Prolific Irish author Maeve Binchy passed away last year but among the huge legacy she left was a great little book of advice for writers, The Maeve Binchy Writers' Club.
This handy little book compiles advice from Maeve herself and various others in the industry. It's a short, easy and useful read, but if you don't have time for it at the moment, here are ten things I learned (or re-learned) from The Maeve Binchy Writers' Club.
"Time doesn't appear from nowhere. You have to make it, and that means giving up something else. Regularly."
Or, as Ruth Barringham put it in her ebook The 12 Month Writing Challenge:
"No one has 'Free time'. There's no such thing, so donât go looking for it."
I can guarantee you are currently using all 24 hours of your day doing something. You will have to give something up to write.
The bad news is that if your life is really full, it will be something fundamentally important like time with your family, or sleep.
The good news is you may be able to give up mindless web surfing, or snacking on chips and chocolate in front of trash TV. Writing regularly is a habit and habits can be started, broken, or changed. Do you have a bad habit you can swap for the writing habit?
"We have to care enough about the people to follow them through to the last
Good characters are vitally important. In some cases they can even make up for a bad plot. In most cases, strongly drawn characters will actually help you avoid plotting problems. Strong characters take on a life of their own. They start to do things, feel things, make things happen. There's your plot.
"We get courage from other people's stories. We get consolation from the way they tell about failures, disappointments and crises."
Identify a universal issue, and write about it truthfully. Write about divorce, heartbreak, grief, loss, the trials and tribulations of being a parent to a difficult child, or the child of a difficult parent. Tell stories others can relate to, and tell them with courage and humor. You'll produce world-changing writing.
"If we can learn a little hint here and there from every writer we read...then we will do well."
Or as Stephen King put it:
"Every book you pick up has its own lesson or lessons, and quite often the bad books have more to teach than the good ones".
Good writers read, constantly, and learn something from every book, every article, every blog post. It may be what to do or what not to do, but we always learn something.
"Editors are amazing people. They don't usually write books themselves but they know what's right and wrong with your writing. They should be listened to with great attention."
Editors have a job to do. They don't mess around with your work for no reason. They do it to make it better, or sometimes more saleable/marketable (which is not necessarily the same thing). It's your work. You have a say about how it's presented, but always listen to your editors. They (usually) know best.
"If you are ever running out of ideas, newspapers are filled with them. You'd be weighed down with ideas after reading a newspaper thoroughly."
A writing tutor once suggested this exercise. Take any article in any newspaper and rewrite it as a short story. If it's newsworthy enough to be in the paper, there's a story there. It's amazing how this exercise works. Your creative side kicks in and often there's only the echo of the original article in the finished story, but the inspiration was still invaluable. You may not have come up with that exact story any other way.
"We all know the story of the boy who said he preferred things on radio to television because the scenery was better, meaning that it makes us use our imagination more."
Books are supposed to leave something to the imagination. That's why reading is such a personal experience and why the movie of the book is often such a disappointment. Don't overdo description. Give some pertinent details and let the reader do the rest.
"Children often read a favourite book over and over, getting something new from it each time. That's a fearsome responsibility to have."
I've just returned to writing for children, and this thought really gave me cause to think about just how important children's literature is. I think this may have been one of the concepts Maxim Gorky had in mind when he stated:
"You must write for children in the same way as you do for adults, only better."
"What will separate the winners from the losers is the ability to pick ourselves up and refuse to take rejection too personally."
Rejection is part of the writing life. It's heart-breaking how many writers take it so personally that they are unable to keep submitting their work. Every successful writer has dealt with rejection. The writers who eventually get published aren't always the best. They're the most persistent.
"None of us ever stops learning. For my last novel I got seven pages of closely typed corrections and rewrites from the publisher."
When one of my kids recently asked me what is my absolute favourite thing to do, my answer surprised even me. "Learn new things," I replied. Then I thought about it. Is that really my favourite thing to do? I honestly think maybe it is, and I think I'm very lucky.
Writing involves lifelong learning. So does life. If you enjoy learning, you'll be a better writer, and (probably) a better person.
You can order The Maeve Binchy Writers' Club here.
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