Top Writing Tips from Your Favorite Aussie YA Authors
We asked some of Australia’s most-loved YA authors across all genres to share the best (and worst) writing advice they’ve ever received.
Fact: writing is H.A.R.D. And it doesn’t matter whether you’re working on your first or fiftieth story, there will always be tough days when the words won’t flow. But we at LoveOzYA believe in the stories you’re working to tell and want to help! So we’ve hunted through our Author Q&A archive to find the best writing tips from your favourite OzYA authors, as well as the ‘advice’ they recommend steering clear of. We’ve gathered their responses below and will be updating this post as we find new gems to share.
Tara Eglington, author of The Long Distance Playlist
Best advice: ‘A career in writing takes dedication, commitment, passion, the ability to listen, and the understanding that no matter how talented you are, you still have to work hard’
This is a quote from my wonderful publisher, Lisa, and it is something that I reflect on frequently.
I signed my first publishing deal in 2011, so this year marks nine years in the industry. Along with the exhilarating moments (signing a new novel, receiving your author copies, seeing your book on bookshelves around the country) are a lot of real ‘hard-slog’ ones – massive structural edits that have you wanting to pull your hair out, periods of months or years, where you don’t have a ‘day-off,’ deadlines so major you wind up writing while sick (I’ve worked through pharyngitis and other horrible, nasty bugs that have hit me right when I’m over worked and run-down). I’ve definitely had (thankfully brief) moments of wondering ‘is this worth it?’ particularly in terms of sacrifices I’ve made in my personal life, but then I will receive a beautiful message in my DM’s from a reader, or I’ll think ‘Oh my goodness, imagine if I could go back in time and tell 15-year-old Tara, that she’s an Australian YA author’ – and bang – I know through and through that every hard moment is worth it. I am so thankful to do what I do – to have the opportunity to share stories! To have an incredible publisher to work with. To be surrounded by so many wonderful, kind, enthusiastic readers. I never want to take any of this for granted.
Worst advice: ‘No-one gets published.’ I wrote my first book (How to Keep a Boy from Kissing You) back in 2006, when I was 21. I didn’t tell many people that I was writing a book, because I found they almost always responded along the lines of ‘That’s impossible/You know how many people want to be a writer, don’t you? /You’ll wind up on the slush pile for years/It’s nice that you’ve written a book, but don’t expect anything to happen with it!’
I would smile and say, ‘I know it’s really difficult’ but this little part of me always had this quiet determination and faith that one day I’d see my story published – and other people would get to meet Hayden and Aurora, my protagonists. It has been the most amazing experience to see that actually happen (in 2013), and to hear from readers all round the world, who have discovered the Aurora Skye series. So now, whenever I meet an aspiring writer, I give them as much encouragement and advice as I can. I always tell them – ‘being published is definitely possible!’
Alysha King, author of the the ‘Rose’ chronicles
Best advice: Best piece would be how to not get overwhelmed with the madness that is writing an actual book. Look at the trees, not the forest – take one chapter at a time, one paragraph at a time. Do that and you’ll soon have a whole book. If you try to tackle it as a whole, the sheer volume of work and expectation will drown you fast and it’s not a fun feeling.
Worst advice: I honestly can’t think of a single bad piece of advice I’ve received with regards to writing. I’ve always taken any advice with a grain of salt and I’ve learnt something from every piece, regardless of whether it was relevant or not. I think I’ve been pretty lucky that way!
Elizabeth Foster, author of the ‘Esme’ trilogy
Best advice: The best advice, courtesy of Steve Martin, and pinned to my noticeboard for years, was to “be so good they can’t ignore you.” As I polished my manuscript over and over, and experienced a number of rejections, I decided that I wouldn’t put Esme’s Wish in a drawer, but work at it until it was the best it could be. Serendipitously, when Odyssey Books took me on, they had the very same quote pinned to the top of their website!
Worst advice: The worst advice, though well-intentioned, was to turn my manuscript into a chapter book. Getting published is tough, especially when your book is in a ‘missing’ category. There used to be a publishing category for the in-between years, 10-14-year-olds, and it’s been subsumed by those categories above and below. I’m glad I stuck to my original intended audience – especially as the series progresses and I explore more YA themes.
A. B. Endacott, author of the ‘Dark’ trilogy
Best advice: Read widely and read outside your genre. If you only read YA romance, you’ll only ever write a YA romance that is a patchwork of everything else. While I don’t love nonfiction, when I do read it, I often am struck by the efficiency of expression, and the way dry information is presented in an engaging way.
