09 March 2016

Julia Rochester’s Top Five Tips for Creative Writers

by Eli Keren Author Interviews, Writing Tips

We’re thrilled that Julia Rochester‘s new novel, The House at the Edge of the World, has been longlisted for the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction. She recently gave a terrific talk to our students here in London with her Curtis Brown agent Karolina Sutton, and we’ll definitely be inviting her back. Here Julia shares with us her top five tips for writers:

I have two sets of writing tips pinned above my desk: George Orwell’s six rules for writing, and W G Sebald’s writing tips (collated by a former student of his, after his death). I’m not sure I’m qualified to add to these, but for what it’s worth…

  • Talk to people, all the time, and ask them lots of questions about themselves – especially strangers. Taxi drivers are great (as long as you keep them off Boris and Über). Best are little old ladies on trains, who often turn out to have been parachuted into occupied France or to have slept with the Rolling Stones.
  • Read widely – this sounds too obvious, but most of us are on our smartphones a lot of the time, and TV is so good these days that it’s very easy to get caught up in a box set and let the reading slide and convince yourself that you’re thinking and learning about narrative. (At least, it is for me – I am currently completely side-tracked by Trapped .) Staring at a screen is not reading and TV writing is often brilliant, but it’s a different skill. Make sure you’re thinking and learning about how words work on the page.
  • Be honest – believe in what you’ve written. If you don’t, the reader won’t. A tell-tale sign is, when you’re reading your own work your eye keeps sliding over the same chunk of writing – that’s because you know in your heart that it’s not good.
  • Develop a thick skin. Some people will not like your work, even if you’re the next Hilary Mantel. Most probably, a lot of people will reject your first novel. You will take it personally, but it isn’t personal. Learn to slough it off.
  • Know when to stop. When people start reading the work, they’ll make suggestions, and, because it’s your first novel, you’ll be over-invested in it and will start to fiddle with it. Don’t! Fiddle with it when you’ve signed a contract with an agent. If you can’t get an agent, that doesn’t mean the work’s not good or that you’re not a writer – most published novelists have unpublished work in a drawer along with a pile of rejection letters. Put it in a drawer (it can only benefit from lying fallow, anyway), and move on to the next thing. It will be better.

As well as expert teaching from published authors, all our three- and six-month novel-writing courses offer dedicated modules on submitting your novel to literary agents – and include sessions on writing a synopsis and preparing a covering letter. Click for more information or to apply for our creative writing courses.

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