Wednesday, 21 August 2013

Wednesday Writing Tips #6: The Magic Formula

Welcome to this series of writing tips.  If you would like to pen a guest post for this series, email me at

One of the frequently occurring ideas have met with, during my years with Riverside Writers, insists that there is, hidden away somewhere, a formula which guarantees success. People holding to this belief will invest much time and energy on courses, workshops, 'How To' books, endless research or the latest software searching for this formula.

Courses may be interesting and educational, and the student may well graduate clutching a pretty certificate and a sense of personal fulfilment. Something similar could be said of workshops, and any gathering of like-minded people can bring an opportunity for networking. Both courses and workshops tend to be money-earning ventures, which is no bad thing in itself - most people like to supplement their income! - but remember that as educational establishments are now run as businesses, it is in their own interest to encourage students to keep on signing-up for the next batch of courses. Ask yourself how useful, in a practical and measurable sense, a course might be because while you're avidly doing classwork, you're not working on that novel you've been talking about for all too long.

There are oodles of 'How To' books.  A quick rummage on Barnes & Noble or Amazon can prove this.  Personally, I've read numerous of them but recommend only two:  Stephen King's On Writing,  and Michael Knost's Writers Workshop of Horror.  Stephen King's book is rich with practical advice based on sound knowledge - after all, if he doesn't know what he's talking about when it comes to writing careers, then who does!  Michael Knost edited a collection of very useful, no-nonsense essays by a whole bunch of recognised authors, each essay dealing with a different aspect of writing.  While it's been penned primarily by horror writers, the book is of use to writers of all genres.  This is just my opinion, of course, and you're welcome to disagree.

Fancy software mostly benefits the company selling it.  Fancy software will not turn a boring story into a page-turner.  All any writer needs is an ordinary Word programme or Apple equivalent.  You're free to write it in whatever format and font you wish.  However, the standard format is Courier New or Times New Roman, 12 point, double-lined spacing, with a first-line indent of around 1.5 cms. (or around 5 letters).  There should be no gaps between standard paragraphs.   If and when you submit work, read each project's guidelines as some editors will request a slightly different format.  No fancy software required!

Other people chase after whatever's in vogue at the moment, jumping onto the bandwagon of the current big craze - forgetting that by the time they've written a novel, edited and re-written it, and then gone through the palaver of finding an agent then finding a publisher - if a traditional route is to be adhered to, rather than self-publishing - then that big craze is now old hat.  We really don't need more drippy teen 'vampires' or boarding schools for witchcraft right now thanks  - unless you can add a 100% fresh slant to the themes.

Maybe there are other ways or chasing down the imaginary Magic Formula for Success.  There probably are.  It also depends on how a person defines success.  Really, there is no Magic Formula or Instant Writer Pill.  If there was, you can be sure it would be on supermarket shelves next to the cod liver oil and multi-vitamins.

The only solution is to get writing, enjoy writing, finish stories then write some more.  The more you write, the better at it you'll get - and if you don't get better at writing or you discover you don't enjoy it after all, then try some other form of creative expression. 

Further Reading:
Wednesday Writing Tips #5:  The Challenge of Blank Space.
Wednesday Writing Tips #4:  Ideas.
Wendesday Writing Tips #3:  Read!

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