With Season 2 complete, it is time to reflect on what we learnt from the 14 remarkable writers we've interviewed so far. Not only are they all at the top of their craft, they represent different genres and styles, and all had plenty to teach us about the craft of writing. Here are the 10 lessons that spring to mind.
1. Read, read, read
Almost without exception, when asked for advice to give to emerging writers, our interviewees said, ‘read.’ Not all were avid readers as children or teenagers, but those who weren’t discovered the joy of reading in their early twenties. Reading improves your vocabulary, helps you identify what works and what doesn’t, provides insights into character development, plot and structure, and, ultimately, shows you the level at which you need to write in order to get published.
2. Pick your path: Plotters v pantsers
The world of writing is divided into those who are plotters and those who are pantsers. Plotters are those who spend ages laying the foundations for their work before starting the actual writing, pantsers are those who just head off – almost blindly – and see where it takes them. There’s no right or wrong (although Graeme Simsion disagrees with that statement).
3. Visit the places you write about
Okay, this won’t work if you’re writing a story set in space (Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff, we're thinking of you), but many of our interviewees walked the streets (Anita Heiss in Manhattan) or the river banks (Tony Birch in Richmond) of the places they were writing about. They took in all they experienced, and even if they had visited the place before the more they visited, the more ideas and sense of realism they got out of it.
4. Take note of sci-fi (it's a formative influence on writers who don't write in the genre)
Maybe it was the ages of the writers we interviewed, but almost all grew up reading sci-fi (even the ones you don't expect). Their enthusiasm for science fiction had us revisiting the sci-fi classics, and musing on the pure imaginative talent required to pull off the world-building found in the genre.
5. Get ready to work
None of our interviewees are lazy. They know that if they don’t work hard they don’t get published. They know that novels are completed in years rather than months, and take an enormous amount of discipline. Talented writers without a work ethic are … well, unpublished writers (listen to Graeme Simsion, he says it better than we can).
6. Learn the skills of the trade
Some of our interviewees studied writing, some didn’t. Some have taught writing, some have not. But enough of them have experience of formal teaching for us to conclude that teaching courses can, at the least, iron out weaknesses and highlight strengths. They also put you in touch with like-minded people who may become long-lasting industry contacts.
7. Trust the professionals
None of our interviewees would have got where they are without the painstaking assistance of editors, publishers, proof readers and designers. The point being, trust the people who are given your work to take it to the next level. They have the same outcome in mind – worldwide domination. And don’t be too precious – they know what they are doing.
8. Be careful who you listen to
So your mum reckons your latest manuscript is a classic. Unless your mum is a publisher - and even then, she’d need to be wearing her publisher’s hat, not her mum’s hat - take no notice. When it comes time for feedback, seek it from people you know are qualified enough to give you the constructive feedback required to take your writing to the next level. Some of our interviewees had arrangements with other writers – and if you have the network, we think that is a great idea.
9. Earn a living (it is possible)
We are constantly told there’s no money in writing and that it’s impossible to make a living at it. Well, it’s not impossible – although it is damn hard. All of our interviewees are professional writers, and some supplement their income from other sources. How do they do it? See point 5.
10. Just write
We started this list with the most common advice provided by our interviewees – to make sure you read. So we’ll end with the next most common piece of advice – just write. Don’t wait for inspiration to hit, make time to write – and do it, regularly. It needs to be a habit.