Top Ten Tips for Young (or New) Writers

When I was a teenager I thought that my passion for books and writing was going to save me.

From the ages of fourteen to sixteen I’d rebelled against the system, bunking off school, going on protest marches, clubbing and drinking and taking drugs.

But then I had a reality check. If I wanted to leave the estate I’d grown up on – if I wanted to create a life I loved – I needed to start working hard to make that happen.

So I knuckled down and worked harder than I’d ever done before to pass my A levels so that I could get to uni.

I thought that a degree in English Literature and Screenwriting would be a passport into the world of writing.

As it turned out, it wasn’t.

I dropped out of uni two years into my course as I allowed the voice of fear inside my head to tell me that I didn’t belong in that middle class world.

I was wrong, but writing did end up saving me … just a few years later than planned!

I now care passionately about helping young writers believe in themselves and achieve their dreams.

So, if you’re a young adult with a writing dream, here are my top ten tips (PLUS some exciting workshop news at the end of this post).

Please feel free to share with any young – or new – writers in your life…

One: Write about what you’re passionate about

… As opposed to what you think will be popular. Don’t follow a trend, make a trend. It will help you stand out and your writing will be all the more vibrant and real. Plus, writing about the things that fire you up help give you the stamina to keep on writing.

Two: Start small.

If you dream of being a novelist but the thought of writing 70,000 plus words gives you a bad case of the dreads, downsize your writing dream. Not forever, just for now. Start by writing short stories or blog posts. Hone your craft in smaller, easier to achieve ways.

Three: It’s OK to be bad

Everyone is bad at first. Or, as the writer Ernest Hemingway put it: ‘The first draft of anything is shit.’ The main thing is that you write. Just like physical exercise, the more you do it, the better you become. So keep on showing up at the page and putting down the words one at a time, and hone that writing muscle.

Four: Write anyway

When doubt and fear strike, write your way through them. If your inner voice tells you that you’re not good enough, ignore it. It’s just your fear trying to protect you from disappointment. Focus instead on how amazing it will be when you achieve your writing dreams. Keep writing your way towards them.

Five: Use a character questionnaire

This is probably the tool I recommend most to other writers. Not only does it help you create interesting and well-rounded characters but it should give you a ton of ideas for your plot too. You can find a character questionnaire here. Feel free to add your own questions to it.

Six: Focus on your reader

When you start writing it can be really easy to forget all about the person you’re writing for. Remember your reader. When you’re coming up with ideas, fleshing out characters, creating a plot and writing a scene, ask yourself: what will my reader get from this? Make sure they’re getting something.

Seven: Do the right writing

There are many different types and genres of writing. Make sure you’re doing the right one for you. In my next novel, Tell it to the Moon, one of the main characters, Amber, is really struggling with writer’s block. She just can’t seem to find the motivation to write. But when she starts writing a play she just can’t stop. Experiment with different types of writing until you find the right one for you.

Eight: Don’t let the dream-busters get you down

One thing I’ve learned over the years is that whenever you have a dream you will encounter ‘dream-busters’. These are people who will try and put you off your writing dream with sly put-downs or passive aggressive remarks. This is usually down to their own unhappiness or jealousy. Try not to let it hurt you – let it fire you up and make you all the more determined instead.

Nine: Learn from constructive criticism

Writing is such a personal thing – even when you’re writing fiction it still feels liking you’re pouring your heart and soul on to the page. So if you receive criticism it can really sting. But – if the criticism is constructive – try to learn from it. Even best-selling authors get notes from their editors telling them how to improve their work. And ultimately, that should be your main objective – to make your writing the best that it can be.

Ten: Write for joy

Don’t write for fame and fortune, write for the pure joy of it. I used to think writing success and talent was measured in book sales, now I know for a fact that this isn’t true. Now I measure the success of my books in terms of how much joy I had while I was writing them. You should too – it makes the whole writing thing SO much better.

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Bonus tip: Come to my young writers workshop

I’m running a workshop for young writers (age 11 – 15) on Saturday 27th May at Brighton Festival.

We’ll be going into all of the tips featured here in a lot more detail.

And it will be a lot of fun.

Find out more and book your ticket here.

 

Young writers wanted…

I’m looking for young writers to write guest posts for the Moonlight Dreamers website.

Topics I’m looking for posts on include:

  • Achieving a dream
  • Writing
  • Sexuality
  • Bullying
  • Friendships
  • Political causes / activism

Or you can pitch me an idea of your own.

