Advice for young writers # 1

December 15th, 2019

My publicist sent me a list of questions the other day for the Children’s Books Daily website. One of them was, ‘Any words of advice for young writers?’ I answered this question the same way most authors do: ‘Read read read. Write write write.’

You need to read a lot because that’s how you learn about story shape and the rhythm of words and how to catch the reader’s attention and a whole lot of other stuff that good books can teach you. (And of course, the bad books teach you what not to do.)

You need to write a lot because that’s how you find your own voice, and what you want to write about. It’s how you take what you have learned from reading and put it into practice. And fail, and try again. And fail again, and try again. And gradually get better at it.

But then I added something else to my advice. ‘Go out and live your life with curiosity and passion. Have adventures, big and small. Notice things. Put yourself in other people’s shoes.’

If you’ve ever heard me talk to a group of school students, you’ll know that halfway through I often say, ‘For authors, our lives are our material.’ And then I give some examples. I talk about how visiting the catacombs in Paris was the inspiration for the Place of Remembering in Museum of Thieves.

And how my memories of scuba diving on the tropical reefs near Rabaul came in handy when I was writing Sunker’s Deep.

Adventures (big and small) are hugely important to a writer. We weave them into our books; we use them as inspiration.

Putting ourselves in other people’s shoes is also important. When I’m out and about I play a game with myself where I notice how someone walks or stands, and try to work out what they are feeling. Do their feet hurt? Are they unhappy? Are they worried about their daughter who hasn’t written to them for six months, or their father who has lost his job?

Sometimes I copy the way they’re walking/standing – not as a mockery but to see what it feels like. And then I try to describe it, as if I was using it in a story.

So writing isn’t just about writing. It’s also about life, and paying attention, and imagining ourselves in other people’s bodies. All of which is both fun and interesting!

I’ll continue this theme next week with Part 2. In the meantime, if you want to read more advice for young (and old) writers, check out this page.

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