Worst advice: Writing isn’t a real job. It’s also really hard to become an astrophysicist, but we don’t discourage people from pursuing that dream, so why should we do the same with writing?
Catch Tilly, author of Otherwise Known as Pig
Best advice: I have two good ones (sorry, really can’t decide between them).
Follow the character: When I get stuck in a plot point, or a piece of writing, and don’t know where to go I close my eyes and imagine. Get right into the person. Stop thinking like a writer and start thinking like a protagonist. Then all I need to do is take their story and put it into words.
Trust yourself: My husband keeps saying this and it really helps. Believe you can do it.
Worst advice: Always show, not tell – do you know long that makes a story? Sometimes you need to tell, the trick is to do it in an interesting way.
Nikki McWatters, author of Saga
Best advice: The best advice I received was to write the first draft of your book and then go back and take out every second adjective.
Worst advice: The worst advice I got was to stop dreaming of having a career as a writer because it was a foolish fantasy and my writing should only be engaged in as a hobby.
Jason K. Foster, author of Hadamar: The House of Shudders
Best advice: Show don’t tell. That was the key piece of advice given to me that allowed me to go from an aspiring author to a published one. In addition to this, though, I would also say don’t have too many characters because, firstly, characters are the lifeblood of any story and they need to be fully developed and, secondly, too many characters make the narrative extremely confusing for the reader.
Worst advice: You should reconsider writing as a career, your novel is bland and lacks development. The story is not very interesting and the characters do not come across as particularly believable.
That novel is still, by far, my bestselling book to date.
Elizabeth Stevens, author of Popped
Best advice: This is difficult. There is so much great advice out there (there’s a lot of terrible advice too, I suppose), and I can’t always remember where I heard something. A few bests stand out: write drunk, edit sober – which basically just means relax and let the words flow without too much worrying about getting everything perfect to get the words on the page, then worry when it come to editing; which goes hand-in-hand with Sir Terry Pratchett’s advice of ‘ the first draft is just you telling yourself the story’; and probably the one that opened up my writing process was that you don’t HAVE to write a book chronologically – you want to write chapter 13 first, then 20, go back to 5, and write the first one last? Go for it. So, I guess the absolute number one piece of advice I’d always pass on is that – there’s no right way to write a book, you get to do it however you want, in whatever order you want, in whatever timeframe you want.
Worst advice: If I had to pick one, it would have to be the idea that I should have a day job and that writing couldn’t be it. As soon as I let myself believe I could do it as a job, it became my job and I love it. I hope it’s less of a problem for teens these days, where it’s more acceptable to be ‘entrepreneurial’, but it was such a downer to think the thing I wanted to do could only be a hobby. So, after starting teaching twice, I decided to stick with writing and did a Masters in Publishing and Editing to help me do it all myself.
Jae Waller, author of ‘The Call of the Rift’ series
Best advice: The best advice I’ve ever heard is to write what you’re passionate about. You have to spend more time on it than anyone else, so you might as well enjoy it. Don’t write what you think you should write, because it won’t be genuine and people will probably be able to tell. Don’t try to jump into a trend, because it’ll be over by the time you’ve finished a manuscript.
Worst advice: The worst advice I’ve ever heard is that you need to write every day even if it means not eating, sleeping, exercising, or seeing your family and friends. That just glamourizes and perpetuates the ‘tortured artist’ myth. If you’re serious about a writing career, then yes, you ought to write often and treat it like a job, but people with day jobs get sick leave, holidays, and vacations. Why shouldn’t writers? Furthermore, nothing should come above physical and mental health. If you’re suffering, your writing will suffer, too.
Holden Sheppard, author of Invisible Boys
Best advice: “Write hard and clear about what hurts” (Ernest Hemingway) and “write from your scars, not your wounds” (Sisonke Msimang).
Worst advice: Anything that tells you to spend time developing 50-page character bios or endless plot outlines. In my experience, a total waste of time. Just get some damn words on the page and start writing your first draft. Your characters will organically come to life on the page and that’s where you’ll hear their voice. Characters can’t speak in an excel spreadsheet.
Scott Westerfeld, author of the ‘Impostors’ series
“Write every day” is both the best and worst advice. Making a habit of writing is great, because the only way to get better at anything is to do it frequently. But the idea that you’ve failed it you take a day off is terrible. Everyone has their own rhythms of work and practice. It’s okay to let your brain go fallow sometimes.
