Reluctant Advice for Keen Young Writers

I’ve recently had a number of emails from young writers asking for advice on how to improve their writing. They seem to think that because I write books, and some of them have been successful, I can explain how to write a successful book. If only it were that easy. The truth is, I can’t tell you why one book is popular and another isn’t. There isn’t a formula to learn like in maths or physics.

I am not an expert on writing. I am just a writer. I don’t feel comfortable giving advice about something that I am still learning. But since people have asked, I will have a go.

Firstly, I have already written some stuff in my FAQs, but no one seems to read that!

The way to improve your writing is to write. Write, write, write and then write some more. Practice is what makes you a better writer. If you wanted to be an Olympic gymnast or an AFL footballer, you wouldn’t expect to walk out onto the mat/football field and be an expert immediately. You know you would have to train for years. It’s the same with writing. A few writers have great success with their first novel, but more than likely they have spent a long time writing and rewriting it, perhaps writing other unpublished things first.

I started off writing short stories. That worked for me. It gave me practice at writing. I tried different types of stories. I tried to get them published, to see which ones people liked. Then after a couple of years, I tried writing a novel. It took me two years. It was terrible. It was never published (thank goodness!). I kept writing all kinds of things—TV scripts, newspaper articles, brochures, more short stories. It was all good practice. It was eight years before my first book was published.

The other question I get asked is “How do I make my story longer?” The short answer is, you can’t. A story is as long as it takes to tell. That may be six paragraphs or 600 pages. If you try and stretch a story, it just gets boring. If you want to write a longer story, my advice would be to spend some time plotting it before you start. I don’t start writing until I have a beginning, middle and end to a story. Then I write a synopsis of about three pages. It might take me two months to come up with those three pages. Then I start to write the novel. That will take me about a year, and that’s writing every day. Sometimes it’s hard. Sometimes I feel like I can’t do it.

I know J K Rowling and Christopher Paulini became millionaires with their first books. But that isn’t what usually happens. Writing isn’t a way to earn a quick million. And this is my last and most important piece of advice—Only write if you love writing. If you haven’t got the patience to write lots, then writing probably isn’t for you. You have to do it because you love it, not because you want to be rich and famous. You have to be prepared for the hard slog.

I have some more advice here on how to improve your writing. Also here. There are links to other authors’ advice as well. You might also want to read this.

I hope I haven’t made writing sound too hard. There are times when it’s wonderful—you get a great idea, or write a terrific paragraph, or think of a fabulous turning point, or someone tells you how much they enjoyed reading your work. Then it’s the best thing in the world.

Good luck to all the writers out there. Keep at it.

22 responses to “Reluctant Advice for Keen Young Writers

  1. hi carole,
    havent been on your website for quite a while, YAY tomorrow’s anzac day, a holiday, well PLC isnt that bad and no projects yet. that’s a lot of good advice if you ask me and i agree with basically all of it, no writing isn’t about becoming rich and famous, to me (since i want to become and author) it’s a way of expressing yourself and sharing your thoughts with others and also being able to just do what you can. My english teacher thinks that i have a good touch with writing and that things i put in it are more than my age group, so i’m happy with that, guess that’s all, happy writing!
    p.s sorry for the LOOOOOOOOOOOONNNNNNNNNNNNGGGGGG message, guess i wrote way too much now that i think about it.

  2. Hi Carole,

    My name is Brynneand i am in year 8. At school I have to do an author study on an Australian author and i chose you! I have read all the information in “About” and i found it very interesting, Thanks. I was just wondering if there is any additional information you can tell me. If you can could you try to send it to me by my email address. if this is not possible it would still be great if you could answer on the site.

    Thanks a million,

  3. Hi carole,

    My name is Jayne, I’m in yr 6.
    I love reading your interesting books!! Especially your Ramose series. It’s very historical, brilliant and interesting!! At school we did a spoken review to recommend your favourite authoR….I SAID CAROLE WILKINSON!!

    When I grow upp I want to become an author….you inspired me to keep on writing…No matter how hard it is!!

