If you want to write well, read the great authors who strived for aesthetics as well as sales.
5 tips for successful writing:
1) Read, read and read again: If you want to write well you should read authors you like, but also the greats. Read Thomas Hardy for colour and imagery; he uses colour and distinct images of nature to heighten emotion and themes, for example in Far From the Madding Crowd, chapter 28, entitled The Hollow Amid the Ferns, Hardy uses the natural background to heighten the sexual nature of the encounter between Bathsheba and Troy, notice the adjectives he uses to describe the hollow and how he describes Troy’s use of his sword.
Read Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë for strong folk-lore and fairy tale imagery and how she interweaves the story of an orphan with that of the contemporary issues of women and their place in society. Again colour is used to effect; red having a very dark and sinister meaning. Light and dark are also used to great effect illustrating a split personality among two of the characters.
Other authors who have crafted their novels who you might like to read are: Émile Zola, George Eliot, Charlotte Perkins Gilman (for short stories), Henry James and Fyodor Dostoevky. They have all produced strong characters, imagery and brought artistic technique to the novel. For contemporary authors, I would suggest (these are my own preferences): Maggie Gee, Paul Auster, Umberto Eco, Haruki Murakami, Pat Barker and Joyce Carol Oates. All these authors continue the literary tradition by using imagination to produce imagery when highlighting contemporary issues, using adjectives and metaphors but not clichés and finding new and exciting ways to explain the human situation.
If you are unsure what you are looking for in a classic work, make sure to borrow or purchase a version with an academic introduction as they always discuss the main literary themes and aesthetic approaches authors have tried to produce in their novels.
2) Write, write and write again: If you want to write well you should also write. Whichever format suits you best, either laptop/computer or pen and paper, you need to find your preference. When it comes to sending a manuscript to a literary agent you should always send it typed, but you could always get a typing agency to type up your work for you if you can’t face it, although this could be expensive.
You should always carry a small note book (about A5 size, so it’s not too small) and a pen with you. Those ideas may suddenly come to you on the train or while having a coffee and being able to write it down will mean you capture it in that moment. I’ve tried to remember ideas when I didn’t have paper to hand, but I just couldn’t capture the words in the same way.
You can also practice your writing while on the train or bus, scribble what you see, use colour to describe your surroundings. Describe people’s hair, or their clothes (NOT your opinion) just what you see. These kind of short descriptions are great for character building when you come to write later on.
Try to write several times a week. Ignore writer’s block, it’s more likely working block, i.e. you don’t want to write. If you get stuck, write about your day, write about a news article that cheered you up or made you irate. Keep a journal if you have time – 10 minutes during your lunch hour adds up to 50 minutes over the week.
If you are serious about your novel writing, put aside your television time (make it a treat) and spend at least an hour in the evening (after dinner, the kids are in bed, the ironing done, the dog walked and every other excuse you use not to write has been dealt with) to concentrate on writing. You will find that as you write you will gain more confidence. Don’t be frightened to experiment with different words and themes.
3) Don’t be afraid of the Big Bad Dictionary or Terribly Threatening Thesaurus: They are there to help you. It is always worth investing in these two books. They are the writer’s support, inspiration and editing tool. I would advise to buy them separately and to buy good quality versions. Some joint dictionaries with thesaurus do not cover a wide enough range of words to be effective to a writer. When using your computer or laptop, do not rely on the spell-check – this will not correct your grammar appropriately or make sure you have the correct spelling of a word which has two spellings and meanings. For example, bear and bare. If you make one investment, MAKE IT THIS ONE!
4) Edit, edit, edit…: If you are working on a short story or a novel for submission to an agent, make sure you edit it. No-one writes perfectly in one take! Sometimes, it may seem like that when you read novels, but hours of re-writing and editing went into those seemingly simple sentences. Gustave Flaubert famously spent five years writing Madame Bovary, around 286 pages, but he struggled to find the right words and expressions for what he wanted to convey.
*Spelling, punctuation and grammar.
*Do the sentences make sense? – Try reading aloud, then you hear the words as well as see them.
*Leave your writing for a few days before editing. You will come back to it fresh and be more likely to pick up changes to be made.
*Does the imagery make sense? “The ice was fluffy white like the clouds in the sky” – this would not make a good simile (when something is likened to something to enforce the imagery) because ice is not fluffy. You should use similes which convey the same properties, for example, ”The ice was marble white, like a slab of marble untouched by artist hands”.
5) Research and write what you know! Yes this is a cliché, but a useful one. Unless you have the time and resources to research a subject don’t write about it! There is no point in writing a medical romance if you have no idea about the workings of a hospital. It shows in your writing.
George Eliot was well-educated in science and literature and she used this knowledge to dynamic effect in Middlemarch with references to medicine and scientific experiments.
The Internet can be a useful source of information for research purposes, but use library searches for books and journals. Use specific search terms if you wish to get the best information, but don’t always assume the first few links will be the best – they usually pay to be at the top and therefore may be trying to sell something rather than offer information.
When writing what you know it is best to write away from yourself, that is write as if you were telling a story and not your experience. When writing fiction, using personal experience is a good source of ideas and themes, but keep it distant, place these experiences in a character different from yourself. The writing will be more confident and you will develop the character better.
I hope you find these tips useful. Everyone has a story to tell, some people have several, and what better way to present it to the world than through language.