Taryn Bashford, author of The Astrid Notes
Best advice: The best advice came from an editor from Black Dog Books: Once you are about to submit a manuscript, believing it to be absolutely the best you can do, stop. Now go through each page and delete 20 words. Do not move on until you have deleted those 20 words. It is amazing how much this truly tightens up your prose.
Worst advice: The absolutely worst advice came from my nine-year-old son: He told me that I should give up because I’d been writing a long time and clearly I wasn’t good enough or I’d be published by now. I forgive him his direct and honest words, but sometimes you get the feeling that people around you are actually thinking this. Or secretly, you’re thinking this. I believe you need to dig deep to decide if you truly know this is what you love to do, and if it is, then never give up. I hope I showed my son that hard work pays off and that had I given up, I wouldn’t have just published my second novel. He’s very proud of me now, by the way 😊
Nattie Kate Mason, author of the ‘Crowning’ series
The best little pieces of writing advice I have been told are: “Write the book that you want to read.” And “Just write, you can’t edit what you haven’t written.”
When I was younger, I was taught that you needed to plan and plot to write a story and I think that’s true to a point when you are learning. But, as an adult writer though, I hate plotting. It’s just not my writing style. I am what they call in NaNoWriMo, a ‘pantster’. I like to go with the creative flow. I come up with an idea and see where it takes me. Often, I will have an idea of where I think the plot may be going but my characters will have completely different plans and throw in a new plot-twist whenever they please.
With ‘A Queen’s Fate’ however, I had to vary my writing style a little. I got to one point in the book where my creative flow had written me into a plot hole that I didn’t know how to get out of because the plot had gotten so amazingly complicated. So… I had to plot. My mentor laughed with me when I told her I had been plotting, but at that point in the story it was what I needed to do to make sure that the plot flowed and made sense.
So, my advice to aspiring writers out there is write in whichever way works best for you. One day you might be going with the creative flow like me, the next day you might be plotting it out, and that’s ok. Do whatever works best for you. There is no right or wrong way to write.
K. M. Levis, author of the ‘Engkantasia’ series
Best advice: Do not follow anyone else’s writing habits. Learn what everyone else is doing and find what fits your life best.
Worst advice: To be honest, I can’t think of anything. When I hear about an author’s process, I pick and choose which one suits my life and situation. So if it doesn’t work for me then it doesn’t work for me, but at the same time it doesn’t mean it won’t work for someone else.
Bronwyn Eley, author of the ‘Relic’ trilogy
Best advice: I’ve heard many great pieces of writing advice over the years working at Booktopia and meeting amazing authors. Jay Kristoff said that he writes multiple books at once, to keep one novel from ‘becoming his baby’. This can mean the importance of your novel builds up too much in your head. Writing multiple books at once also means you can switch between them if inspiration for one is lacking, effectively negating writer’s block.
Holly Ringland taught me to love what you do and do it for you.
Rachael Johns taught me that you are your own worst enemy, so get out of your own way. She said that if you write a book, then you’re an author. Don’t put yourself down just because you’re not published.
Worst advice: In terms of the worst writing advice, I wouldn’t say it was so much advice as it was examples of what I don’t want to be like as a writer. People who use excuses to justify why they’re not writing, basically. It’s totally fine if you can’t or don’t want to write at a certain point in your life – sometimes other things become more important or take up too much of your time – but I just say embrace and admit it! It’s easy to say you could finish your novel, if only you had the time – but if it’s your priority (and you’re in a position to do so), you just have to make the time. And it’s OK if it isn’t your priority all the time.
Vikki Wakefield, author of This is How We Change the Ending
Best advice: Don’t tell ‘em (your readers) everything. Hold something back. And it’s so true—there’s a sweet spot where the reader’s imagination meets the writer’s pause.
Worst advice: Write every day. It doesn’t work for me. I understand the sentiment—writers are world-class procrastinators and we’ll find any excuse to avoid turning up, and when you’re starting out it’s good practice to settle into a routine. But so much of writing is not writing. It’s thinking, watching, reading, dreaming and planning; it’s the inexplicable urge to clean the fridge or rearrange the pantry so you can think; it’s searching for a sentence or an idea to spring from. For me, writing is more like waiting patiently for cells to divide than turning up at the same time every day to lay a thousand bricks.
Wai Chim, author of The Surprising Power of a Good Dumpling
Best Advice: ‘If you have writer’s block, you can always research your way out.’ That was from John Scott who taught one of my Creative Writing classes in USyd. And I’ve definitely relied on this a few times to get me out of a jam.
