Editor’s Note: Our first guest post is by famed author Lee Kofman who shares some tips from her experience in transitioning from her career in social sciences to pursuing her creative passion — writing.
I’ve been teaching writing and mentoring writers for over a decade now, and doing my own writing for way longer (I guess I could say I wrote my first poem at the age of three… Or so my mother tells me). The following tips, then, are based both on what I have observed while working with other writers and even more so on my own ongoing trial-and-error.
1. Write about what matters to you
In my view, the most important thing for a beginning writer, and for any writer for this matter, is to ensure they are writing not what they think they ought to, or what may sell, but what is truly urgent to them. Best books usually arise from burning questions writers need to resolve.
2. Don’t forget about the writer’s voice
Many beginning writers I meet are busy focusing on plot development, and on their characters (be they fictional or real). These are crucial aspects of creating a story.
Yet, sadly, what often gets overlooked is the most fundamental feature of good writing − the quality of prose, the minute choices of words, in short, the writer’s voice.
Writer’s voice is not only an aesthetic component but the essence of work. The way we tell our stories impacts directly on their content. It is more important how we describe what happened to us/our characters than the precise details of what happened.
Reflection and analysis are usually more interesting than even the most colourful action.
3. Don’t shy from painful topics
What makes us feel ashamed, or distressed for other reasons, is usually going to be our best writing material.
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4. Revise, revise, revise
All writing is re-writing. First drafts are only the beginning and each subsequent draft will deepen and beautify the work. There is no point to try to get it all right in our first, or even fifth, draft. I hope this takes some pressure off…
5. Plan to succeed
Here is something I wish I understood much earlier in my life: in order to be a decent writer one actually needs to prioritise writing in their lives. Sounds self-evident? Well, for many years it wasn’t so for me.
For a long time, I put other activities – different careers, love affairs and even such time-consuming hobbies as cooking – first, fitting writing in between, rather than shifting my priorities the other way around. This happened, I believe, due to my fear of failure as a writer.
Only in the last five years or so, I began treating writing as my chief occupation. So now I tell my students: if you really want to be a writer, do writing in your best hours of the day, and do it as often as you can. At least three to four times a week.
6. Find your flow
It is crucial for writers to get to know how their creative processes work, what is most effective for them.
Are they the kind of writers who need to plot their first draft before the actual writing begins, or write spontaneously?
When is the optimal time for them to start seeking external feedback, if at all?
And even – are they most comfortable writing at their desk, in bed or perhaps on trains?
7. Don’t jump to conclusions
Make your writing as complex as life is – don’t try to draw neat conclusions when there are none. A superimposed simplification of whatever you explore can kill your work.
8. Keep learning
Finally comes the least surprising and the least sexy, but possibly the most crucial, tip. Read, read and read. Read as obsessively and adventurously as you can. And read like a writer. By this I mean, learn how to critically analyse literary works in order to identify the tricks that other writers use. As Picasso said, ‘all art is theft’.
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About the Author
Lee is the author of five books, as well as a writing teacher and mentor based in Melbourne, Australia. Lee initially completed a bachelor of Social Work and an MA in creative writing at the University of Melbourne, and a PhD in Social Sciences at RMIT. She has since worked as a counsellor and university teacher, before turning her attention to writing full time.