Tough love tips for aspiring authors: Part Two

Hey, sleepy head. Did you miss Part One? You can read it here.


Okay, so I’ve eased up a bit. This next lot? Not so hard-arse.

5. Always begin with pen and paper.

Go to the computer later but connect your hand to your brain first. It’s a physical thing. Our imagination is stimulated by the movement of our hand across the paper.

I’m such a believer in this that I’ve banned all laptops and screens from my writing sessions with school kids. Before a visit, schools always ask for ‘author requirements’. Some authors ask for tropical fruit baskets, chocolates and champagne…

But my requirements are  simple:  Kids must bring pen and paper. And NO LAPTOPS ALLOWED. By LAW.

Personally, I begin every writing day with pen and paper. Every day, every session, without exception. In fact, I begin every chapter, every new scene, with a pen and paper. When the words are flowing and the ideas are gathering more quickly than I can write, I move to the computer.

But I always begin with a pen and paper. It signals ‘playtime’ to my brain.


6. Vary your writing places but always return to the familiar, to your foxhole.

Sometimes you’ll benefit from noise. The white noise of a café might free you up and help you nut out a problem. At other times you’ll need to control your environment. You’ll sense this. Your body will tell you what your creativity needs.

If you’re fidgeting or feeling that awful ‘I can’t do this’ in the pit of your stomach, if you just can’t seem to think straight, gather up pen and paper and work somewhere else for a while. A change of scenery is therapeutic. Before long, the words should start to flow again.

Trust the turmoil it’s all part of the process.

Stay with it until you break through. Most of all, don’t think it’s over just because you’re fidgeting. Move your butt. But stay committed. Stay in the zone.

7. Walk, walk, walk. But make sure it’s somewhere boring!

Walk where it’s  familiar and predictable. You don’t want to be stimulated and distracted while you’re on your ‘writing walk’—you want to shake off inertia and sink into your imagination, make space to let the ideas flow gently.

If you walk somewhere entertaining or beautiful you’ll quickly lose the thread of your story and become caught up in the world around you. It doesn’t take much for this to happen. Snazzy shops, funky pedestrians. An elaborate garden is the end of me. That’s why I never went for writing walks when I had a studio at the Abbotsford Convent. It was all too pretty.

The Abbotsford Convent, Melbourne. I had a studio here for seven years.

Writing requires rhythm, not just within the story but within the life of the author. Predictable rhythms while you’re working on a book are not only reassuring they’re necessary. Likewise, regular periods of solitude are a must. Review your lifestyle. Figure out where you can factor these in.

Blast from the past. My old studio at the convent. Yeah, yeah, that’s Neil Gaiman on the wall.   PS The phone worked.

8. Curiosity. It’s your job to pique the reader’s curiosity and keep it piqued.

As you write, keep checking in, keep asking yourself, Do I feel curious about what’s going to happen next, will my reader feel curious too?

Dangle carrots all the way. Your reader is seeking that buzz that comes with feeling curious about something then finally having that curiosity satisfied.

There’s now scientific evidence to back this up. The curiosity evoked by reading causes our brains to release all sorts of happy hormones and chemicals.

Readers are addicts. Authors are… dealers.

Weird hey?

Happy dealing.

Jen xo

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8 Replies to “Tough love tips for aspiring authors: Part Two”

  1. Oh. My. Goodness. Jen! This is wonderful and exactly what I needed to hear. Every point is spot on and encourages me to dive right back in to my writing and to know what to do when the story is not flowing. Thank you. Dangle curiosity carrots is what I will do. Hehe.

  2. On a serious note Jen, I just want to have a little gush and say that your blog posts and video posts have kept me on track and I have actually managed to knock out a draft of a chapter book. It may come to nought but it has felt great just exercising and strengthening those writing muscles. You’re an absolute gem for sharing and being so practical and honest.

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