Writing advice. Sometimes it can seem like there are more books on How To Write A Book than there are books that have been written!
As a Newbie Author, it’s easy to get so swamped with all the advice that’s out there that you either end up not writing anything at all or you get information overload and give up. Navigating the writing advice jungle isn’t easy but here’s what happened to me and what I’ve learned along the way to being ready to put out Book Five.
Although I didn’t put out my first book until 2020, I had the idea for Valentine And Milo, which would eventually become The Paradox Club series, back in 1995.
At the time I was still dreaming of becoming a working actor rather than a non-professional one. I’d written stuff for the stage and put on my own one-man shows, so I thought that maybe writing was something I should add to my artistic arsenal.
THE WRITING SCHOOL
And so I signed up for The Writing School, got their booklets in the post and was assigned a tutor. This was back in the mid-Nineties, which meant it was a correspondence course rather than online.
I still have those course booklets, but I never got much out of the course itself and stopped sending in my monthly writing assignments quite early on, not long after I’d started. They wanted me to write what they wanted me to write. I just wanted to learn how to write Valentine And Milo, my first novel!
That’s what I was excited and enthusiastic about, not doing another “school essay” on a given topic. It wasn’t a waste of money, just an indication that my timing was off. Writing was for the future, I just didn’t realise how far in the future…
Fast forward a few years and Valentine & Milo haven’t been forgotten, the Internet has been invented, and my first non-fiction book Sell You Self! has been published by Bookshaker, who are now called ReThink Press.
If I’m being totally honest, what I really wanted to do was write scripts rather than books, which is why I joined Phil Gladwin‘s Screenwriting Goldmine which he has since wound up. I’m not sure of the dates, but it was somewhere round about 2010, certainly before I went to University. [The earliest email I have from Phil is June 2011]
Unlike The Writing School, this was an online group with a forum, founded on the back of Phil’s incredibly useful screenwriting guide ebooks, and was a place where budding screenwriters could hang out and share their work. Which I did. People seemed to like both my submissions and my suggestions for how they could improve their own. It was a nice community to be part of, shame it’s gone.
At the Goldmine I’d unwittingly stumbled on what, for me, was a key secret to writing my books: write them as screenplays first, then novelise them. As the years went by, starting in 2015, I began to collect an ever-increasing number of Writing Teachers. I wonder how many “snaps” we’ll get from the list that follows…
THE WRITING EXPERTS
Chandler Bolt was the first online advice guru who caught my attention, with his self-promoting Self Publishing School. Which I couldn’t afford to join. Next it was Dave Chesson from Kindlepreneur. whose advice was always worth listening to, but I couldn’t afford his KDP Publisher Rocket software either.
The go-to guy for Scrivener, Joseph Michael was next and I made my first investment in myself as a writer with his Writer’s Treasure Chest. Which remained un-logged into after I’d paid for it for more years than I care to admit. Yes, I know.
Then it was Nick Stephenson and his Your First 10,000 Readers and Story Engines and Author Cats stuff, again none of which I could afford. Then it was Joanna Penn and finally Mark Dawson, which was where I bit the bullet and splashed out on his Self Publishing Formula course, along with a few others. Money well spent.
The latest advice guru I’ve listened to is David Gaughran, a very personable Irishman who knows his stuff when it comes to navigating the Amazon algorithm and his books on the subject are a must-read investment in yourself.
QUALITY NOT QUANTITY
Seeking out writing advice from those who have already done what you want to do is what we all do when we’re first starting out. The danger is that you can end up accumulating so many of those sage advisors that you end up getting contradictory advice or information overload, which is the last thing you need when you’re making your first stumbling steps into the world of Self Publishing.
Possibly like yourself, I’ve made the mistake of signing up to too many writing advice email lists that I end up filing rather than reading the advice they contain, which was why I signed up to them in the first place. Sound familiar?
The question is how to know who to listen to, whose advice to take. Which of your many advisors is the one who tells you stuff you can actually apply to your own writing? Which of them are saying stuff that’s really for authors who are further along the self publishing path than you are? And yes, I too know how difficult it can be to actually hit Unsubscribe on their latest email rather than stick with them in case you miss out on something.
Which is nuts when you think about it. You don’t read their emails anyway, you just file them to read later. Which you never do.
It took me ages but I eventually figured out who I should listen to.
HOW TO KNOW WHO TO LISTEN TO
Knowing who to listen to, whose advice to take, is surprisingly simple. Once I’d worked it out, and applied it, it became a lot easier to hit Unsubscribe and not feel bad about it.
The secret to Knowing Who To Listen To is this:
Would you go for a pint with them down the pub?
Think about it. We naturally gravitate to people who are like us, in either personality or outlook, and want to spend time in their company. You don’t want to spend time with people you don’t like. Thinking back to my time at university, there were certain tutors who, while they were perfectly good teachers, were the sort of pople that you wouldn’t want to spend time with socially, picking their brains.
Many of the UK-based Writing & Publishing Experts out there are, I must confess, too middle class and too bland for me to want to spend time with them in an imaginary pub. Many of the US-based ones I find too brash and self-promoting. Not to mention annoyingly over-enthusiastic. And no, I’m not going to name any of them.
But the ones that I could see myself going for a hypothetical pint with, those are the ones that I didn’t ditch. What I did with them next was to work out if I would appoint them to my personal Jedi Council.
WHO’S ON YOUR JEDI WRITING COUNCIL?
In the story world of Star Wars, the Jedi Council are the high-ups in the Jedi Order. If the Jedi were authors rather than space knights, they would be the “wise men” who guide those less learned than they are in the ways of The Force, which in this analogy is Writing.
As Newbie Authors, we are the Padawans, the learners, and the Jedi Writing Council are the experienced elder statesmen we learn from. But who sits on the Council? Well, the good news is that’s up to you. Nobody gets automatically self-appointed to your jedi Writing Council by virtue of experience or success. You appoint them.
Would you go for a pint with them down at The Author’s Arms? If so, then you should stay on their email list.
Should you appoint them to your personal Jedi Writing Council? If you feel a connection to them as a person, then you probably should, like I did. The Star Wars Jedi Council has twelve members, but my personal Jedi Writing Council only has six, that I’m not going to name. Yours may have more.
Having the wise counsel of my own personal Jedi Writing Council has helped me as an author. I hope it’s a suggestion that helps you too. Let me know if it works!