Starting to write fiction can be a daunting prospect – where do you really start? We asked award-winning writer and creative writing tutor Mark McNay for his top three simple tips for beginners, from avoiding clichés to sharing your work with like-minded friends.
Read. A lot.
Good writers are generally good readers. Reading gives an idea of what has been written about – which can help in avoiding writing clichéd stories that we have all read a million times. The knowledge gained by reading can make a writer’s story a bit different from the others. Reading can show how the details of the events within stories have been represented – how characters speak to each other, how they are moved from one space to another, how changes in time are handled, how tension is built, how situations are brought to a climax. Reading helps a writer avoid re-inventing the wheel, because it gives an idea of how writing has already done what the writer wants to do.
Write. A lot.
There is a saying that it takes 10,000 hours of doing something to master it. The more you write, the more you learn about writing. Writing is a continual development of the skills needed to represent in words actions that readers will find compelling. It is a complicated and difficult business that needs lots of practise. Continually writing, combined with a lot of reading, are the best ways of improving our writing skills.
Find someone to read and critique your work.
I am the sort of person who needs the input of others in order to help me see what is good about my work and what isn’t. Moreover, writing is a lonely business with a lot of time spent in a room in front of a writing pad or a computer screen. It can be disheartening, especially if progress is slow. Joining a group of fellow writers can help with the motivation to keep going. There are writing groups all over the world. Joining a course in creative writing can be a good way to find a group. I did the MA at UEA and was introduced to a group of writers who helped me hugely in developing my craft. If you are interested in finding a group of people to critique your work, then joining one of my courses might be a good way to start.
Mark McNay’s first novel, Fresh, won the Arts Foundation New Fiction Award 2007 and the Saltire First Book of the Year Award. His second novel, Under Control, was shortlisted for the Aye Write award in 2009. Mark’s short fiction has been long listed for various prizes, and has been broadcast on Radio 4. Mark has taught writing at UEA and Anglia Ruskin University.
Mark joins other expert tutors from UEA for our Creative Writing Online Autumn semester, where he will deliver our level 1 course on how to get the best out of your fiction writing. Apply now – deadline 11 September.