By this I mean two pieces of advice. First, read as much as possible of what you’d like to write. This is the easiest writing tip you’ll ever get, because A) in theory, as a writer you enjoy books, and would rather read than do almost anything else; and B) All you have to do is read! You don’t even have to take notes or be aware of how the story is constructed. Just immerse yourself in it, and somehow, by strange alchemy, the awareness of form will seep through your fingers and you’ll be able to reproduce it yourself. So just read, lots and lots! To help with this, try to spend your adolescence being really geeky and living somewhere where the only entertainment is sheep-rustling and illegal underage drinking in fields (worked for me). Ensure you have a good library nearby that will be flexible about age limits and let you take out Stephen King though you are only ten and it will scare the bejaysus out of you. Sneak reads at those books your mother puts on the high shelf in case they corrupt your mind. Just read everything you can get your hands on – this is the writer’s apprenticeship. Don’t worry if you go through phases where you just regurgitate thinly-veiled copies of what you’ve read and loved. This should pass (if it doesn’t and you don’t realise, that’s a bit of a problem).
The second point I was going to make was about reading how-to books. I went through a bit of a stage last year of being mildly obsessed with how-to writing books. I must have read nearly every one going. Why? Partly I found them fascinating, discussing the craft and art of it, and imagining living as a writer. I love the insight into the mind of someone else who thinks like me – it’s the same reason I actually love reading fiction with a writer as a central character. But on the whole I think it was good old-fashioned procrastination. As long as I was reading these, I felt I was working on being a writer, without having to actually do any work. (Clever). So these suggestions come with a caveat – you still have to actually sit down and write.
A Novel in a Year: A Novelist’s Guide to Being a Novelist, Louise Doughty – One of the first I read, when I was still struggling to finish the book. I didn’t actually follow the exercises (am not a fan of exercise in general) but it gave me the nudge I needed to finish. Read if you’re bogged down in the writing still and the end if not in sight.
Writing Down the Bones, Natalie Goldberg – a brilliant guide to freeing your creativity, and writing – and living – without fear. Read this if you’re stuck and feel frightened of your writing.
Teach Yourself: Write a Blockbuster and Get it Published – written by an agent, I found this useful and practical. Read if you’re ready to get serious.
Writing the Breakout Novel, Donald Maass – written by a top US agent and author, I’ve gone back to this time and time again. It’s lengthy and thorough, and outlines exactly what makes certain books bestsellers. Read if you’ve finished a first draft and you want to know how to make it even better.
Getting Published – Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook Guide, Harry Bingham – a common-sense guide to the process of publishing. Read if you’re experiencing pre-submission jitters or ludicrous doubts (see previous posts).
On Writing, Stephen King – as compelling and easy to read as any of his novels. Not sure it teaches that much practically, but it’s compulsive reading. Read if you want to know how to live as a writer, and from what deep well the words are wrung.
Wannabe a Writer?, Jane Wenham-Jones – hilarious and practical guide to the whole business. Read if you need to take your writing less seriously, and have a good laugh while still learning a lot. There’s also a sequel –Wannabe a Writer We’ve Heard of? – which is a must-read for when you’re about to be published and need to know about putting yourself out there.
From Pitch to Publication, Carole Blake – by uber-agent Carole, this is really useful for more established writers, who perhaps have contracts already. Read if you need to understand how the business of publishing works, and what an agent can do for you.
How Not to Write a Novel-a humorous look at what we do wrong in writing. Read if you want a laugh and need to know what mistakes to avoid.
Enjoy! If you know of any more, do send them my way.