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Writing Tips for Young Authors

I often visit schools and bookshops to do readings. During these visits I have been asked to share my writing tips many times. This is why Vanessa Mearns and I decided to create a workshop to help young writers to get started. The workshop covers many aspects of illustrating and writing. Here are some of the tips. I hope that you find them inspiring!

Tip No 1 - WRITE SOMETHING EVERY DAY

  • Use a pen and paper or your computer
  • Use your imagination
  • Write down your idea
  • You don’t have to write a whole story
  • A few lines is enough to get you started
  • Just have fun

Tip No 2 – KEEP A NOTEBOOK HANDY

  • You won’t always be near to your desk or computer
  • Sometimes you will get a writing idea when you are not at home or where you usually like to write
  • A notebook is easy to carry so is your mobile device
  • Just a word or two will be enough for you to remember your idea when you get to your favourite writing spot
  • I put my notebook next to my bed. Sometimes I wake up in the middle of night with a great idea
  • I often refer back to my notebook when I need for inspiration for a new story

Tip No 3 – WRITE WHAT YOU LIKE TO READ

  • Think about what you like to read
  • Do you like funny stories? Scary stories? Stories about animals or people? Stories about outer space or fantasy stories? There are many kinds of stories. Start by writing a story or story idea that you would like to read yourself
  • Do you like long stories, short stories or rhyming stories? Start by writing the style that you prefer
  • Don’t write a story that you wouldn’t enjoy reading. If you do, you won’t have fun writing it
  • If you have fun writing your story, then there is a pretty good chance that someone will enjoy reading your story too

Tip No 4 – SET THE SCENE

  • Think about where your story will take place
  • Create a world for your story
  • Think long and hard about your new world. Will it be a fantasy world? A jungle? A desert? A forest? A place you have visited? At home? In a zoo? At a farm? Under the sea? There are so many worlds you can choose from. It can be real or make-believe.
  • Write down everything you can think of about your new world. Think of landscape, colours, smells, weather, trees, rivers, flowers. Nothing is right and nothing is wrong. It is your world. Just get to know it well. Keep the notes you make and refer to them when you are writing your story
  • Choose a name for your world

Tip No 5 – GET TO KNOW YOUR CHARACTERS

  • What kind of character would you like to write about?
  • It could be an animal, human, alien or fantasy creature. It is totally your own choice
  • Now think about one or two more characters for your story
  • Write down what they look like. Are they tall? Short? Skinny? Overweight? Boy? Girl? Man? Woman? Old? Young? What colour eyes do they have? What kind of hair? Or do they have no hair? Write as many points as you can to describe your characters
  • What kind of personalities do your characters have? Nice? Nasty? Happy? Sad? Funny? Serious? You decide what each one is like. Be sure to write down good and bad things about your characters to make them more interesting

Tip No 6 – PLAN OUT YOUR STORY

  • Decide what your story is going to be about
  • Think of a plot. Basically most stories are just a problems that have to be solved in some way
  • Your story needs to have a beginning, a middle and an end
  • Sketch out a simple plan
  • Don’t overthink. Just start your story. It doesn’t have to be perfect.  Most writers edit their stories many times before they finish them. I also write my stories more than once
  • You can change your story as often as you like until you are happy with it

Tip No 7 – USE SHORT SENTENCES

  • When you write, don’t use long, flowery sentences. You will need a lot of words to tell your story, but keep your sentences as short as you can. They will then have more impact
  • Try to write in the same way that you would tell a story. Use your own voice. I find that ‘telling’ and not ‘writing’ is a good way to think about it
  • Don’t explain everything as you write. Your reader will enjoy reading your story more if they can imagine parts of it while they read
  • It is always fun to write dialogue (speech) whenever you can. Don’t write “The bus was out of control. It was hurtling at great speed towards John and Sam”. Try writing “Sam”, screamed John. “The bus is out of control. Get out of the way!” instead.

TIP No 8 – TAKE A BREAK

  • Sometimes you will get stuck. You will have no idea what you are going to write next. That is really OK. This happens to all writers. Take a break
  • You may find that writing for just a short time each day works for you. As you start to write you will find out how you work best
  • Take your time and relax
  • You don’t have to write a whole story at once
  • Do something completely different to clear your mind. Go for a walk, play a game, do some chores or do anything you fancy. Very soon you will be inspired to carry on with your story

Remember that it is your story. You are the author. Use your own imagination and enjoy writing. Not everyone likes to read the same kinds of books, so not everyone will like every story. I don’t ask anyone if they like my stories until they are finished. I just write anyway. The more I write, the more I enjoy it and the better I get. Practice makes perfect.

I hope that you found my tips helpful. Keep on writing!

  Elaine Macdonald, author of I See an Elephant

  If you would like more information please visit my web page www.elainemacdonald.co.za