That’s what we’re known as, masterclassers. That is, the some 200 or so people who have taken the plunge and signed up for Fiona McIntosh’s five day intensive writing course. I know lots of my fellow writing peers are keen to hear how the course went, and I’m itching to share everything I’ve learnt. But not only would it be impossible for me to impart the wisdom of a seasoned pro like Fiona in the same enthralling way that she does, but it also wouldn’t be fair. She’s been in the biz for 17 years, and this is a big part of her job, her livelihood. I’m not about to take something like that away from her, or any writer.
However, over the next few posts I will share some of the highlights of the masterclass and some of the work I created whilst there.
Fiona’s masterclass is completely targeted at commercial genre fiction. So if you’re someone who writes non-fiction or literary fiction, well you may want to stop reading now. (But, please don’t!). Lots of her advice would transcend other areas of writing, but the course itself is really homing in on the commercial stuff. That is the stuff that is mass marketed and mass produced.
For me, this was a real eye-opener in terms of comparing to my previous Masters study and this. I won’t go into it, but if you are someone who wants to be traditionally published in commercial fiction, maybe don’t bother with the Masters like I did. Do some courses at your local writers centre, or take a look at this Masterclass. It really is all you need to get going.
Another great resource if you can’t afford the investment of a course like this is to pick up a writers resource like Fiona’s How To Write Your Blockbuster, or even Stephen King’s On Writing.
Some top tips for getting serious about writing:
- Set up a writing space with good lighting.
- Use a proper office chair with good support for your posture – kitchen chairs just won’t cut it. (I’ll admit, I’m guilty of laying in bed with my laptop, this is a BIG no no).
- Use the best equipment you can afford and upgrade regularly. I use a Mac and Scrivener, but you don’t have to fork out a lot for decent equipment. Microsoft Word is actually the format publishers will want the manuscript in anyway.
- Back up regularly. I am terribly guilty of not doing this. But I do have an external hard drive and I’m going to try and remember to use it. It would be devastating to lose your work.
- Here’s the big one: Make time to write every day that you have committed to writing. Note how I didn’t say to make time to write every day period. That’s because, as Fiona says, you need a break. Writing every day can lead to burn out, just like writing loads and loads of words over 2 or 3 days can equally lead to burn out. You want to be getting into a good writing habit, and you want to sustain it. Writing in big chunks more infrequently won’t work in the long run.
- On the days you’re not writing, let it go. Don’t think about your WIP. Don’t rewrite it in your mind. Don’t plot and plan what you’re going to write until you’re actually sitting in your chair during your dedicated writing time. Give your brain a break and enjoy your time off.
- Exercise regularly. If you’re sitting at a computer for long periods, most days, it’s important to get out and enjoy the sunshine, get some fresh air and stretch out your muscles and bones.
- Give up television. I know, this one hurts (some of us more than others). You don’t really need to give up TV completely, but do consider where your time is going and how enriching those hours in front of the TV really are. If you’re watching great quality drama, beautiful movies and intriguing series, by all means, set aside time for them – especially if they are relevant to your writing (era, scenery, character, etc). But do reconsider the trash. Stay away from the reality rubbish that really doesn’t serve you. It’s all contrived anyway.
- Surround yourself with support. Whether it be a writing group, a book club or just a few friends that can cheer you on and bounce ideas around with you, support is crucial.
- Get to know your local librarian and book seller. These people are in the know and can be your greatest allies when it comes to selling your books. They’re also great resources for research, and as potential beta readers. Librarians and book sellers generally love books, so it’s safe to say they’d be happy to help a local writer in their endeavours to get published.
- Know your genre and read it. A lot.
- Understand the tropes of your genre.
- Find publishers that specialise in your genre.
- Don’t let writing define or overwhelm you. It’s OK to be passionate about your writing, but it’s not all there is.
- Don’t use the truth. Even if you’re writing fiction based on fact. Commercial fiction exists to entertain, so don’t be afraid to dramatise and embellish your story.
- Relationships are key in commercial fiction. It is human nature to be drawn to interesting and dynamic people, to their conflicts and their emotions.
Over the next few posts I’ll focus a bit on the various elements of writing. Including character, description, generating ideas and publishing.