If you’d like to find out more or pitch me an idea, simply fill out the form below…

 

Tell it to the Moon_hi res

Coming August 2017

Tell it to the Moon, the Moonlight Dreamers sequel, is available to pre-order on Amazon here. Perfect for writers, dreamers and people who want to be the change.


In Celebration of Celebrity Publishing

I’ve been invited to take part in a panel discussion on celebrity children’s publishing.

One of the questions up for discussion is:

“Books by celebrities are often looked on as less worthy than books by ‘proper’ authors. Is this part of a culture of snobbery in children’s publishing?”

My short answer to this question would be, ‘yes’.

My longer answer goes something like this…

In my recent blog post, Be Proud of Where You Come From, I talk about what it was like growing up on a council estate and an excruciating lunch I had once with a group of publishing people, who openly mocked those living on estates.

I’ve worked with many different children’s publishers over the last few years (nine in total) and I can tell you it is an extremely middle-class and privileged world. And I can count the number of non-white people I’ve encountered in children’s publishing on the fingers of half a hand.

I have no idea exactly how many working class or non-white writers are commissioned by these publishers but I’m willing to hazard a guess that, historically,  it’s been a small percentage.

Until the advent of ‘celebrity publishing’.

Celebrity publishing has meant that people from working class and ethnic backgrounds, who’ve achieved success in less elitist areas such as sport, or music, or the online world, have been given a chance to share their stories through book deals.

And more importantly, when it comes to children’s publishing, to share their stories with young people who might have come from similar backgrounds. Young people who might not have automatic access to a library of books. Or even a single book. Young people who’ve never been encouraged to read.

When I was a kid, none of my friends on the estate I grew up on had bookshelves in their bedrooms. None of them had books in their bedrooms.

This isn’t necessarily because their parents didn’t understand the importance of reading.

When you’re struggling to find the money to feed and clothe your kids, books become a luxury item. A luxury item you simply can’t afford.

I once did an author talk to several hundred high school students in Wales. The students had been bussed in from all over the region – some were from affluent areas and others were from very poor communities.

I’m afraid the kids from poorer areas probably won’t be able to afford to buy your book,‘ one of the organisers told me at the beginning of the event.

When I was doing a book signing at the end it broke my heart to look into the auditorium and see whole blocks of students – all from the poorer schools – still seated, having to look on, while the richer kids queued up to buy books.

So, what exactly does this have to do with celebrity publishing?

I know for a fact that many, many young people from poorer backgrounds have got into reading after their favourite celebrity has published a book. I’ve heard this from young people during school visits time and time and time again.

And whenever I’ve heard it, it’s made my heart sing. Because I know what a big deal this is. Because I know that this, sometimes very first owned book will be a treasured gift. A gift that may well spark a life-long love of reading that might otherwise have gone undiscovered.

So, when I see snooty articles and headlines about celebrity books being ‘turkey twizzlers for the brain‘, or responsible for dumbing down an entire generation, it makes me sick.

It’s such a lazy bandwagon to jump on.

So easy to join the chorus of negativity without even knowing – or bothering to learn – the truth.

So-called ‘celebrities’ aren’t Dick Dastardly style characters, rubbing their hands with glee while they plot the intellectual downfall of our kids.

They’re ordinary humans, who’ve worked hard to achieve extraordinary success. And, when they’re given books deals as a result of this success, they work extremely hard to make sure that their books uplift and inspire their fans.

I know this to be true – not only from the celebrities that I’ve helped but from other writers who’ve also helped celebrities with their books.

I also know from publishing friends that a large chunk of the money made by celebrity books gets ploughed back into commissioning new and unknown writers and mid-list authors. So it simply isn’t true to say that celebrity books are stealing opportunities away from writers – it would appear to me that they’re actually funding opportunities.

I’d urge anyone who feels that celebrity children’s books are ‘less worthy’ than books by ‘proper’ authors to go and spend some time on a sink estate – or in a run-down school.

Talk to the fans of these celebrities about what their books have meant to them – the positive difference they have made. And how these celebrities’ stories – both real-life and fictional – have given these young people hope and inspired them to dream. 

Instead of mocking and joining the latest twitter witch-hunt, shouldn’t we celebrate the fact that, in this increasingly online world, young people are still reading?

And shouldn’t we celebrate the fact that celebrity children’s publishing is making the world of books accessible to a large section of young people who have traditionally been under-represented and ignored?

Tell it to the Moon_hi res

Tell it to the Moon, the sequel to The Moonlight Dreamers, is available to pre-order on Amazon now. Perfect reading for dreamers … and anyone who wants to be the change they want to see in the world.

