Vikki Wakefield's Top Writing Tips
Vikki Wakefield is the award-winning author of All I Ever Wanted, Friday Brown, Inbetween Days, Ballad for a Mad Girl and (hot off the press) This is How We Change the Ending. She's known for her distinctly Aussie voice and nuanced approach to tackling big themes, and we're delighted to have her visit LoveOzYA to share some of her best writing advice!
Unlearn some things you learned in school.
Some of my worst writing habits have been lurking since Primary school. I had a tendency to overwrite and overstate, and that’s because my writing was stunted at a point where I’d learned what to put in (imagination! describe everything! use the five senses!) but not what to leave out.
The best way to develop the craft is to read: read great writers and terrible ones, read poetry, long-form journalism, articles, news, blogs, lyrics—read everything. It’s how writers tune their ear; it’s how they’re able to hear the music.
Say something true.
It took me a long time to work out why I connect with some stories. Certainly it’s my connection with the characters, the way a writer uses language, a fascination with a time or a place, but I think it’s also something to do with a writer’s conviction. Whatever they’re saying, if it’s something they believe in, I believe it too.
Spend time alone with the work.
I take inspiration wherever I can but I try not to seek validation too soon. We need time alone with our characters in the beginning. There’s a time to ask for feedback—when I get it, I listen, but I always treat my early drafts like a secret I can’t tell.
Some things are perfect when they’re imperfect.
Rewriting almost always makes my writing better but I leave a sentence alone if it feels right, even if I’m breaking a rule. Likewise ideas—I resist the urge to clarify if there’s no room left for wonder.
Choose your battle.
When I started writing my first novel I spent a lot of time researching the craft and trying to find pathways to getting published. There aren’t many shortcuts, and too much research sucks time, energy and spontaneity from our writing. We often fixate on how hard it is to publish and forget how hard it is to write. Publication is just the victory lap.
Be your own best reader.
I’m not always sure if my writing is great, but I know when it’s working—I have a visceral response when I read. No clever idea or perfect sentence will save a scene if I don’t feel something. I try to read like a reader, not an editor, so I know what to cut and what to keep.
Back up your work.
Losing work is horrible. The day you spend 14 hours straight rewriting your entire novel in past tense will be the day The Matrix has a glitch—Dropbox it, email yourself, whatever, but don’t assume everything will be okay.
Don’t be afraid.
Make mistakes, take risks, try something you’ve never done before. I usually write the right book the wrong way first—it can seem like an epic waste of time but usually I realise I couldn’t have done it any other way. And the things I’m scared to write about always end up being the things I have to write about, so I’m learning I might as well front up early and face the monsters.
Thank the people who help you.
So much of this writing gig is solitary and unpaid. Not that it’s without reward, but authors often spend many hours responding to requests—for help, advice, opinions, feedback, referral—and we do it because we’re paying back, forward, or sideways, and we love books and writing. (Sometimes we’re feeding our snivelling, mewling egos, but mostly it’s because we never stop feeling as if we’re still learning, too.) So please, remember that every response probably took seventeen days to pass through the gauntlet of self-doubt before it reached you and, if it helped in some small way, a high-five or simple thanks means the world.