Easily the most popular of our historic posts is the one about Margaret Kirk’s winning entry to the Good Housekeeping 2016 Novel Competition: Shadow Man, a gritty Scottish crime novel.
So we were delighted when Margaret offered to give our followers advice from her own experience – especially as she is busy with the run-up to publication this summer of her second crime novel, What Lies Buried.
Here is what she said:
Do it Your Way – rewriting the rules to get yourself published
I enjoy reading the ‘Ninevoices’ blog, so when I was asked to contribute a guest post I was delighted to agree. Something cheering, I thought, in the midst of our midwinter blues – new year, new start kind of post, maybe? Ten ways to get yourself motivated, ten tips to taking your writing to where you want to be in 2019.
Then good sense intervened. Writing advice, from me? Really? I’ve only just finished my second novel, and I still count myself as a total newbie. I’m well aware that my route has not been the traditional one – I’d had some successes with short stories before I sent in my entry to the Good Housekeeping First Novel competition, but I had no expectations of actually winning it. And the publishing world is so unlike any environment I’ve encountered before, sometimes it feels as though I’ve landed in a country I’ve never heard of, where I don’t speak the language. With a road-map I can’t read.
So I’m going to turn this on its head. I’m going to look at the three pieces of writing advice I hear most frequently, and explain why I think they need to be approached with caution.
Write Every Day
Well, ideally, yes. Because there’s undeniably a certain consistency of thought, of image, that writing for a sustained period of time, day after day, can bring. But we all have lives, we all (and this is particularly true for women) have so many demands on our time. There is absolutely no reason to feel guilty/feel you haven’t got what it takes/feel anything negative at all if sometimes you can’t find the time, the mental space or the energy to write. This really is okay. When you do have the time and energy, the writing will be there, waiting for you. As someone who only started seriously in her late forties, I’m living proof of this!
Don’t Give Up
Tricky. No, don’t give up the writing, unless there are other things going on in your life (see above) and you need to take a break. But if you have a finished piece of writing you’ve submitted to agents/publishers/competitions, and it keeps getting rejected, then maybe you need to take another look at it. Have you received feedback on it, and if so, what did the feedback say? I’m not suggesting it’s automatically time to bin your work, but particularly if the same kind of feedback keeps cropping up, there may be something you need to take another look at. Sometimes just the smallest tweaks can make a huge difference!
Show, Don’t Tell
Meh. Yes, of course, Chekov’s ‘show me the glint of light on broken glass’. But this has become such a piece of dogma, sometimes we forget that most times, we’re trying to tell a story. And unless we’re writing the most esoteric of esoteric literary fiction, that means balancing the need to build atmosphere/set the scene with the need to move the story forward. Sometimes – and it took me some time to realise this – instead of agonising over every description, it is perfectly fine to say, ‘He opened the door, and went outside.’
Make sense? I hope so. But if you disagree violently with anything I’ve said, that’s absolutely fine too. Honest. Because there is no magic formula, no single way to achieve your goal (whatever it may be) that works for every writer. In the end, I think all that really matters is that you enjoy where the journey takes you.
Thank you, Margaret!