How I Got A Literary Agent

UntitledHow I Got A Literary Agent
(The Easy Way)

“Hell hath no fury like a hustler with a literary agent.”

Frank Sinatra

Whenever I talk to aspiring writers about craft or technique or anything related to the nuts and bolts of fiction, they invariably brush it aside and say, “Yeah I know all that, but how did you get your agent?” That’s all they care about. They ask the question as if they expect me to present them with a secret formula, or a cheat code they can tap into an ancient Sega Mega Drive controller or something. If I mention discipline, hard work, writing every day, the fundamentals of success, they wave that away like: “Yeah yeah, I get all that. But how did you get your agent specifically?” Everything else is just noise.

To many aspiring writers, penning the novel is the easy part. Even before they’ve attempted it, they think it’s as simple as putting words down on a page, just like painting The Sistine Chapel was as simple as throwing paint at a ceiling. They think catching the attention of an agent is the difficult part. But the real struggle is writing something marketable. And if you’ve laid the foundation by working hard, perfecting your craft, and producing a quality manuscript, everything that comes after is a lot easier.

So for those who care, this is the very straightforward story of how I managed to capture the eye of an agent*.

(*Not her actual eye; I didn’t kidnap her eyeball and hold it hostage, although kidnapping an agent’s eyeball might get you signed quicker. I don’t know. Try it and get back to me).

“Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.”

Winston Churchill

Around the age of eighteen or nineteen I sent a completed novel off to a literary agency and was brutally rejected (Read More About That Here). After that, I didn’t approach an agent for at least another five or six years. I decided I wouldn’t embarrass myself like that again. I’d only send something off if I could be certain my work was of a high standard. Years of preening and rewriting and restructuring later, convinced I had something worth selling, I once more began to toy with the notion of a literary agent. It was time.

Unlike my first horrible (and unprofessional) attempt, I chose the smart route. With what little money I had in my bank I purchased The Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook. If you’ve never heard of this book, go and check it on Amazon. It’s essential to any aspiring authors. Aside from being packed with tips on breaking into the business, or how to finance and market self-published novels, and numerous other tidbits from professional authors, it’s also a manifesto of every credible agent in the UK and US. Not only does it list the agencies (and vets them too, so you won’t end up getting scammed), but it also offers additional information such as their address (in case you wish to stalk any of them to work), their phone number (in case you want to cold-call them and sell them insurance), and most importantly it explicitly states the type of work they represent, and the form in which they’d like to receive that work.

This is tres important.

I’m sure a few egoists among you might think it’s cool to send a Science Fiction novel to someone who clearly states they only deal with Romance Fiction, in some blind pig-headed notion that your novel is so good it’ll make the man rethink his entire career. “What have I been doing all my life? By jove! Romance fiction? Poppycock! This Sci-Fi novel is so good I think I’ll become an agent of those instead.” Just don’t do it. Read the market, pick one that represents your work, and send it to them only.

In the Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook, it usually states whether they want a full manuscript, or a query letter first, or three chapters, or whatever.

I approached my own submission like it was a complex equation: I spent about three hours circling every agent that dealt with crime fiction, then I wrote their names, addresses and relevant information into a Word folder. I don’t know why. If anything, I think I was stalling. Pretending like I was doing all this work by cross-sectioning people.

I then rewrote the first three chapters of my novel for the 20th time.

Once I was finally ready to send my work off, I chose (probably due to laziness more than anything) all the agents who accepted email submissions, and picked out three.

Then, for whatever reason, I narrowed it down to two.

Always bear in mind that your own resolution to succeed is more important than any other.” Abraham Lincoln

Before sending my work off, I decided to piss my money down the drain by getting Scribendi, a professional author service website, to write me a synopsis, chapter breakdown, character profile, and query letter as part of my package. I’d convinced myself (due to insecurity) that, even though I could manage to write a 500-page novel, I couldn’t quite grasp the complex intricacies of a simple query letter.

It was ridiculous, but I must have spent about four hundred pound on this needless package. There are plenty of templates on the Internet. A five-minute search will yield one worth using. You can also read my blog about writing a query letter for some more advice.

Anyway, an agent might silently judge you on a terrible query letter, but if it’s short and does the job, they’ll give your novel a try, which is all that matters. No one really cares about anything else. The synopsis might be tricky to write, but you have to work on that too. If you can write the novel, you can create an interesting synopsis.

Follow the process and you’ll already be ahead of the majority.

