like. Screenwriting is a very curious format of writing. In a way it’s cartoony. Familiarise yourself with screenplays. Maybe sit and watch a film with the screenplay in front of you.
“If you want to write, start writing. Just write anything, just get stuff down on paper that you can then look at and decide, ‘Well, if I were an audience, would this work for me?’.”
7. Allison Tait (presenter for Magazine and Newspaper Writing Stage 1)
“I send myself an email every night of all of the things that I need to do the next day… it’s the last thing that I do every day, then I know that I can go to bed and everything is there. I don’t have to lie there thinking, ‘Oh, what if I forget to do that?’ ‘Oh, did I do that?’ So, it’s all there. I learned that from a sleep psychologist years and years ago.
“I was having trouble with insomnia so she suggested writing it all down before you go to bed and then you don’t have that mind churn. So, I’ve just always done it and now I just email it myself because I can’t read my handwriting…”
8. Nicole Hayes (presenter for Creative Writing Stage 1)
“I try for 2,000 words a session, that makes me feel like I’ve accomplished a good amount. It might take a few hours, depending on where I am. If my kids are home, I can’t actually just disappear – that’s a whole day’s work instead of a morning.
“2,000 makes me feel good, but if I hit 2,000 early, I’ll keep going. I know some people don’t like to, but I know that disaster can fall at any moment, touch wood, and I might lose the next three days to something else. I try to make the most of it.”
9. Bernadette Foley (presenter for What Publishers Want, Write Your Novel)
“You’ve got to keep reading. If you’re writing fiction, then maybe read non-fiction and vice-versa, so you’re not subconsciously picking up someone else’s voice. You have to keep up to date with what other people are writing, and Australian writers, but also international writers. That’s really important.
“Also, writing equals waiting – be incredibly patient. Even if you’re offered a contract, there’s still going to be times when you’re just waiting and waiting. It can feel like nothing is happening, whereas madly a whole lot of things are happening in the publishing company that you don’t know about.
“And if you are being published, ask questions. Publishers have the best intentions in the world, but like anyone who’s been doing their job for awhile we assume a lot of prior knowledge, which we shouldn’t do, but we just do. If you can’t understand why something is happening, or why there’s a delay, or why you haven’t heard from someone in awhile, just email or get on the phone. I think we underestimate the importance of just picking up the phone and talking to each other.”
10. Candice Fox (presenter for Anatomy of a Crime: How to Write About Murder)
“I think people re-edit and they re-edit and it’s like getting a painting and just keep painting over and over, it just gets muddy and cluggy. The original thing is lost. You should just start fresh.
“It’s like a relationship, every book is like a relationship. If it doesn’t work out, don’t keep flogging the dead horse, go and find someone else, you know?”