Berwick Literary Festival, Meet the author, Writing

How to start writing

Author Richard Yeo spoke at Berwick Literary Festival today about how to start writing.

He provided some essential tips for those of us who want to write but don’t know where to start. By working through four simple questions – why, when, what and how? – Richard offered a useful structure for getting your ideas on paper.

Why?

Richard was very clear on why anyone should write. It’s not for money, it’s not for fame and it’s not for reward. It’s because you enjoy it and have something to say.

Despite its romantic reputation, writing can be a tortuous pastime. It takes commitment, dedication and, very often, sheer stubbornness to do it.

Don’t take the investment needed lightly, and make sure your enjoyment of it is enough to sustain you through the challenging times that will inevitably come.

When?

There is no such thing at the perfect time to start writing. Richard had a career in the navy, as a gardener and in cleaning services before he became a professional writer at the age of 58. He believes the life experience he had by that age enhanced his work but he thinks you’re never too young to start – provided you have something to say and an interesting way to say it.

His gardening work has defined his writing life. As he is busy in the spring and summer in potting sheds, he spends the winter writing. In fact, he writes from 1 November to 31 March every year and very often produces a novel within that time. He has a daily routine of writing around 1,500 to 2,000 words between 9am and 12pm to ensure he can produce around 85,000 words at the end of his authorial hibernation.

While many of us do not have the luxury of a winter to write or the discipline to stick to a daily quota, it’s important to dedicate time to your craft in order to get your words on a page.

What?

Knowing you want to write is one thing: knowing what you want to write about is completely different.

In order to find your voice or to hone your writing skills, Richard suggested tinkering with other things before embarking on your own epic project. Writing a biography or journal, submitting pieces to magazines, taking part in competitions or dabbling in non-fiction are all ways of (re)igniting creativity and getting into the habit of writing regularly.

How?

So, you know you want to write, you have an idea, you’ve cleared your diary. Now what?

Starting to write is the most difficult part of this whole process. Those first few words, sentences, even chapters, can be extremely intimidating – but don’t let them put you off.

Richard suggested a couple of ways of getting started:

  • Creative writing groups: whether it’s a formal group or just a group of like-minded writers, sharing your work can help to keep you focused. If you’re looking for a group in the North East, I highly recommend Vic Watson’s weekly sessions in Newcastle and Whitley Bay.
  • How-to guides: Richard recommended Stephen King’s On Writing as the manual that helped him most when starting out.
  • Give yourself permission to write: the dishes can wait, so can the hoovering. If you’re going to do this then you can’t do everything else as well.
  • Hide away: find a place where you won’t be disturbed and stay there until you’ve got some words down.
  • Stick at it for 20 minutes: the first 20 minutes of writing will be rambling and incoherent for most writers but work through it – the sensible stuff will come.

So, what are you waiting for? Stop procrastinating and start penning.

Just remember to be kind to yourself, give yourself the space and time to write, and be clear what you want to say. The rest will follow.

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