Worst Advice: When I was first starting out, we were told not to include ‘technology’ in our work because it would ‘date’ our work – and for the longest time, books, movies and TV never showed Facebook or social media for that reason. And sure, it does ‘date’ the work in some way (hello MySpace) but can you imagine writing a contemporary YA set today that doesn’t have technology?
Carolyn Denman, author of the ‘Sentinels of Eden’ series
Best advice: Do your best not to hurt anyone. It sounds so basic, but it isn’t. You can’t please everyone – I accept that, but that doesn’t make it okay to hurt anyone. Be humble enough to listen, learn and change. Some opinions authors had (and wrote about) even ten years ago are no longer okay, and for good reason. For example, if you haven’t heard about #MeToo then you probably shouldn’t be writing YA. It’s a tough thing to say, I know. This is the hardest thing about writing YA, and also the very best thing. Young adults will no longer put up with hurtful or damaging attitudes in their books, and nor should they.
Worst advice: Probably those bad marks I got for my high school English assignments. Not exactly advice, I suppose, but it was still unhelpful. Of course, I doubt I deserved anything better. Not the point though, is it?
Ebony McKenna, author of A Brugel Fairytale Treasury
Best advice: Some of the best advice I’ve heard over the years is to write what you love and write what excites and engages you.
Worst advice: Whatever bad advice I’ve read over the years I must have forgotten, which is probably for the best.
Katy Warner, author of Everywhere, Everything, Everyone
Best advice: Just write the damn thing. I am a bit of a perfectionist and would spend hours worrying over one little sentence. The advice to just get it down, in words, on the paper is some of the best advice I have ever received. Just write it. You will always be reworking and rewriting and rewording anyway.
Worst advice: Put it in the drawer and forget about it. That advice came from someone who wasn’t so into my book and wanted me to write something completely different. If you have something to say, if you have a story to tell, a character busting to get out of your head and onto the page then don’t hide it in a drawer. Write it. Finish it. Share it.
Suzy Zail, author of I Am Change
Best advice: ‘Slaughter your darlings.’ I’m a painfully slow writer. A paragraph can take me a day to write, so pressing delete is hard, but if the writing doesn’t move the story forward, cutting it always makes for a better book.
Worst advice: One of the worst was ‘Write what you know’. I prefer to write about something I don’t know, something that haunts me. It’s not only my readers who have to learn something new, I need to be changed by the process too.
Nina Kenwood, author of It Sounded Better in My head
Best advice: Keep going and finish the draft (I have abandoned so many manuscripts halfway through.)
Worst advice: When in doubt, just kill a character or blow something up (which is what my partner always said to me when I complained about my writing going badly.)
Susan White, author of Take the Shot
Best advice: One of the best pieces of advice I’ve heard from writing came from Charlotte Wood, who talked about finding the parts of the story with energy in the writing, and following that energy to see where it leads. I am using that at the moment as I edit a novel I’m working on, and it’s proving really useful.
Worst advice: I initially found the ‘show, don’t tell’ advice confusing, because when I first applied it to my writing, I saw some very obvious ‘tells’, but when I cut all these out, my writing felt dry and lacked that emotional connection which was the reason I was writing in the first place! I realised I needed to be a bit more circumspect in how I applied this to my work, and there’s a time and place for showing, and for telling.
Helen Scheuerer, author of the ‘Oremere’ chronicles
- Write what you love reading
- Weigh up all your publication options and choose what’s right for you
- Write what you know
- Don’t study creative writing. You should get a real job
Jennifer Lane, author of All Our Secrets
Best advice: To ‘show, don’t tell’, and to keep writing, even when the process feels laborious.
Worst advice: To avoid writing a novel in the first person – I read this advice after writing my novel in the first person!
Kate Gordon, author Girl Running, Boy Falling
Best advice: The best was from my Literature teacher, in college, who told me I overthink things and that I needed to just let go and let the words happen. I’ve done that ever since and I try to just let my first drafts flow out of me, organically. Which often means my first drafts are mostly rubbish, but if I let my anxious brain be in charge, I’d write nothing because I’d want it to be perfect.
Worst advice: The worst was from another writer who told me I shouldn’t worry so much about being respectful of cultures that aren’t my own, when I’m writing. He said that it’s not a writer’s job to be the “PC Police” and that it *was* the writer’s job to provoke, even if it meant offending people.
I blinked at him and forced a smile and walked away, yelling “nope” at the top of the voice inside my head. Maybe some writers want to do that, but it’s not me. I don’t write to be “PC” or “worthy” but equally I would never be so arrogant as to presume that my voice on a topic is more important than the voices of the people from that culture or living that truth. I would *definitely* never write anything with the intention of hurting people who are already marginalised. I have never read another one of that writer’s books, by the way. Too many other great books to read!
