A group of published UK-based authors and illustrators of picture books, children's and YA.
There are many books about writing, as well as countless blogs, magazines, websites and essays. I know this because I’ve read an awful lot of them.
At first, when I was a wide-eyed and unpublished writer without much of a clue, I read them to soak up knowledge from the experts. I had limited confidence in my abilities, and I knew that pursuing a career as an author was hard, time-consuming, and that there were no guarantees of financial restitution for all the effort and pounding-my-head-on-the-desk-frustration that writing often elicits (I’m assuming I’m not alone in doing that?). So absorbing sage advice from successful authors seemed like a good way to get a much needed leg-up into their stratified world of success.
The books and articles on writing that I enjoyed the most were the ones that spoke about the experience of writing, rather than just the nuts and bolts of the craft itself. Writing is a job done mainly in isolation, where the only voice I hear is that of the gleefully sadistic demon telling me how rubbish I am, how my ideas suck, and that I may as well just GIVE UP RIGHT NOW! So reading about how other writers overcame this problem has helped me over the last few years.
Stephen King’s On Writing is a personal, honest and interesting combination of sound writing advice, and an autobiography of his journey from being an underpaid teacher who found time to write short stories in the evenings (and getting countless rejections) to finding success with his first novel, Carrie.
Love or loathe his macabre tales of darkness, few could deny that Stephen King is a prolific and masterful story-teller with an enviable career spanning decades. So who better to take advice from? One of the things that King states (and this will come as no surprise to most of you, I’m sure) is this: ‘If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot. There’s no way around these two things…no shortcuts.’
He also talks about the joy of writing (the sessions when you’re not banging your head on the desk): ‘…when you find something at which you are talented, you do it until your fingers bleed or your eyes are ready to fall out of your head. Even when no one is listening or reading, every outing is a bravura performance, because you as the creator are happy. Perhaps even ecstatic.’
And that’s the reason most of us sit down in front of that blinking curser or that blank page: because when it feels good, when the words flow and the ideas send a little thrill down your spine, that’s when you know you’re a writer, dammit, and this is what we DO. And hey, work hard enough and you might end up on the bestseller list alongside Mr King.
I’ve also learned that because there is so much advice out there, it’s important to judge it on its own merits and decide if it works for you. Everyone is different, every writer is different, and that means one person’s methods and advice won’t work for all. For example, in On Writing King says he writes every day, and produces at least 1000 words, without fail.
This has clearly worked for King, and will work for many others too. But what about you? Can you fit time to write 1000 words a day? What about your other commitments? Your job? Children? Having fun? It simply might not be practical or even possible to commit to such a goal. Making a goal for yourself and then constantly failing to achieve it will make you feel like a failure and, heaven forbid, might even put you off writing for good.
So, seek out the masters and listen to their advice, but feel free to discard it like a jumper in spring. Find the ways that work for you, even if it means disagreeing with the advice of a writer you admire, and keep writing (and reading).
Matt Ralphs has always loved reading so it’s no surprise that he ended up working in publishing. In his decade as an editor he worked on a wide range of books from SF, fantasy, history, art, humanities and children’s. Deciding that a nomadic way of life is more his style, he lives on a narrowboat called Nostromo somewhere on the Grand Union Canal. His books Fire Girl and Fire Witch are published my Macmillan.