    Thanks Lotttsss for letting children’s imaginations runnn wild!!

    From Jayne

  4. Brynne,
    Thanks for choosing me for your author project. And well done for finding the info on my website. I am happy to answer any other questions you have, but “Do you have any more information?” is too general. You’ll have to give me some idea of what information you are interested in.

  5. Sarah,
    I always have a plan, just the main points of the story. There is still plenty of room for me to think up new bits as I go, though.

  6. i sometimes do, is it a good thing if you change practically everything in your second and third drafts? my friends sort of find it confusing

  7. Sarah,
    You only change what needs to be changed to make the story better. If you have to change practically everything, I think it might mean that you haven’t planned the story enough.
    I’m not sure what your friends have to do with it. Do they read your drafts?

  8. yep, 2 of them do, i thnk i did change stuff too much, i even change names of my main characters to suit my current favourites,that’s why it’s so confusing.

  9. Sarah,
    You’re very lucky to have friends who will read your drafts. Perhaps you are giving them the drafts too early, if you haven’t got the characters’ names worked out. That’s making it hard on your friends.

  10. hi
    i love drogon keeper books they are awsome when might u write some more drogon books
    from alaska

  11. hi carol, you are a great and brilliant author. i love all of your dragon keeper books and i cant stop thinking about it. please can i ask you to continue this fabulous series. please contact me back if you are going to. thank you.

    p.s best books in the world

  12. cassandra,
    Thanks for your kind words.
    I’m afraid I have no plans to continue the series. The story is finished as far as I am concerned.

  13. wow, i think that i tend to change my novel a lot on the computer but i often get the writer’s block when writing by hand. i don’t bother with writing down the plot though, i just change it too fast!

  14. hi, my name is ella and im in year 9, i really don’t quite understand how you have time to post blogs and comment back to people, with writing in between and other normal things. you really are amazing!Thank you for providing a source of enjoyment and interest with your books Carole.


  15. Ella,
    thanks for that. It does take time, but I do enjoy keeping in touch with people who read my books. I usually answer blog comment, emails and letters twice a week, rather than when they arrive. That seems to keep it under control.

  16. Hey!

    Love your books…

    Great website, nice to know how other authors go about writing…

    I my self am working on a book right now. It’s always been my dream to write a novel but I have never gotten farther than two pages. Recently, however, the book I’m writing is up to 64 pages–out of my dream 200–, written out! (knock on wood). Writing books on paper, instead of typing, takes more time, so i can really understand what i am writing. Like Travis said, the ideas just flow more than if im writing. In fact, i take my book to school and during lunch, i write in it. A few of the kids, after me being vague (so i won’t spoil it) and them reading snidbits over my shoulder, think im copying off another book completely errevelent to the plot of mine. Maybe it’s because i am thinking on calling it Heart Song, even though it is not a romantic book. I am typing out the first 25 pages, and find that i am changing most of it, and i’m spending a lot of time in this, but i don’t think they will read it…

    Your writting blogs are a big help to me. I knew that writting books where a lot of work, and i knew the best way for me to write one (after years of trying), but i wasn’t sure how to get one published and how that works. I still have a few questions, like how to get in contact with the publishing peps, and what might be the publishing company that will take the fantasy-fiction work of a 13 year old, but all in all, i found out alot of good information, and in fact, i might try the planing a different way. I’m jotting down notes and I got what i want in my head, but it’s a problem to fill in the parts imbetween. Im trying real hard though, and writing a page every day.

    I also randomly think of ideas, short little paragraphs, [one inspired my idea of my book, (“she howled and howled but still the pain would not go away”)] and i thought of writing them all down and later publishing them if i could, to help kids like me who always wanted to write a book, but never could come up with the right idea. How does that sound?

    Sorry for the long blog, it just feels nice to get this off my shoulders and have someone at least half-way know what im talking about.

    And thanks for taking time off your busy schedual to check your blogs.

    aka: Moon

  17. Liz,
    Have you read my FAQs? I have written something there about how to find a publisher etc.
    Best of luck with your writing.

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