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How to write a masterpiece in social isolation

If you find yourself in isolation because of COVID-19, it could be the ideal time to write the novel you’ve always dreamed of creating – according to New York Times best-selling science fiction author and Flinders University creative writing lecturer, Dr Sean Williams.

Dr Williams from Flinders University offers these simple tips on How to Write a Bestseller (based on the 10.5 Commandments of Writing), noting that finding ample time to embark on such a big project doesn’t present itself very often.

“These are simple but powerful steps that every writer should take, and while they won’t guarantee success, they will certainly help you along your way to completing a novel,” says Dr Williams.

  1. You really want to do this. No amount of advice will work unless you do. Writing is hard and writing something that sells is even harder. You’ll go through ups and downs along the way. Wanting to complete this task will get you through the downs.

  2. It’s great that you want to be a writer, but have you read anything? Anything recent? Anything outside your comfort zone? All great works begin with understanding the form, and if you don’t have that, you’re in real trouble. You gain an artist’s understanding by reading widely and being a discerning reader.

  3. A lot of readers want to be writers (and some non-readers too; see above) and generally know what kind of story they’d like to write – so go ahead and do exactly that. If you write with passion about your subject, readers are more likely to respond positively. Write with cynicism or even disdain and readers won’t like it.

  4. Write what you love, but if you want it to sell, be aware of the commercial marketplace. It’s not about what’s selling in stores right now – that information will be old news by the time your manuscript lands on an editor’s desk – but it makes good sense to avoid genres that seem over-saturated. The rest is guesswork, although you should remember that writers don’t have just one book in them: they have many. The trick is to pick the right one for publication at the right time.

  5. Everything so far sounds pretty daunting, which is why you need a hefty dose of courage to keep going. Anyone can sit down and write, but your aim is to write a bestseller. Therefore, be brilliant. Be bold. Be brave.

  6. For some writers, the most bravery is required to emerge from your writing cave (metaphorically, if not literally) and meet people who already work in the publishing industry. This is how you learn what’s going in the market and obtain necessary encouragement. Reach out and engage with these people by asking them questions. Their enthusiasm and advice could help you get over the finishing line.

  7. When you find experienced people, listen to what they tell you. Even if their advice is harsh, be respectful of what they tell you. Act like a professional, even if you’re not one yet. Therefore, don’t lie, steal, cheat, grandstand or belittle in your work or your correspondence. You want people to remember you and your writing for the right reasons.

  8. If you make it this far through the checklist, it’s time to devote your energy to write and finish the book. There are a thousand different ways to achieve this, but you’ll only discover what works best for your by getting your hands onto the keyboard and start typing. Try a few different timetables and methods until you find something that works well for you, and then keep exploring ways to make that method even better. Most importantly, work hard. The more you write, the stronger your work becomes: that’s how you know you’re doing it right.

  9. Send your book out into the world. There’s no way of avoiding this confronting moment if you want it to sell. Yet again, you’re going to need to be brave.

  10. And finally – start writing the next book. We don’t know how long lockdown is going to last.

Dr Sean Williams’ book Impossible Music has been shortlisted for the Ethel Turner Award as part of the 2020 NSW Premier’s Literary Awards.  This prize is for a work of fiction, non-ficion or poetry written for young people of secondary school level. Dr Williams is a senior lecturer in creative writing at Flinders University.

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