How to start writing

1 June 2008
With: 
Writers Victoria

Here are few good tips to help you develop your writing.

Every experienced writer reads widely. Professional writers always recommend reading as a way for writers to learn their craft. Reading widely can enhance your writing technique, broaden your scope, multiply your ideas and deepen your understanding of literary form in all its variety.

Each issue of The Victorian Writer magazine includes articles on the craft and business of writing.

Practice every day to become comfortable with written language. Just like everything else, writing requires practice, and the more words you have behind you, the better you will be at it. If you set aside an hour of writing time every day you will quickly see a growth toward mastery of written language.

Read your work aloud. Gustave Flaubert, the great French author of 'Madame Bovary', discovered that reading his work aloud was an infallible method of checking for errors in punctuation. Each evening he would stand in his garden and declaim the day’s work in a loud, firm voice. When he ran out of breath, or his breathing became irregular, he knew he needed punctuation or to change the punctuation to make the sentence clearer. Flaubert’s rule was that a pause of:

  • one beat equals a comma
  • two beats equals a semi-colon
  • three beats a colon
  • four beats a full stop.

Generations of writers since have used his discovery, although the neighbours might think that you’re crazy. If you can’t make sense of it when reading it aloud, your readers won’t be able to either (or the publisher you’re trying to impress). Children’s books, especially, must be easily read aloud.

Research is the art of knowing things that the reader doesn’t, and thorough research can lead to new story ideas or innovative twists in established forms. Readers read for enjoyment, but they also read to learn.

Know your audience and your genre. Read books similar to yours. Read classics and read latest releases. Imagine which books your novel will sit next to on the shelf at your local bookshop, which authors your readers will also be interested in. Know which titles your book will be listed next to on webpages and online bookshops that display related books.

Get a second opinion. When you have been working on something for a while, often you will become blind to such things as information or plot gaps. It turns out there is a downside to knowing too much! Holes like these will confuse readers new to your piece. Workshops and writing groups can be great tools for picking up these things, a fresh perspective can do wonders. There is a list of writing groups on this website to get you started, and you can always form your own.