From the Author’s Mouth: 5 Things I’ve Learned About Writing
Welcome to the second guest post in our new series, From the Author’s Mouth. We’ve invited some of our incredible published Ink Academy alumni to share their journey from aspiring writer to published author.
Alumna Laure Van Rensburg completed her Ink Academy course in 2017 with tutor Marina Kemp. She was subsequently signed by literary agent Juliet Mushens, and received a two-book publishing deal with Michael Joseph, an imprint of Penguin Random House. Her first novel, Nobody But Us, was shortlisted for the 2019 First Novel Prize, 2019 Novel London Competition and 2019 Flash 500 Novel Opening, and has sold in fourteen territories. Her second novel, The Good Daughter, is published today: 3rd August, 2023. Laure has been described as ‘a master of the literary thriller’ (Laurie Elizabeth Flynn).
5 Things I’ve Learned About Writing
by Laure Van Rensburg:
#1. There is no ‘correct’ way to write
There is only the way that works for you. Some writers outline before they start, some don’t. Some writers are meticulous planners, others are complete pantsers, and some fall somewhere in between. One method doesn’t make you a better writer than the others, you just have to find the one that works for you. If I had to plan everything before I start like one of my friends does, I would never write a thing. I initially started as a pure pantser, but I learned that I’m actually somewhere in the middle — I can’t plan for everything as there are parts of the story I can only work out by writing them but I do some planning.
#2. The rules are not absolute
It’s like the pirate’s code: no rules, just guidelines. “Show, don’t tell” doesn’t mean you can never tell. It’s about making sure to show the important moments in your story or show the character’s emotions and responses to immerse the reader. Same with adverbs: it’s not “Never use an adverb”, but definitely an adverb shouldn’t be used to prop up a weak verb (e.g. better ‘run, dash, stroll, saunter…’ than ‘walk quickly’). It’s absolutely possible to break the rules – you just need to understand and master them first, so you can break them well.
#3. Everybody is a critic
Everybody has an opinion and can provide feedback, but not all of it is useful. Too much feedback can turn into white noise and become counterproductive. I am lucky that I now have an agent and an editor who provide me feedback on my writing, but before getting signed I developed friendship with other writers whose opinions and knowledge I really respected. Writing is a lonely business, so it’s good to find other writers you can share with; at least one person who can help you improve, hold you accountable, keep you motivated, and vice versa.
I met my critiquing partner on an online writing forum. We have been friends for about five years now and we still critique and workshop each other’s work on a regular basis. She is my go-to person when I get stuck or if I need to brainstorm ideas.
#4. Edit, edit, edit… And then edit some more
I’m biased – I love editing. I would rather edit than write a first draft!
A lot of writers expect to get it right from the very first draft and get disheartened when that doesn’t happen. I see the first draft as a lump of clay: editing is the process that will shape that lump into a beautiful and intricate sculpture, and it doesn’t matter if you have to go at it several times to get there. For my debut, Nobody But Us, I went through about ten drafts before I was ready to submit to agents – and then my agent and I did a couple more rounds before it went out on submission.
And don’t lose heart! When I start doubting that I will ever get to a polished final draft, I remember that Annie Proulx when through sixty drafts for Brokeback Mountain.
#5. Comparison is the thief of joy
That’s an expression my agent Juliet Mushens uses a lot, and it is so true. Whatever you do there will always be someone who writes better than you, who sells more books or wins more awards. But it’s good to remember that there is only one person who writes like you – who can tell the story you’re writing like you do. We are all on our own individual writing journey.
It’s also about resisting the urge to compare your work-in-progress with published books. It’s easy to get disheartened when you read an amazing book, thinking your work will never compare. You can forget that published books have gone through several rounds editing under the guidance of a professional editor, and you don’t know how many drafts it has taken the author to get to that final draft. You are not comparing like for like.
Click here to read more about Laure and her gripping first novel, NOBODY BUT US.
Click here to buy your copy of THE GOOD DAUGHTER, published in hardback Thursday 3rd August 2023.
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