Welcome to my Top Ten Tough-Love Writer’s Tips. I’ve published ten novels in ten years (all with Inanna Publications) and I’d like to share a few things I’ve learned along the way.
A caveat – I'm a tough love kinda gal when it comes to writing so my way of doing things may not work for everybody but hopefully there’s a helpful gem or two for you here.
1. Self edit as you go
I used to believe the opposite. I’d plough my way to a first draft come hell or high water and then I’d be out to sea in a canoe trying to paddle my way back to the shore with no horizon in sight.
So now I edit as I go but I don’t let something break my flow. For example, I often have brackets like so: [describe room] or [check timeline] or [does this make sense?] and I colour that text to make it jump out at me.
2. The only way out is through
There are no miracles here. The book will not write itself. Gold miners didn’t sit under a shady tree manifesting their nuggets. They got out there and dug. Writing hurts. Writing is hard work. Forget about manifesting and do the hard work – but, and this may sound contradictory, don’t forget to daydream.
Hanging out with my characters in a dreamy kind of fashion (when I am out walking) is very helpful. However, daydreaming is not doing the hard work, daydreaming is a vacation!
3. Don’t panic
It’s hard not to panic. Do I have a book? Will it get published? If it gets published, who will read it? And if they read it, will they like it? Is my book worth anything? Why am I writing this? Why am I procrastinating by not writing? The voices in our head are not kind and nor will they shut up. Try not to panic and write through the noise.
4. Nothing is working?
Try writing a different part of the novel. Try writing a different character. Start in the middle. Take a bath without a pen or paper in sight. That’s when all those ideas will come to you. That or just before you’re about to fall asleep. In which case, get up and write down your idea because you will not remember it. Write it down.
5. Steal from yourself
We’ve all got manuscripts that are bad, sitting in the bottom drawer. Don’t think you can salvage that book because you can’t but you can steal parts that did work. Steal from yourself and adapt the writing to fit your new story.
6. Make notes endlessly
Keep an ideas file. Write poetry. Write short stories. Write on post-it notes. Just write. And keep all of it. Stick it up on a mood board and then take it down when you’ve used it. I love mood boards but I’m crafty so do what works for you!
Have fun with string and coloured pens and post-it notes. Stick up pictures you’ve printed off the internet or pictures you’ve taken. Curate your inspiration boards constantly.
7. Accept despair
About everything when it comes to writing. Despair never goes away and when it does leave the building, it’s really just stepping out to grab a coffee. Despair will come back because for the most part, writing a book is an extremely tough gig.
8. Ignore trending advice
Ignore trending advice and write your story. Don't sculpt your work to adapt to a hot idea or discard something because an agent or a tweet said it’s not what they’re looking for. It might become exactly what they are looking for and even if it doesn’t, you wrote the book you needed to write.
9. Don't overworkshop
Trust your gut. You're the writer. Get feedback from a trusted few. Keyword there: few. Everyone will have a different opinion and they’ll dilute your book if you open the door to a wild party of opinions.
10. Use writers blocks to build a mansion
We all get writer’s block. See it for what it is but know that if you're a writer, the words will come. Why? Because you can’t escape them.
Tough love works. Sure you're tired, we're all tired. Write the book even if you write for ten minutes a day (although know that that will take you longer. You have to be realistic). Don’t expect miracles.
Once you’ve written your first draft, then rewrite it, read it out loud and rewrite it again. Binge-write. Let the world pile up around you. Don’t worry about the dishes or the dust bunnies, just put your head down and climb that mountain and when you get to the top, scream with joy for one perfect moment and then go back down and start it all again!
Lisa de Nikolits is the international award-winning author of ten novels. Her short fiction and poetry have also been published in various international anthologies and journals. She is a member of the Mesdames of Mayhem, and the Sisters in Crime. Originally from South Africa, Lisa de Nikolits came to Canada in 2000. She lives and writes in Toronto.