My Writing Tip for January

This year I plan to write a monthly blog with a new format. It will comprise:

• One Writing Tip
• My Current Reads
• My Writing News for the Month
• Competitions and Festivals I’ve Heard About

With every writing tip, I don’t claim to be an expert (for that look no further than Stephen King’s On Writing) but I’ll be sharing the bank of knowledge and ideas that I’ve built up in the eighteen years that I’ve been writing.

Writing Tip
So here goes with my first writing tip:
Yep, that’s it. One word. I’ve said my piece. You can click away now.
But it really is the crux of the matter. If you want to be a writer, you have to write. When I first decided to have a go at writing fiction, I spent six months reading “How to Write” books. But until I’d actually put pen to paper and seen what my words looked like on a page, I couldn’t shape and improve them. I was wasting my time.

I didn’t really get going until I attended an adult education class in Creative Writing. I finally flexed my very small writing muscles with exercises set by the tutor that we all completed in class and read out to each other. Suddenly, by making it a sociable hobby, I kick-started my creativity.

As with any new activity you take on, you have to make time to do it. There isn’t a writing-sized space in your day waiting to be filled. You have to squeeze it in with everything else. I often read about marvellously disciplined individuals who set the alarm clock for 5am to write before the rest of the family gets up. A great idea if you can cope with the early mornings. Personally, I need to sleep more than I need to write so that wouldn’t have worked for me. I used to write two mornings a week while my children were at playgroup. Rather than at the expense of sleep, it was at the expense of housework. (It still is; I haven’t dusted since the Christmas decorations came down.)

It’s probably best if you can get into a regular routine for writing. The brain will come to know that Tuesdays and Wednesdays from 10.30am to 11.15am is writing time and start to cooperate. But if that’s not possible, don’t use it as an excuse not to try. Grab whatever time you can.

Received wisdom is that you should write at least 1000 words every day. But that’s just not realistic for someone starting out with a new hobby and you shouldn’t use it as a stick to beat yourself with. I’m now a full-time writer and I still don’t so this. I’m currently editing The Roommates. I’ve spent several hours a day on it for a couple of weeks but I’m probably not changing more than 100 words in a day.

When I’m writing the first draft of a new project, I like to complete one chapter per day for five days a week until it’s finished. But I don’t usually know how many words I’ve written as I write my first draft in longhand. I’m more interested in whether I’ve moved the story forward than in reaching a word target. And if I have to miss a couple of days to do something else, so be it. I know I’ll get back to it as soon as I can.

When you’re writing your first draft, turn off the self-critic in your head. This is the time to get your creative ideas down on paper. Editing starts with the second draft. You can’t edit a blank piece of paper.

So my first writing tip: find time to write – even if that isn’t much time at first.

Remember this: “The art of writing is the art of applying the seat of the pants to the seat of the chair.” Mary Heaton Vorse (1874-1966), American novelist.

My Current Reads
I am currently reading No Stranger to Death by Janet O’Kane. A whodunit set in the Scottish Borders. The amateur sleuth is an English doctor who has recently moved to Scotland. When she finds a body on a bonfire, she and her friend Kate are drawn into finding the killer.

I have just read A Stranger in Paris, a memoir by Karen Webb. A young English graduate goes to Paris in search of her French ex-boyfriend. But there isn’t the romantic reunion she hopes for. With no roof over her head and only ‘O’ level French, Karen takes work as an au pair to a Bohemian family. She meets a succession of Parisian characters: would-be gangsters, passport fraudsters, power women, dysfunctional salesmen. This is a writer with a keen eye for observation and a talent for humour. Looking forward to volume two.

My Writing News
My police procedural The Good Teacher came out in December and I’ve been putting together content and liaising with book bloggers for the second half of the blog tour that starts on 17 January. You can read a feature on the bloggers who took part in the first half of the tour here.

Mostly this month I’ve been working on line edits for The Roommates, a psychological thriller that comes out in the autumn, and will send the final draft to my editor today. Fingers crossed!

Why not treat yourself to a Writing Magazine subscription? There are subscriber only competitions every month to get your creative juices flowing. There is also a good selection of open competitions that anyone can enter.

If you’re going to be in the Peterborough area in May, I recommend the Deepings Literary Festival. One of the organisers is champion book blogger Linda Hill and it promises to be an excellent four-day event with high-profile authors at very reasonable ticket prices. I expect it to sell out soon so book early to avoid disappointment.

By Rachel Sargeant

Rachel Sargeant is a British author. Her latest thriller, The Roommates, is a Closer Magazine "Must Read". Her other titles are The Good Teacher, The Perfect Neighbours and Gallipoli: Year of Love and Duty. Rachel won Writing Magazine’s Crime Short Story competition and has been shortlisted in various competitions including the Bristol Short Story Prize. She was born in Lincolnshire and is a graduate of Aberystwyth University. She now lives in Gloucestershire with her husband and children.

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