Jamie Ford’s second novel, Songs of Willow Frost, comes out in paperback this month and is the follow up to his international bestseller, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, one of the US World Book Night Titles this year. Here are his top tips, "in no particular order":
1. Avoid being wedded to one idea. Seriously, move on. Step away from that 300,000-word epic fantasy you began in the 8th grade. It’ll still be there. It’s time to write something else. Good writers will always find more words, an inexhaustible supply. Don’t become so invested in that first story, that first character, that first…whatever, that you keep revising and editing until it’s this Frankenstein-like mass of scar tissue, while neglecting your next idea.
2. If you want to make a living writing fiction, then write novels. Sadly, the market for short fiction is theoretical these days – so don’t waste years of your life trying to pad your literary curriculum vitae with short fiction before jumping into longer forms. If you enjoy writing short fiction (as I do), there’s nothing wrong with spinning that yarn, but don’t hold up your career waiting on rejections from literary journals that pay you in contributor’s copies.
3. Read terrible books and dissect what makes them so awful, and then you’ll be able to see those same mistakes in your own writing. Don’t read Michael Chabon while you write. That’s like reading Vogue while trying to diet – it’ll only make you feel fat and ugly.
4. As the author Pat Conroy often says, “The greatest gift a writer can ever receive is an unhappy childhood.” Having a deep well of life experiences to draw from is invaluable. The Internet allows us to learn about everything, but experience nothing. Unplug. Go outside. Feel something.
5. And lastly, allow a healthy margin for self-improvement. You wouldn’t sit down at the piano for the first time and try to play Mozart, would you? Of course not, you’d sit down and plink away and work your way up. But so many aspiring authors sit down at the keyboard and try to write their magnum opus – they try to write an epic seven-book series, with twenty point-of-view characters, and when it doesn’t turn out well they think, “I guess I’m not a writer.” It doesn’t work that way. Start small. Write a short story with a single POV. Then kick the training wheels off when you’re ready.