Michael Gerard Bauer, author of The Things That Will Not Stand
Best advice: All the best pieces of writing advice I’ve been given would have come from my brilliant editor Celia Jellett. I remember in the manuscript for The Running Man she crossed out one of the two adjectives I’d used to describe something and wrote above it, ‘Sometimes one is stronger than two.’ Great advice for someone with a tendency to over-write.
I don’t know who said it but I also like the quote, “Writers write. Authors finish” because I really think you need that determination and persistence to see a project through.
And I’m not sure if it qualifies as advice but I used to have the following quote from Thomas Mann stuck on my laptop (until I bought a new laptop!) “A writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.” Always comforting to keep that in mind when you hit the inevitable demoralising lows that occur along the writing journey!
And MY best piece of writing advice? Go for regular long walks.
Worst advice: I don’t know about worst, but I often hear people say you should write ‘every day’. I could never do that. I might think about stories and writing a lot of the time, but I have big gaps where I don’t feel like writing at all, and so I don’t (unless you include Facebook posts which I’m guessing you wouldn’t).
The thing is, some advice works for some writers and not for others. For example, the suggestion to join a writing group is excellent advice for some. But it wouldn’t be for me because I hate sharing or discussing something I’m in the process of writing.
Beau Kondos, author of The Path of the Lost
Best advice: If you’re passionate about something, keep at it. It might take years, but at the end of the day it’s up to you to get the truth you think the world needs to hear out there. And the writing process itself is such a cathartic thing, that nothing you write will ever be a waste of time.
Jane Caro, author of the ‘Elizabeth Tudor’ trilogy
Best advice: The best piece was to just do it and not worry about how good, bad or indifferent it was. That’s when I was able to get started.
Worst advice: The worst piece was my own belief that I wasn’t good enough, which made me shy about sharing my work for far too long.
Emily Gale, author of I Am Out With Lanterns
Best advice: I know it sounds basic but an old friend who isn’t a writer but is a total workhorse was once listening as I droned on and on about the desire to write and he said, ‘Just get on with it then!’ I told you it was basic! Honestly, it worked. I got on with it. I still remember his voice and that tone when I’m being a slacker.
Worst advice: I don’t know if anyone’s given me any bad advice. But there is a lot of it floating around out there! I think having too many writing rules discourages experimentation. And so much advice is about personal taste – for example, I know that not everyone will embrace my six points-of-view in I Am Out With Lanterns, but I adore multiple perspective stories, and I know I’m not alone, so I wrote one anyway.
A. J. Betts, author of Hive
Best advice: “Just write.” (As advised by author Liz Byrski. I felt, at the time, I needed to do further study into creative writing, or to make myself ‘better’ somehow. But no, the answer was – and always is – to just write and work it out from there.)
Worst advice: “Write about topics that scare parents and schools so they’ll feel they have to buy your books.” (A YA author told me this years ago. But I don’t want to write from a position of fear or ‘issues’ – I’m more interested in possibility. I want my stories to expand outwards, rather than drill down into a predetermined idea/stance.)
Scot Gardner, author of Changing Gear
Best advice: Best was from John Marsden, back in the day: ‘You should try writing in the first person.’
Worst advice: Worst was from an editor at a major publishing house: ‘You should write about footy.’
Margot McGovern, author of Neverland
Best advice: The best? Read. And be adventurous in your reading.
Worst advice: The worst is being told that you can’t make a career out of writing. It’s difficult, yes, and it probably won’t happen the way you imagine it will, but it’s not impossible. If writing is what gives you purpose, then write.
James Bradley, author of The Buried Ark
The world is full of awful writing advice. The reality is writing is always a slow and difficult process. The trick is to keep going, and not give up, and to trust the book, because it knows best.
Sarah Epstein, author of Small Spaces
Best advice: A great piece of writing advice that’s helped me enormously over the years is: you don’t need to draft your scenes in order or write your way neatly from point A to point B. If you’re feeling stuck, just jump ahead and pick up a random scene midway through, then figure out how to write yourself into it later.
I often jump forward to an action scene or snippet of dialogue, something I know is definitely going to be important to the story, and bang out the words as they’re coming to me. Then I figure out where I want to slot it into the story later and how I’m going to get my characters there. It really helps you get over the mental block of the dreaded white page.