 


The Gritty Truth About Writing

It was a Saturday night.

My head was thumping and my eyes were sore.

My entire body ached – especially my shoulders, which were knotted tight.

How much longer will this go on for? I wailed into the darkness.

I thought of the rest of the world all out enjoying their Saturday night – dancing, laughing, drinking cocktails with fun names like Tequila Facelift and Vodka Orgasm – and it made me want to weep into my glass of water.

But I wasn’t ill that Saturday night.

I wasn’t stricken down by the flu or in the grips of a migraine.

I was writing my first novel.

And I was wracked with exhaustion and despair.

I had no idea if what I was writing was any good.

I had no idea if I’d ever get the plot to work.

I had no idea if my characters were likeable or even believable.

Basically, I had no idea.

I felt like giving up practically every single day but somehow – thankfully – I kept going.

And I kept going because I had grit.

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Writing a book takes creativity and imagination … but it also takes a huge amount of determination.

It’s easy to dream of writing … but quite another thing to keep on showing up at the page, day after day after day after day.

Or, in my case back then, as the mother of a young son, night after night after night after night.

So, how do you find the grit to get the words down on the page?

How do you overcome the nagging doubts that sit on your knotted shoulders as you type, telling you you’re not good enough?

The answer is, you have to want it really bad.

And you have to get crystal clear on why you want it so bad.

It could be that you’re desperate to share the message of your book with the world…

Get crystal clear on why that is. Who or how would you be helping?

It could be that writing is as essential to you as breathing…

Get crystal clear on why writing makes you so happy. Make your writing all about enjoying the journey, stop obsessing about the destination.

It could be that you love the idea of entertaining or inspiring or thrilling or scaring readers with your words…

Get crystal clear on how happy this would make you feel. Picture your words lighting up others all across the world.

If it helps, free-write your answers to the following prompts:

  • I have to write because…
  • My dream life as a writer would involve…
  • If I don’t follow through on my writing dreams I’m afraid that…

 

Back when I was writing my first novel my main motivation was the financial freedom a book deal would give me.

When I had moments of doubt and despair like on that Saturday night I’d remind myself of exactly how badly I needed to make it as a writer.

Making it as a writer would put me back in control of my own destiny again, doing something that I loved, and really, who doesn’t want that?

So, I kept on showing up at the page, learning my craft from my many mistakes as I went.

And a couple of years later, my first novel was published.

I’ve since had ten other books published.

And one thing I’ve learned more than anything else is that it’s grit, fuelled by desire, that makes writing dreams come true.

 

For more writerly inspiration please visit the Dare to Write section of this website.


The Gilmore Girls Guide to Great Writing

The only good thing to come out of my bout of flu earlier this year was that – in my desperate search for something to watch in my feverish, bed-ridden state – I came across the show Gilmore Girls.

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Gilmore Girls is a comedy-drama series about a young single mum and her daughter, set in the fictional small American town of Stars Hollow. It originally aired from 2000 – 2007 and all seven series are now available on Netflix PLUS a Gilmore Girls revisited special.

Each series contains twenty-two, forty-five minute episodes. It’s a Netflix binger’s paradise. And – in my humble opinion – a masterclass in great writing.

To anyone interested in writing, I thoroughly recommend you watch it. Here are my takeaways from a writing point of view and why I think it’s so good…

 

Great, nuanced characters

Gilmore Girls has a huge cast of characters, all of them colourful and well-rounded. It’s a great example of how it pays to spend time developing your characters before starting to write. Take time to flesh out their backstory; to give them interesting quirks and traits and to develop their own distinctive voice.

 

Whip-smart dialogue

And speaking of voice, Gilmore Girls excels when it comes to dialogue. There’s a lot of dialogue in the show but it’s razor-sharp, funny, pacey, and packs a punch. The verbal sparring between the characters is brilliant and each of them have their own distinctive verbal ticks.

 

Wonderful world

The world of Stars Hollow has been so well realised you want to slip through your screen and live there too – or at least I did! The funny traditions, the town meetings, Luke’s Diner, the store, the town troubadour(!), the writers have created a wonderful world for the show. Take time to develop the settings for your stories so that they become characters in their own right.

 

Perfect balance of humour and poignancy

Although Gilmore Girls is way more funny and feel-good than sad, it still has its very poignant moments. This contrast between light and dark makes it compelling viewing. You become emotionally invested in the characters because the writers show us their vulnerabilities and make us truly care. Make sure your own story contains light and dark. Play on your reader / viewer’s emotions to make them care.

