Happy Birthday, Stephen Leather, born 25 October 1956
Nine Writing Tips
- First write your book. There’s a difference between wanting to be a writer and actually being a writer and the difference is putting in the hours.
- You have to want to write; it’s hard work and it’s lonely work. I haven’t met a writer yet who actually enjoys the process. It’s lonely, it’s often boring, and it’s hard on the fingers if you’re as bad a typist as I am. I’m not saying that writing isn’t fun, it can be or I wouldn’t do it, but the process itself isn’t enjoyable.
- It takes months, if not years, to write a book. I always tell aspiring writers that ninety per cent of writing is stamina and self-motivation.
- So before you start looking for an agent or a publisher, finish the book. Read it. Polish it. Get it as close to perfect as you can.
- Buy a copy of the Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook for information on how to submit your work, and who to submit it to. If you’re on a tight budget, most libraries will have copies.
- During my first twenty years as a full time writer, that’s how I worked. I delivered a book at the end of June and every May, like an elephant returning to die, I would retreat to my one-bedroom flat in Dublin to finish whatever book I was working on.
- I always liken writing a book to riding a rollercoaster. Back then a book took me a year, pretty much, from start to finish. I would spend the first three months dithering about whether or not to get on the rollercoaster. I would meet contacts, I read, I trawled the internet. I would go drinking with cops, spies and villains, looking for characters and plots to use in the book. That’s what most writers call research but in my case it’s just me postponing the moment when I start to write.
- I made several attempts to write while I was at university, but never managed to get beyond a few pages. It wasn’t that I couldn’t write, it was more a case of not having enough experience to draw on. I found plots difficult, and had no idea how to construct believable and sympathetic characters.
- After graduating, I was offered a place on the Daily Mirror Graduate Training Scheme, where I was trained as a journalist. They taught me how to ask questions, how to gather facts, and how to construct a story. In short, they taught me how to write. And once I was in the habit of writing a couple of thousand words a day, I had the confidence to start writing fiction again.
Stephen Leather is a British thriller author. His series include the Dan ‘Spider’ Shepherd novels (Light Touch is the latest in the series) and the Jack Nightingale series, which include Nightfall, Midnight, Nightmare, Nightshade, and Lastnight. He has also written for television shows such as London’s Burning, The Knock, and the BBC’s Murder in Mind series.
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