Writing is like walking

Put one word in front of the other and keep on going until you get to the end.

Of course, some people walk better than others. And really, that is probably where the analogy finishes. Actually, I probably should have stopped before this whole thing got out of hand.

Stop Here, harry tuttle, modern cave dweller

But I won’t.

Something I learnt as a scientist is knowing when to stop. At some point you need to admit to yourself that this is as far, or as good, as it is going to get. Maybe you won’t win the Nobel prize. Maybe you won’t write some literary masterpiece. This is the perfectionist’s dilemma. On the other end of the scale, there is the danger that you stop too soon. In science you can see this in a paper that lacks perspective and presents what is often referred to as an “epsilon” paper. Espilon being the greek letter usually used for an extremely small quantity in maths. Therefore, the paper is seen as a making a very small step forward. They stopped too soon in having the vision to do something really important; big. They also stopped too early in terms of writing and the lack of depth in the writer’s perspective gives them away.

If we forget about science and writing science facts, then as fiction writers, there’s is a lot we can take away from this. We can take short cuts researching the types of people or concepts we are using and we lose depth and context. We can forget that we have imaginations and write the epsilon novel – we’ve all read stories where only the name of the characters have changed and it’s on a jungle planet instead of an ice world. Be a big brave writer and write outside your skin, scare yourself with what you’re writing – and I don’t mean in a horror kind of way – your, and I mean Your, story should surprise. We can also be naive and think that we don’t need that professional editing – most science writers don’t use editors, but give drafts to people that can offer a fresh perspective. Having alpha or beta readers can be the most fruitful thing you can do as a new/young writer. Consensus seems to be that a professional editor should be involved at some point. It costs, but might make the difference between a quality product that people are actually going to buy and something that’s going to get decent reviews, which means that more and more people will be drawn to, and maybe even buy, your next novel.

While I’m mid-rant, let’s talk about judging books by their covers. People do. Live with it. If you are not paying for a professional cover, make sure that you spend the time to know what you are doing and mastering the graphics programs needed to give a professional looking job. Obviously, low quality images and a poorly put together montage will make people run away faster than … something really fast. Stupid things such as font selection and colours can scream rank-amateur louder than … something really, really loud. Are you targeting print or electronic publication, a mix of both – this will have an impact on what cover design you chose. There are plenty of experts out there happily giving advice on blogs and online magazines. Read them.

In the end, you’ve got to be hard and honest with yourself. You are competing with a rapidly increasing pool of writers and you need to stand out. You need to be better in every way. This means it will take more time, so take it. There is no short cut to success. Be excellent.

What’s your best tip to new writers?