 

Realistic relationships

The relationships between the characters in Gilmore Girls are believable and compelling. Even the closest relationship in the show – between Lorelai Gilmore and her daughter Rory – is tested at times. And when they become estranged in one of the series it made for gripping viewing. On-off romances, mother-daughter tension, professional and love rivalries, friendship, fallings out – Gilmore Girls has it all and handles it all in a way that’s engaging and believable.

 

Well-developed secondary characters and ‘baddies’

Even the minor characters in Gilmore Girls are interesting and well-developed. The same is true for the occasional ‘bad’ character. We’re shown why they’re troubled and as a result feel empathy for them. The writers haven’t been lazy or taken any shortcuts and this greatly adds to the richness of the viewing experience. Take the time to fully flesh out all of your characters – it will really pay off.

 

Full of heart

As a result of all of the above Gilmore Girls is full of heart. You feel better for watching it; warm inside and more hopeful and optimistic about the world. It’s like mug of hot chocolate in TV form but without being too sickly-sweet. I can’t recommend it highly enough…

 


Don’t Give Up Too Soon

 

TRUE STORY: Once upon a time, I wrote a book. I was very happy with what I’d written – excited by it, even. I handed it into my publisher feeling elated.

Then I got my editor’s letter.

In summary: she didn’t like what I’d written.

She liked the way I’d written it but not the key storyline, which she asked me to take out.

I was gutted.

But I took out the storyline and delivered Draft Two.

I handed it into my publisher feeling relieved to have completed the rewrite but slightly dejected. It didn’t feel like it was mine any more. It felt flat and uninspired.

Then I got my editor’s second letter.

In summary: she didn’t like what I’d written.

She felt it was lacking in drama.

I agreed.

But by this time I was so disheartened.

I was about to move house. I had another book to deliver. I didn’t have time to do another major rewrite. I didn’t have the energy.

I cried.

I got into a major ‘woe is me‘ strop.

I comfort ate my way through the Cadburys catalogue.

I wondered if I ought to just quit.

Sometimes giving up can seem like such an inviting option.

Especially when you’re wrung out and feel stretched to breaking point.

Quitting = an end to the stress

Quitting = an emotional fire exit

But giving up too soon can lead to a lifetime of ‘what if‘s and disappointment.

Sometimes, when you’re close to giving up, that’s the very time you need to dig in and double down and graft your way through to the other side.

You don’t need to quit, you need shedfuls of grit.

Once I’d taken a couple of days to wallow in self pity I reminded myself that having a book deal – especially nowadays – is a privilege and an honour.

I reminded myself of how hard I’d worked to get to this point.

I reminded myself that sometimes life isn’t easy but it’s the hard times that make you appreciate the good.

I told myself that I’d rather be a grafter than a quitter any day of the week.

And then a very good friend of mine gave me this invaluable piece of advice:

‘You sound as if you’re not coming from your heart any more. You’re too caught up in your head. Forget what’s happened and tune into your heart. Write from your heart. Forget all the rest.’

So I got back into my heart and I got stuck in.

And I approached the story with fresh, rather than jaded eyes.

And I wrote for from the heart and for the love of it – and for the love of my characters and the reader too.

And this time round, the writing experience was an absolute joy.

Everything fell into place.

I laughed and I cried and I hoped and I dreamed along with the characters.

And when I typed THE END I knew that this third version of the book was the best by far.

But if I’d given up after the second version it never would have seen the light of day.

Sometimes we need to push ourselves to the limit to discover what we’re capable of.

We need to push ourselves past the fire exit marked QUIT to find our way to the prize.

Athletes know this.

They train themselves to break through the wall. To keep going no matter what.

Creatives need to do this too.

We need to train ourselves to overcome criticism and rejection and the desire to quit and to keep on creating anyway.

I delivered the third version of the book to my publisher feeling happy and light.

Then I got my editor’s third letter.

In summary: she loved it.

She thanked me for not giving up.

I thanked her for pushing me to do my very best.

Don’t give up too soon. Dig in. Double down. Keep on creating from the heart. Keep on pushing yourself to do your best work.

 

Need help with your writing…?

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If you enjoyed this post you might like my book DARE TO WRITE A NOVEL, available from Amazon here.

You can find out more and download it as a PDF here.

And you can follow my writing-related posts on Instagram here.

 

 

 

 

 


How to Create a Colourful Cast of Characters

What makes a great book for you?