Worst advice: The worst piece of advice is that “real writers” must write every day, which is simply not true. I agree that having a regular writing routine is essential if you ever want to finish a manuscript, but writing every day is just not feasible for a lot of people due to their families, lifestyles, work situations and energy levels. Some days you just need to veg out in front of Netflix instead!
It’s too easy to feel down on yourself about your output levels if you measure it by how many words you write every day. As long as you keep turning up at the keyboard to add words to your manuscript when you can, you’re a “real writer”.
Elizabeth Jane Corbett, author of The Tides Between
Best advice: Break the task down into postcard-sized assignments. This piece of advice comes from Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird, my all-time favourite writing book. I find the blank page pretty scary. I also find editing scary. Actually, writing is pretty damned terrifying, full stop. I always fear my work will not be good enough.
I start every day by journaling, by the end of which, I’ve nearly always clarified what I want to achieve. It is normally something small (post card size) like write one scene in which Bridie tries to get Rhys’s attention. That’s enough to get me started. I often write more than my initial goal but keeping it small, means I am less overwhelmed at the outset.
Write what you know! I’d like to revise that to: write what interests you.
I knew, from the outset, that I wanted to write an historical novel (because that’s what I like to read) and immigration was the defining event of my childhood. So, I decided to write an historical immigration novel. I knew nothing about the nineteenth century assisted immigration system at the outset. But I’d heard of Caroline Chisholm, a nineteenth century migrant woman who advocated on behalf of vulnerable women and children (she is on our five-dollar note).
As I read about Chisholm’s work, characters started forming in my head. One of them, a 15-year old girl called Bridie, had lost her father in tragic circumstances. I had this idea that a creative young couple would help her come to terms with her grief. Initially, they were Irish but I was planning a trip to the UK and would be relying on long-lost family accommodation. I didn’t have any Irish relatives. But Mum was Welsh. Hmm… maybe my creative your couple could be Welsh?
I knew nothing about Wales at that stage — apart from Rugby and male voice choirs. Rugby wasn’t played in 1841 and, even if I could have invented a story in which an entire male voice choir emigrated en masse, I didn’t think a 15-year-old girl would find it interesting.
Some quick research told me Wales had a strong bardic culture. I read the Mabinogion and a swag of Welsh fairy tales. Wow! Like wow! These were my stories. Part of my heritage. And I hadn’t even known they existed. At which point, my Welsh couple became story tellers and basically hijacked my novel.
Gabrielle Reid, author of The Things We Can’t Undo
Best advice: I don’t know if I could single out a who or where, but overall the best advice I’ve had is to keep going. It’s a resilience game, and everything you write is part of your training in becoming a better writer. Rejections are normal, harsh feedback and reviews are normal, so you can’t get too attached.
Worst advice: I think any “rule” can become bad advice when it’s taken in a rigid, black and white sense. I once had a critique from someone who said “the readers tend to like to read less and get more from their effort and it’s the writer’s responsibility to give what the readers want”. I think the sentiment probably came from a reasonable place, but this person attempted to rewrite my work and in trying to say things in the fewest words possible (he counted), he took all of the expression out of my story.
Eleni Hale, author of Stone Girl
Best advice: The best advice was ‘delete the unnecessary’, even if you love it. Kill Your Darlings and their offspring. I’m completely ruthless. I remove anything I suspect might be dragging the story or disrupting the tension.
Worst advice: The worst advice (for me) is planning out my narrative. This causes instant writer’s block. It steals all the magic out of discovery because the characters are no longer leading the way.
Fiona Bell, author of Waterhole
Best advice: The best would be to write even if you think it’s bad. Usually you can write your way out of a problem.
Worst advice: I don’t think I’ve had bad advice – I’m pretty compliant and do what people tell me to, including following all advice from people who know more than me.
Mark Smith, author of Wilder Country
Best advice: The best piece of advice: keep it simple, stupid! Don’t overthink it, don’t overwrite it and don’t write to impress. It’s all about the story.
Worst advice: The worst piece of advice (and I should acknowledge it might be the best piece of advice for someone else) is that you need to write every day. If I’m in the midst of a novel, I pretty much have to but at other times the best thing I can do for my writing is walk away for a while. It could be a week, or even longer, but I know I’ll come back fresh.
Nicole Hayes, author of A Shadow’s Breath
Best advice: The best piece of advice I ever received was, when choosing which idea to pursue, pick the one with the best ending. Readers will forgive almost anything if the story is strong – except a bad ending. Plus the ending stays with the reader longer than anything else. (Which is why endings are so hard!)
