Writers Corner: Some Friendly Advice (Tony Parsons)

I recently subscribed to the Curtis Brown newsletter. I’m on several mailing lists for big publishing houses and agents. Most of what they send out is the predictable promotion rubbish about which I rarely care as they seem intent on telling me about books that are in genres about which I have little interest (variations of roses anyone?) – However, they also occasionally contain a gem of information. Today, I got a notification about a blog entry from Tony Parsons (writer and journalist) and his top ten tips for becoming a successful author. Here’s the link….


It’s worth a look for anyone whose trying to write. I always read these top tip things. Sometimes they are useless, sometimes just telling me things I had managed to work out for myself but normally there’s at least one gem of information. Mostly, I like how to the point Parsons is.

Point one is eloquent and something a lot of people forget. There are three elements to writing and he’s right that us writers sometimes need reminding of that. Particularly ‘experience’. I find a lot of writers who have all the worlds and the characters but somehow they’ve forgotten real life in there somewhere.

I’ll be indulging myself in a rant on ‘North Star’ one-liners at some point soon so I won’t say too much here. Just that, its rather bemusing to me that the hardest part of a book isn’t the 600 odd pages of hard slog and seventeen re-drafts/proofs (aka the afore mentioned marathon) but that one sentence that sums the whole lot up. I’ve never started a book with a single line idea. Maybe its because my brain just can’t work that way, I work in a very lateral wide field rather than in strict straight lines but his advice is dead on. It’s one thing I’m always working on. Finding that one buzz phrase that sums everything up.

Point four is an interesting one that I completely agree with. And here I might offend so apologies in advance, but nothing makes me cringe worse than when someone says ‘oh I’m writing a fantasy novel’ and when I ask, ‘do you read fantasy’ I get back, ‘well no but I’ve seen Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings’. It’s not the same. I know I try and keep up to date with what’s going on in any of the genres I’m writing in. For me, I think 50 pages is a little extreme (as is 1000 words a day. Four hours writing??? I wish…. That’s the dream someday but for the moment, scribbles at 2am is the best I can offer). Some of us have a day job (or three) limiting our free time but even just knowing what other people are writing about is a good start.

Six and nine are two halves of the same story. There’s a quote from Evita that I like to use. “It’s hard to keep momentum when it’s you that you are following”. Writing can be lonely. It’s partly why I started this blog to have a way to share my journey with other people. I love talking about books (as much as many of my friends might wish otherwise…) but I’ve found whenever I’m doubting myself, I talk to people. It’s tempting to keep everything to yourself and not -spoil- for others but I always have to remind myself, there’s no point worrying about spoilers if lack of momentum/confidence/belief is going to stop the book from being finished. Also, when I’m stuck, I ask people. As much as my dad is bemused when asked about the pro’s and con’s of fire-breathing vampires, he still has an imagination even if he doesn’t write himself. People, I have found, are the best source of inspiration on that journey from idea to book.

As for point ten… again, another rant will be coming your way in the foreseeable future but I sense Parsons was rather under the influence of Curtis Brown on that one. I think having an agent can help but I also think not having one can be just as lucrative – in fact, I think it’s the way the publishing world is slowly drifting. Just ask Hugh Howey (Wool review coming next week) or E.L. James (Fifty Shades of Grey).