Advice For Writers from David Barnett
Today, I’m turning over my blog to the fabulous David Barnett, author of Gideon Smith and the Mechanical Girl who has some advice for we writers who are still waiting for the book deal. David, over to you:
First off, thank you so much to Nettie for a) giving Gideon Smith and the Mechanical Girl such a sparkling review and b) turning over this space for me to fill. Much appreciated. Among Nettie’s suggestions for what I write was advice to aspiring writers, so that’s what I’m going to do. Here we go…
- Ignore all the following advice. Seriously. If I had nailed-on perfect advice for writers, I would be very rich. I can only give you some pointers that work for me. They might not work for you. They might, but they might not.
- If you want to be a writer… (MAJOR REVELATION COMING UP) you have to write. Doesn’t matter what. A novel. A short story. Some little character studies. There is a little-known organ in the human body called the writing muscle. If you don’t use it, don’t expect to pick up any heavy weights. Like a Booker Prize, for instance.
- You have to write every day. You will read this advice all the time. However, writing every day does not necessarily mean writing every day. Some people give themselves a 1,000 word a day minimum. I don’t. I write when I have time and when I feel like it. Otherwise it becomes a chore. So if you don’t write every day, how can you write every day? Well… sitting in the garden with a rum and coke counts as writing. So does reading a newspaper. Talking to people is writing as well. Writing is not just the act of putting words in a pleasing order down on paper. Writing is mostly thinking. You’ll know when the right time is to actually write stuff down.
- The world of publishing does not owe you a living. Do not rage against the publishing industry because no-one wants to publish your book. It might be that it’s just not the right book at the right time. It might be that your book’s too long, or not long enough. It might be that your book just isn’t good enough. If that’s the case, either go and do something else or get better.
- Treat every submission to a publisher as though you were applying for a job. You want this publisher to give you money for work you have carried out. Be professional, be polite, be understanding. If they reject you, don’t post screeds of bile on your blog about it, or send them a nasty email telling them they don’t understand your genius. Would you do this if you applied for a job and didn’t get it? If the answer is yes, then take a long, hard look at yourself.
- If you get published you will get bad reviews. Someone recently said on Goodreads that Gideon Smith and the Mechanical Girl was terrible and they could not recommend it to anyone. That is fine. Actually, that’s not fine. But I didn’t tell them that, nor did I tell anyone else, apart from you. You cannot please all of the people all of the time. If you get a bad review, go and punch a wall or mix a cocktail. Do not engage with them. It’s their prerogative to not like your book.
- If at first you don’t succeed, give up. If you refuse to give up, then carry on. In 2005 I got an agent, the wonderful John Jarrold. You know how many books I submitted to John before I got the publishing deal for Gideon Smith? Seven. That’s seven novels of more than 100,000 words each. Maybe they’ll be published someday, chances are they won’t. But there’s no such thing as wasted writing.
- If an editor tells you something doesn’t work, then it doesn’t work. Doesn’t matter how well-written it is or how much you love that nice little turn of phrase or that particular character, if your editor doesn’t like it then you have to rewrite it or get rid of it. You might disagree but you will have to capitulate, unless you can make a very good and reasoned case why you are right without sounding like a prima donna.
- That author you love, who you follow on Twitter and who once retweeted something you wrote? They probably don’t want to read your work-in-progress. They might, but they probably won’t. Not because they’ll think it’s rubbish, but because they don’t have time. And there’s always the chance that it is rubbish, and they’ll either have to tell you it is, at which point you’ll start ranting about them on Twitter, or they’ll lie, which will do you and them no favours at all. Probably best not to ask, unless you know them really well.
- On the subject of Twitter, don’t endlessly tweet links to your book and talk about yourself. This is something I am guilty of, especially as publication day approaches. Engage with other people, talk about other things. Read other people’s books and say nice things about them. Be a person, not a publicity machine.
- If you never, ever get published, it’s not the end of the world. Don’t make it the focus of your life. It’s much better for your headstone to say “she was a really great person” rather than “she was a really good writer, what a shame she never got published”.