Worst advice: The worst piece of writing advice I received was that I should give up if I’m not published within ten years. Someone literally said that to me. I’m glad I didn’t listen, because it took me more than 15 years – longer, if I count the many false starts I had – to finally secure my first publishing deal. I literally wouldn’t be where I am today if I’d listened to him – and five whole books that would not exist.
Ellie Marney, author of White Night
Best advice: Read everything.
Yep, that really is the most crucial thing. If you don’t read, you can’t really write.
Worst advice: Just wait for inspiration!
I mean, sure – wait for inspiration! Or maybe don’t? Because you might be waiting a heck of a long time.
I never wait around for the muse. I just write every day, or as much as I can, until the damn book/story/whatever is finished. Writing is a job, like other jobs, and some days the job doesn’t feel very inspirational! Just plant your bum on the chair and write – the inspiration will eventually get the hint and join in.
Clare Atkins, author of Between Us
Best advice: The best piece of writing advice is something I read in a Nayyirah Waheed poem recently – to write the thing you are most afraid of.
Worst advice: The worst advice is probably to write what you know. I think it’s true to an extent – drawing on personal experience is fantastic, but can also be limiting. I think a better way to look at it would be to write what you emotionally know – or can emotionally relate to on a deep level – and then fill in the factual blanks with good research.
Alicia Tuckerman, author of If I Tell You
Best advice: The best advice—or perhaps the advice that resonates with me most—is something Stephen King said. Write what hurts. For me, that means exploring the stories that are a little bit painful—both to write and read. Although that’s not saying there isn’t room for joy and humour and love within those stories too!
Worst advice: The worst advice came from a primary school substitute teacher I had when I was in Year Four. We’d been given a creative writing task and when the teacher handed mine back they said it was so bad I shouldn’t write another story again!
Allayne Webster, author of The Centre of My Everything
Best advice: Sit your arse down and do it. (Actually, now I’ve converted my desk to a standing operation, this doesn’t exactly comply.) The point is, write. Procrastinate all you like—it’ll just take longer.
Worst advice: Write what you know. Um, well that has a pretty limited lifespan, doesn’t it? Read, venture outside your comfort zone, research, learn. Education is ongoing, self-directed and vital to fresh, relevant art.
Jodi McAlister, author of the ‘Valentine’ trilogy
“Writers write” is the best piece of advice I’ve ever had – which is kind of weird, because I think it was actually meant discouragingly. I was about eight or nine, and I was rambling on about how I wanted to write a book someday, and this older man sternly interrupted me and said “young lady, writers write”.
The clear implication was “and you don’t” … and the obvious addendum was “so go and write and stop talking, you annoying girl”, but it’s stuck with me. “To write” is an active verb. It’s a thing that you do, not something that just happens to you. If you want to write a book, you have to write a book – not think about it, or dream about, or talk about it, but do it. Even though this was definitely not the intended effect of “young lady, writers write,” I found it very motivating, and I’ve never forgotten it.
Worst advice: This is connected to the worst advice on writing I’ve ever heard, which is every piece of advice which somehow outsources things to “inspiration” or “the muse”, and distances writers from their own work. I get so irritated by writing advice which imagines the author as a conduit for some otherworldly being, or for the characters, or for some other power entirely outside the author. No. The verb “write” is only one half of the sentence “writers write”. The other is the noun: the person doing the verb. When you write, you’re a writer, not a scribe for some ethereal being.
When you think of it this way, it makes you value your work and your time more (at least, it does for me). Writing can be fun, but it’s hard work. It’s labour. It’s something that takes energy and brainpower and willpower. And all that stuff is yours. That labour is yours. It’s your writing, not your muse’s.
Bill Bennett, author of the ‘Palace of Fires’ series
Best advice: Never give up.
Worst advice: Give up.
Beck Nicholas, author of The Last Days of Us
Best advice: The best writing advice I’ve received is this: ‘Read a lot and write a lot’ (Stephen King). I wish there was a shortcut or a magic recipe but I haven’t found one.
Worst advice: All writing advice I’ve received has been well intentioned but I remember being told early that I need to have a detailed chapter outline for each chapter. Attempting to do so killed the story for me. I’ve discovered I need some kind of plan but too much and there’s no discovery/fun. That returns me to some more good advice – writing a story I want to read.
Amie Kaufmann & Meagan Spooner, authors of Unearthed
Best advice: Perhaps the best advice – though there’s so much that’s good – is to get used to completing work (it’s easier to start than to finish!) and then sending it out for critique. Learn to embrace that feedback, even if you don’t always go with it. You build writing muscle every time you review your work with someone else’s critique in mind, and you get better and stronger.
