When I mentioned to my readers that I’d started a blog, a lot of them asked me to write a post offering tips for beginners. I’m in no way declaring myself an expert on writing, but these are some of the points I always try to abide by or some of the advice that I’ve been given in the past. It’s worth bearing in mind that, whilst some of these are general writing tips, some are also geared specifically towards people who post fiction online.
This may seem like an obvious tip, but it’s nonetheless very important. By reading, you’re also exposing yourself to writing. Without always realising it, you’re being educated on correct grammar, dialogue and sentence structure. Remember, however, that the best examples of this will be in published books that have been properly edited to erase any grammatical errors and improve the flow of the story.
If you are unsure of a grammatical rule or definition, then just research it. It is so easy to Google something nowadays, that there isn’t really an excuse not to do it. When writing, I am constantly looking up synonyms, researching definitions, or checking the correct use of a certain tense. I’m very conscious of the technical quality of my writing and it pays off. Anyone can write a story, but writing a story with decent grammar and an engaging narrative will make you stand out. Although some readers on sites like Wattpad won’t be bothered by grammatical errors, there are also plenty of readers who will be bothered by it as it disrupts the flow of the story by acting as a distraction. If you’ve nailed your grammar, you’ve automatically opened up your story to a whole new audience who will be willing to give it a shot.
Writing a little every day – whether that’s a few sentences or a few paragraphs – helps to keep your mind engaged and make the writing process feel more natural. It doesn’t have to be your Work in Progress, either. It can be random sentences about anything you like: something you encountered during your day, a TV programme you watched, or a news article you read.
Planning isn’t for everyone; some writers prefer to make up the story as they go along and see where it takes them. I used to be one of those writers, but then I started planning and couldn’t believe how much more productive I became. You can decide how much detail you go into, but I’d always suggest having a beginning, middle and end at the very least. This may change as your story progresses and you feel your characters taking a different path, but it will give you a direction to head in nonetheless. Once you’ve got your beginning, middle and end, you can try doing a chapter-by-chapter outline; this can be anything from a vague one-sentence summary of that chapter, to a detailed bullet-pointed list.
As a new writer, you have to bear in mind that reads will not come straight away. Taking this into account, it’s especially important that you’re writing a story you enjoy, and not a story that you think others will enjoy. Of course, you’re posting on the site because you want people to read your story, but as soon as you stop enjoying what you’re writing, you’ll lose motivation, you’ll stop updating as much and that will, in turn, severely hinder your readership. As long as you love what you write, you will always have that motivation to keep posting chapters, and the readers will arrive eventually. So many new writers end up deleting their stories when they don’t get any readers—if you can be patient and post frequently, then it will give you a huge advantage.
Following on from the above tip, when you do start to receive feedback, always take the time to reply to your readers. People are much more likely to comment if they know their feedback is appreciated. Engage with your readers, check out their profiles and see if any of their stories interest you. Getting involved in the community and commenting on other stories gives you so much more exposure on the site. And quite often, you’ll draw new readers to your page through this.
As important as it is to engage with people, though, do not get drawn into any negativity. If someone is rude, don’t be rude back. Ignore them – block, report, or delete if necessary – and focus on the kind people. Nothing good comes out of exchanging insults and it will only push new readers away if they see you behaving badly towards other members of the site.
A lot of writing is wish-fulfilment, and that’s great. However, we have to be careful to find the right balance between make-believe and practicality*. In other words, we need to ensure that our characters and their situations are realistic. This doesn’t mean writing something boring; it just means writing something that could possibly happen to someone someday. By doing this, it helps readers relate to the story. If you are too unrealistic in your plot, then it risks becoming a distraction; rather than getting lost in the story, readers begin to ask themselves, would that actually happen, though? Examples of this include characters behaving in a way that doesn’t reflect their personality e.g. a quiet introvert punching an “enemy” in the corridor.
Do your research, too. If you’re writing about an unfamiliar country or culture, it’s important to get the necessary background knowledge. Best case scenario: you come across as naïve. Worst case scenario: you unintentionally offend someone.
*Unless, of course, you’re writing fantasy or other genres that aren’t based on the world we live in.
It is impossible to please everyone. We all have different tastes, enjoy different genres, and have different expectations of a story. Bearing this in mind, it’s important to accept that there will be people who don’t like your writing – and some of these people will tell you about it. Constructive criticism—although it may be hard to take at first—is great in helping us to improve as writers. Criticism without a constructive element, however, shouldn’t be taken to heart.
You should also acknowledge the difference between someone disliking your writing and someone disliking your character(s). When I first started getting comments about how much a reader hated my protagonist, it bothered me. I couldn’t understand why they didn’t like her/him. As I became more experienced, though, I learnt to take it as a compliment. My readers might be displaying some passionate hatred towards my characters, but I’d created that character, I’d written those scenes—my writing was evoking that response in people.
It’s personal preference whether you proofread your work before posting it online—I say this because I know there are plenty of people who explicitly state that they don’t proofread. I do understand the excitement of finishing a chapter and being desperate to post it so that you can see everyone’s reactions and gain that immediate gratification.
What it does come down to, however, is my previous point about attracting the largest pool of readers. Whilst some people aren’t at all bothered by typos and errors, others will be turned off by them. It risks coming across as laziness, as if you don’t care about the quality of your work.
Everyone has their own writing style and you shouldn’t feel the need to compare yourself to others; it will only hinder your own personal development. This applies to your voice, characters, success and all other aspects of writing. Embrace your individuality and believe in your own capabilities. Remember we all have different tastes and you will find your own audience.
What’s the best piece of writing-related advice you’ve received?