Blog 7 Top Tips for Young Writers from Author Lesley Parr

7 Top Tips for Young Writers from Author Lesley Parr

By Lesley Parr | Author, Guest Blog, Kids, Top Tips, Writing Tips

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Nominated for the prestigious Branford Boase Award, author Lesley Parr gives her top tips for budding young authors.

Lesley Parr’s debut novel The Valley of Lost Secrets was shortlisted for the Branford Boase Award 2022. Here, alongside her editor, Zöe Griffiths, she is sharing some of her top tips for young writers.

Where to even start?

Sometimes stories burst out of you and sometimes they are a little harder to find. If you’re struggling for inspiration there are lots of different ways to get started – taking notice of the things around you, researching something you’re interested in, or just following the spark of an idea that captures your interest.

But the most important thing is to make sure it’s an idea that you feel passionately about. People often say ‘write from the heart’– and that’s key because writing can take a long time, and being published can take even longer. You need to live with your idea and feel happy being immersed in it while you’re drafting. It should be something that holds your attention and keeps you excited and motivated to finish.

Purpose

Even the greatest ideas need to have purpose in the way you write them, otherwise your story won’t move forward. Your characters must have clear motivations for their actions, but those actions also need to drive the plot. Every extra ingredient that you add has to contribute to the narrative. Sometimes, in order to let the real heart of your story shine through, you have to get tough with yourself about what needs cutting during the editing process.

What makes good writing?

The simplest words are usually the best. It’s easy to fall into the trap of overwriting when you’re new to it (I definitely used to). Writing in first person from the point of view of a twelve-year-old, I often have to simplify my language. So I tend to use a thesaurus in the opposite way from how someone usually would. I think of a word and look it up to find one a child would be more likely to use. This is especially important in dialogue.

Think about how people really speak, and then adapt it slightly to avoid all the usual pauses and repetition. The vast majority of us don’t speak in a grammatically correct way and we don’t use the most advanced synonyms possible. Use colloquialisms (I do this a lot in my writing as it’s all set in Wales), or clip words from the beginning of sentences:

e.g. ‘I don’t know’ can be more realistic if written as ‘Don’t know’ or perhaps even ‘Dunno’. It all depends on the character you’ve created.

Watch those adverbs – e.g. ‘he said quickly’ – you very rarely need to explain how a character says something. Make the dialogue do the work. If you have to explain, the chances are you haven’t written it well enough. Trust your instincts and know your characters! They will all have individual ways of communicating.

Likewise, usually say/said is the best word. If the dialogue is doing its job, you don’t need to write exclaimed/moaned/teased/pleaded, etc. The eye will skip over say/said just like it does with and or the, making it a smoother reading experience.

A suggestion you’ll hear a lot in writing advice is to SHOW not TELL. This is mostly true, but overly simplistic. Writing needs nuance. Sometimes telling the reader is the best way to get the job done – the trick is to vary it. Don’t continuously tell, but don’t continuously show either.

Enjoy it!

Give yourself the freedom to make a mess, whether it’s on paper or on-screen. I prefer doing this in my notebooks as I can grab lots of different colours and make it look interesting and bright at the same time. And it’s taken me a LONG TIME to even begin to feel this, but it doesn’t have to be perfect at every stage. Drafting is about chipping away – revealing what’s there – and that takes time. No one writes a finished book in one draft. And perfection is pretty much a mythical beast anyway…

The truth is that writing isn’t easy. It can be really frustrating – and good writing needs distance and sometimes criticism, as well as time. The most important thing is that you enjoy it and that there’s something in doing it that gives you a sense of satisfaction or achievement. If it’s not feeling like that, take a break. You can always start again when you’re ready.

Know when to leave it!

Speaking of taking a break…sometimes the best thing you can do for your writing is to stop doing it. Go for a walk, watch TV, play a game, bake a cake–anything which takes you away from your desk and occupies your mind in a different way. It’s amazing how much carries on ticking away in the subconscious.

Accept who you are

I’m not a planner. I spent years thinking this was somehow wrong (and wasted time trying to find ways to make myself into one), but the truth is there are no hard and fast rules – what works for one writer is alien to another and vice versa. My stories are character-led and I find out the plot as I draft (and redraft). I never really know what will happen, but I get there in the end. That’s all that matters.

Read!

People say this all the time but it is a hundred per cent true. Reading as much as you can makes you a better writer. Unknowingly you’re learning about the dynamics of story and words and sentence structure – as well as the kind of stories and books you like or dislike. You’ll discover different styles, and also ways to challenge yourself or find comfort. Thinking about the books you like to read is an important part of knowing what kind of books you want to write.

The Valley of Lost Secrets is published by Bloomsbury Children’s Books. The winners of the 2022 Branford Boase Award can be found here.

Published: Tuesday 19th July 2022 at 10:51am