Worst advice: Definitely the worst we’ve ever received is anything that starts with “you must.” Unless we’re talking about following submission guidelines, there’s no must in writing advice. Anyone who gives advice is simply telling you what works for them, and you can try it out if it sounds like it might suit you, whether it’s writing 500 words a day or cutting all your adverbs, don’t treat it as a rule.
Kate O’Donnell, author of Untidy Towns
Best advice: Somerset Maugham’s advice to a woman whose son wanted to be a writer. Maugham told her: ‘Give your son a thousand dollars a year for five years and tell him to go to the devil.’ By this he meant (as he says later in the recording): “Life is the novelist’s business and he can only know about it and write about it with truth and significance if he participates in it.”
Worst advice: Force myself to write X amount of words a day. This will work for some people very well indeed, but it will just make me freeze.
Megan Jacobson, author of The Build-Up Season
Best advice: To read widely and critically, and to write by listening hard to your own personal truths.
Worst advice: ‘These stories seem to be popular, try to jump on that bandwagon’. I think audiences can tell if you’re trying to copy a successful trope, rather than telling the story that comes from inside of your soul. Besides which, by the time your book comes out, something completely different will be in vogue!
Allison Rushby, author of The Fifth Room
Best advice: The best piece of advice I’ve received is ‘write for just ten minutes’. Honestly, it’s the starting that’s the hardest—those first few minutes of writing when the cobwebs clear out. I don’t think I’ve ever written for ‘just ten minutes’. Not once.
Worst advice: Probably the worst piece of advice I’ve been given (and that I hear a lot) is that you must write every day. I just think it’s not true at all. Life is tricky. There won’t always be days you can write—either because you’re sick, or working, or just too busy. Also, sometimes that writing time is swallowed up by other writing-related tasks, like a copyedit, editing, or PR. As long as you’re still regularly showing up to write and are actually writing in the time available to you, it’s all good.
Cath Crowley, Simmone Howell and Fiona Wood, authors of Take Three Girls
Cath: The best advice I’ve read is from Rebecca Solnit: ‘The road is made of words’. There’s no other way to get there but to write.
Simmone: Best from Tim Winton: ‘It’s just a f***ken book.’ (context – he was talking about the ladles of stress he heaped on himself while trying to write Dirt Music)
Fiona: You can only start making something better once it exists. The world is full of people talking about their book ideas and film ideas, but it’s only the people who finish writing, and get started on rewriting, who will be published, or produced.
Cath: The worst advice was someone telling me an idea would never work and I should forget it – before they’d read the book!
Simmone: rite what you know. I would amend this to Write what you want and be open to mystery. Not everything has to be explained or answered
Fiona: The worst advice I got was to write something in the first person that I knew should be written in the third person. The thing about advice is you’ve got to listen to your gut.
Krystal Sutherland, author of A Semi-Definitive List of Worst Nightmares
Best advice: Finish what you start – beginnings are easy, endings are hell. You’ll only learn how to write them if you push on.
Worst advice: Don’t use contemporary references or your writing will seem dated in ten years. Please – you want your book to be grounded in time and place. Humans in 2017 use iPhones and laptops and Facebook; it would be weird if your characters didn’t.
Brian Falkner, author of The Stubborn Seed of Hope
Best advice: The best I heard many years ago. It was to the effect that you don’t deserve to be a published writer until you can wallpaper your bedroom with rejection slips.
Worst advice: The worst was not aimed at me, but at school students. It was an attempt by a ‘writing teacher’ to explain the concept of ‘Show Don’t Tell’. I am a big advocate of this concept and even I was confused by this person’s explanation. I make it a point in my student workshops now to give a clear and concise explanation of the concept because of how important it is for young writers.
Cally Black, author of In the Dark Spaces
Best advice: The best advice from Neil Gaiman: “…as quickly as you can, start telling the stories that only you can tell — because there will always be better writers than you, there will always be smarter writers than you … but you are the only you.”
Worst advice: The worst is when you’ve been convinced you need to go to all the courses (which are all really similar by the way), have all the social media, connect with all the right people, and you end up doing that at the expense of time and space to work on your writing, and just experiment and find your style.
Paula Weston, author of The Undercurrent
Best advice: Give yourself permission to write a shitty first draft (I think Anne Lamott wrote that).
Worst advice: Don’t set a fantasy/paranormal story in Australia – people don’t want to read that type of story set here.
Pip Harry, author of Because of You
Best advice: Write what scares you.
Worst advice: Only write what you know – absolute rubbish, the best stuff is when you explore the unknown.
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