For me, it’s a cast of colourful, believable characters that I come to think of as friends.

The first time I started writing a novel I did very little preparation work on my characters – I was itching to get on with the story and I had a basic idea of what my main characters were like, so what could go wrong?

What went wrong was that, because my characters were only sketchy outlines in my mind, that’s how they appeared on the page.

And because I hadn’t taken the time to really get to know who they were, I didn’t know how they’d truly react in the situations I put them in.

So the writing of the book became very stop start and the actions of the characters inconsistent and unbelievable.

Thankfully, I realised what was wrong and instead of ploughing on regardless, I went back to the drawing board – or rather, the character board.

I decided to spend some time really visualising my characters and I trawled through magazines and websites, looking for images that related to them. Photos of people who looked how I imagined the character to look. And pictures of objects, outfits, phrases and places that I related to them.

And, as I pinned these images to a noticeboard on my wall, my characters finally started coming to life. Actually being able to see them and their world helped them become solid and three-dimensional, rather than sketchy outlines.

Once my character board was complete I sat in front of it with a notebook and jotted down any thoughts or ideas the images gave me for the characters and the plot.

And it was amazing just how many ideas I got.

From that moment on, I’ve always created character boards before I start writing a book.

My new novel, The Moonlight Dreamers, has just come out and it features four very different main characters.

Oscar Wilde fan Amber is an avid blogger and loves vintage clothes and records. Kind-hearted, hopeless romantic Maali is devoted to her Hindu faith and dreams of being able to talk to boys. New Yorker Rose is the daughter of famous and divorced parents and she dreams of owning a Harley Davidson and becoming a patissier. And free-spirit Sky lives on a houseboat with her yoga-teaching dad and dreams of finding the confidence to compete in poetry slams.

You can find character boards for all of them here. Simply click on the character’s name and scroll down the page.

You will see images of clothes and objects and quotes and places that are all in some way linked to the character.

Hopefully by looking at each board, you’ll begin to get a feel for the character and see how creating character boards of your own will help bring your own writing to life.

You can create physical boards in your office / home or you can create them online on Pinterest.

They’re a lot of fun to make and they’ll make the writing of your story so much easier … and the reading of your story so much more rewarding.

 

The Moonlight Dreamers is out now

… and Amazon have made it their YA Book of the Month.

A beautiful book about friendship, standing up for what you believe in and finding the courage to be yourself and find your own unique place in the world.’ Lamont Books
.
Sensational and unforgettable, falling in love with this book came as naturally as breathing. The best book I’ve read all year.’ Blog of a Bookaholic
.
This absorbing tale will inspire you to celebrate your individuality. A great contemporary summer read with a bit of Oscar Wilde thrown in.’ South Wales Evening Post Book of the Week
.

Find out more and order a copy here.

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Dreamers of the World Unite … and Write

It’s one week until my new novel, The Moonlight Dreamers, is published and to celebrate I’m running a writing competition.

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The Moonlight Dreamers is all about the importance of daring to dream. My own dreams have got me through some of the toughest times of my life and I feel very passionately about sharing this message.

I’ve already started running Moonlight Dreamers workshops and one question I always ask participants is: What is your dream for the world?

The answers I’ve been getting are very inspiring, so I thought I’d make that the focal point of this writing competition…

What is your dream for the world?

Two of the main characters in The Moonlight Dreamers are avid writers – one a blogger and one a poet – so in keeping with that, entries can either take the form of a guest blog post or a poem, whichever you prefer.

If you need any prompts to help inspire you, try the following questions:

If you could change one thing about the world what would it be?

What makes you really angry about the world we live in?

How could people make a positive difference?

What gives you hope?

Prizes

The three winning entries will all receive a signed copy of The Moonlight Dreamers + a signed copy of one of my other YA books (you choose which one) + some other fun goodies to help you dare to dream. Your entries will also be published on the (soon to be launched) Moonlight Dreamers website.

Runners up will also have their entries published on the site.

Entry details

:: Entries should be no longer than 500 words

:: Only one submission per person

:: Please state your name and age on your submission

:: All ages welcome (the entries will be judged in age groups)

:: The closing date = Thursday 14th July

:: Please send your entry to:

contact[AT]siobhancurham[DOT]co[DOT]uk

Please feel free to share this post with any writers / dreamers you think might be interested.

And if you’d like to find out more about The Moonlight Dreamers, this lovely review from The Blog of a Bookaholic gives loads of info … without any spoilers.

Happy writing!

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