A writer's list

Metro (a popular NZ magazine) editor, Simon Wilson, recently produced an excellent list of tips for writers.

There are some that are stand out must do’s in my view so, while the reader of this blog can go to the list through the hyperlink provided, I would like to choose some that stood out for me and explain why they resonate with me.

The first one is to write all the time. There is nothing like writing at every opportunity to give the skills a polish up. These pieces of writing must be more than just scribbled notes. They need to be pieces of writing you would be happy for even your greatest critic to see. They need to have strong argument based on sound research, make sense, and read smoothly. It can be fiction or non fiction. Both genre train the writer in expressing him or herself clearly with sound reason behind each word. There is no such thing as, ‘this is something I threw together’.

Another point he makes is that writing is all about sub-text. I loved this one because I strongly believe that if you have a story without subtext you have a flat one-dimensional piece. Subtext adds layers to a piece of writing. It gives characters hidden emotions, motives.

Writing is evocative if it has the reader marvelling at the way words are put together, imagining scenes they have never seen and emotionally responding to the situation the writer has invited the reader in to. If a reader finds him or herself walking beside a character, or feeling as if they are part of a scene/situation, then the writer has achieved the best possible outcome.

He tells us that writers need to have a moral code. This point really caught my attention as I had not given it a lot of thought. Then I realised I had taken ‘having a moral code’ for granted. It was an ‘aha’ moment. So obvious, yet one we rarely articulate because it is so self-evident. Our moral code threads its way through everything we write and the reader acknowledges it without really identifying what it is he or she is agreeing with or, for that matter, not agreeing with. It is fine to have a contrary view so long as care for humanity and a generous spirit guides the writer. Ugly thoughts become ugly words and ugly actions. Anti-heroes are part of storytelling and have their part to play but a main character will inevitably reflect a writer’s inner self because that is what sub-text is all about and that is where depth of character comes from.

I strongly believe that in the end a writer’s own philosophy of life will seep through whatever stories the writer tells. That will either win a reader’s heart or turn the reader off.

He also recommends that writers learn some facts. When I was very young and VERY naïve, I believed I could produce good writing without having to take the time to learn things. My imagination would do it all. How wrong I was. Imagination feeds off facts. It needs information in order to create something that readers will understand and to which they can relate. The best writers are also the most widely read. It is also helpful to know that if we are writing something controversial, we can go to a source to back the claim up.

Opinion also has its place. We need to stand for something. Readers need to see that. But if we are expressing opinion, the reader needs to know that that is what it is. However, opinion becomes very powerful if a writer also backs the opinion with facts. This process takes a reader through a new door into a new world where a fresh view is like opening minds and giving the reader a refreshing drink or a less palatable experience, depending on his or her point of view.

I would add to the list just one other point. A writer must control his or her emotions. Being angry about an event or something someone has done is fine but, if emotion burns uncontrolled, it will incinerate the writer and leave the reader bemused. Be very careful about moderating emotions so that the reader can be part of the experience and empathise if need be.

I found Simon Wilson’s list of writing tips compulsive reading. I am sure you will find it compelling reading and you might even have some thoughts of your own to add. I’d love to see them.



writing tips