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Ignite your Fiction Fire: 5 Tips for Aspiring Writers

Sometimes, trying to write and get our work out there can feel like flailing around in the dark. It can be a fraught journey, littered with the skeletons of defeated writers: I’m not good enough. I don’t have time. I need to stop living in my head and inhabit reality. Writing is not for the faint-hearted. But, at the same time, for anybody who has experienced that quickening of the pulse; that moment when your breath catches and you just have to get those words down, writing can arguably hold up the most insightful and satisfying mirror to the soul and life itself.

Here are a few tips for the aspiring writers amongst you. I still aspire, each and every day. It doesn’t matter what stage we are at with our writing, we all need to hone our craft and that’s the magic of it – we never, ever stop getting better.

✮ Tip Number One ✮

You may have heard this a thousand times before, but there’s probably a good reason for this:

Buy a notebook you really like and carry it around with you. Fill it with things that inspire you, snatches of stolen conversation and fascinating or shocking little facts. Be a magpie. Steal ideas relentlessly. Nothing is truly original.

I spent a large portion of my childhood sitting up trees and in cupboards spying on people, fabulous fodder for future stories. I’m not suggesting this is quite as socially acceptable for adults, but there are plenty of grown-up ways this can be done.

Call me positively prehistoric, but I don’t believe your i-phone will do. Your phone has a gazillion other things going on in it. Plus, there’s always the danger you’ll get sidetracked on your phone instagram or facebook or, god forbid, a blog-ha!

Your notebook, on the other hand, is for you to jot down gems of interestingness, and that alone, which you can draw upon for future stories and books.

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Photo taken from a book my children are reading at the moment, Little Red Writing by Joan Holub. And really? It doesn’t need to be a big notebook. Any notebook will suffice.

✮ Tip Number Two ✮

Don’t let the bastards get you down. Anyone who’s been following my blog for a while will know I was rejected 83 times before I found a publisher for The Poet’s Wife (click here to read about that).

I fervently believe that there is an awful lot of utter crap out there being published. Conversely, there is so, SO much of value and merit and worth that is unknown, typical of the arts. I’ve said it before and I’ve said it again: If you truly believe in what you have written (and I mean really believe in it – don’t expect to get anyone fighting your corner if you don’t believe in it), do NOT give up. You will get there.

the poets wife

✮ Tip Number Three ✮

Read. Read. Read. Read. Read.

I am always amazed when I hear that people stop reading to devote themselves to writing. I feel that as writers we almost need to be reading more when we are working on a writing project, not less. Why? Because we don’t just read for pleasure (though that, of course, is very important.) We are discerning readers – we ask ourselves why something does or does not work and we weave that into our own writing.

I believe we need to read widely, out of our comfort zones. Sure, if we want to write psychological thrillers, we go ahead and read lots of books in that genre. But we also read Dickens and chick lit and Tolstoy and crime. It can teach us about characterisation and dialogue and drip feed fantastic techniques into us without us even realising this is happening.

Penelope Dullaghan

Illustration by Penelope Dullaghan

✮ Tip Number Four ✮

As we all know, writing is a solitary pursuit and can be lonely.

I can’t emphasise this enough: link up with other writers. I fought this, quite literally, for years. I thought that it would detract from precious writing time. And besides, I knew what I wanted to do with my writing….right?

Well, maybe not. In the past year, I have become part of a small group of writers (of all different genres) in Nairobi. Now I wonder how I ever managed without them. We meet only once a month but I look forward to it enormously. We give respectful feedback on each others work and share opportunities and ideas. I come away each and every time feeling inspired and energised.

Click here to read my blog on how writing groups can be transformative.

✮ Tip Number Five ✮

If you are a female writer, subscribe to Mslexia, a magazine geared for ‘Women who write.’ Even if you are a male writer (but supporter of feminism), read Mslexia. Jam-pack full of fantastic, intelligent advice for writers, this has been a lifeline for me for over a decade. It includes quality short fiction and poetry, delves into the nitty gritty of writing in various genres, charts current trends and finishes off with several invaluable resource pages of courses, grants, competitions and submission opportunities. In fact, it was within the pages of Mslexia that I first heard Bookouture (my publisher) were looking for submissions.

Every time I close a copy of Mslexia I feel motivated. I love this magazine so much that it wings its way every three months to me all the way from Newcastle to Nairobi. It quite literally rocks my writing world.

I’d love to hear anyone else’s thoughts on tips for aspiring writers. What are your ideas or encouraging aspiring writers?

Thanks for reading this and if you enjoyed it, please do share on your social media networks ♥︎

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Rebecca

2 replies
  1. Samantha Stambaugh
    Samantha Stambaugh says:

    Great tips, Rebecca! I was in a writing slump for many months of the last year or two, and I just recently jumped back into writing reviews for other authors. I get inspired by the works of others, and I admit that I am in need of a local writing group to be accountable to until I get into a rhythm again. I have to get a notebook for my purse again, too. In my 20’s I wasn’t caught without a pen, paper, thesaurus, and current writing projects on the go. Maybe I need to take inspiration from my younger self, as well. Luckily I have a book to read wherever I go. Can’t be too careful when you become stranded for a time.
    Maybe you will be one of the next authors I review. I’m interested if you are.

    Reply
  2. Rebecca Stonehill
    Rebecca Stonehill says:

    Hi Samantha. Lovely to hear from you. Yes, I think it’s a great point you make about taking inspiration from our younger selves – it’s something I’m sure we all need to do! I often think about that time in my twenties, so full of creative energy (before kids, house, real responsibilities etc etc) and think ok, my life may have changed enormously but that doesn’t mean I can’t still carry a notebook around with me and jot down all that juicy, interesting little things that inspire me. I’d love it if you reviewed my book(s)….let me know!

    Reply

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