“The starting point of all achievement is desire.”Napoleon Hill

With the package completed, I sent off my two emails. The first to respond was an agent whose name I can’t recall. I remember him being old and pedantic. He replied with a lot of positive comments about my novel (a crime-detective book called Cutthroat City, part of a proposed series of six). He also suggested he’d be open to representing me if I could make some changes to the book. His changes weren’t plot-based and he didn’t ask to see any more of my novel; his suggestions were picky syntax-related ideas. “Change ravaged to savaged”, and small shit like that. Something about his style of communication seemed unprofessional, and after a quick search of his background I came to realise that he wasn’t the right agent for me. I could imagine him micromanaging every line of my work like an overeager failed writer-editor who lives his dream vicariously through his clients by endlessly tinkering with their every paragraph. Editorial input is one thing; manipulating my writing for his own needs is something wholly different.

The second one to reply (yay, a two out of two return rate) was Eve White, who eventually became my agent. Her first email was something generic along the lines of “We liked your initial three chapters, could you send the entire manuscript by post?” along with details for me to follow. As requested I printed off the novel and sent it to Eve. Within a week or so she called me up and we had a brief chat. She told me she loved the novel, although in places it could use some work and she could detect a little naïveté in my writing, which, looking back, was a fair comment. At the time I was only 24 (I’m 30 now), but I figured I knew everything. I’ve since learned I know nothing. Either way, I was ecstatic. An agent had validated my writing. I felt like I officially wasn’t a fraud.

However, she didn’t feel comfortable representing a UK author with an American novel as she couldn’t verify whether my fictional American town came across as authentic or not. She politely asked if I could rewrite the book to set it in England. At the time I was resolute: no way, I could never do that, impossible. Nowadays I might approach it differently. After ripping through and rewriting a couple of my novels, I realise how needlessly precious I used to be over my work. In any case, I said no but told her I’d recently completed a novel set in the UK and would she like to see it? She said she would but there was no rush. She didn’t want me sending in half-finished work.

So I moved on to the next step.

“Always be yourself, express yourself, have faith in yourself, do not go out and look for a successful personality and duplicate it.”Bruce Lee

I rewrote the shit out of my UK novel (a crime drama called City of Blades) and once again wasted £300+ on a submission package. I sent the first three chapters, and off the back of those chapters, Eve called me into her office for an interview.

From the 60 pages she’d read (including the previous novel of mine she’d read), she was certain I had something. We spoke for an hour or two, exchanging life stories, checking my writing background, finding out my influences, the usual shit. We got along great. At the end she offered me a contract with her agency. Without hesitation I said yes, but Eve told me to take the contract, get a lawyer to check it over if I wanted to, sign up to The Society of Authors, and a number of other things just to make sure everything was above board, and then if I still wanted to sign with her, we could go ahead with it. So I went home, pretended to do everything she asked, then told her I was ready to join her agency.

A week or so later I received a gold-laminated contract in the post. I still have it and one day I might frame it and put it on the wall — my first professional agency contract; validation from a top literary agent that I had talent. My writing wasn’t dog shit. Or, if it was, at least it was saleable dog shit. Or potentially saleable. Whatever.

I signed that contract one week before my 25th birthday.

It was one of the best presents I’ve ever received.

“Success is nothing more than a few simple disciplines, practiced every day.”Jim Rohn

Anyway, that’s how I got my agent. Nothing special, no tricks, no manipulations, and no cutting corners.

Although, having said all that, it doesn’t work that way for everybody. Some people might go through 100 agents before one picks them up. A good friend of mine, Rob Boffard, went through about 10+ agents and multiple rewrites of his novel before three came to him all at once and he had the choice to pick who he wanted. And now he’s got a three-book deal with Orbit. His novel, Tracer, a riveting Sci-Fi, was released in July of this year. I’ve already read it, and I highly recommend it. You can order it from here.

My point is, if you want an agent: discipline, hard work, but most importantly perseverance is what will get you there. Unless you’re a trash writer.

But even then . . .

Dan Brown, ahem.


On a related note: I’m no longer with that agent for reasons I’ll explain in a future article. But the experience is one I’ll never forget and don’t regret going through.

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Drawing From Real Life

10-movies-you-wish-weren-t-based-on-a-true-story-521397Drawing From Real Life
(For Inspiration) 

“Fiction is the truth inside the lie.

Stephen King

When I was sixteen I had a massive crush on Jennifer Love Hewitt. My hormones were raging out of control at this stage but amongst all of my lurid and depraved sexual fantasies, one thing stood out: I wanted to marry this woman. The majority of my time was spent daydreaming about how I could make this happen. One of my solutions was that I’d write a bestselling novel, move to America as a famous writer, and then seduce her. The idea was stupid, but I was young, still a virgin, and I lived in a fantasy world. Within weeks I began trying to write reality. I titled the book Jenny Love — and the story was about a charming teenager who writes a bestselling novel in England and then moves to LA to hunt down a famous actress who he’s obsessed with (I wonder who that could be?). I figured if I wrote the book, life would imitate art. Headline: Bestselling author snags Hollywood star.

At some point during the writing experience I stopped liking her. I can’t remember why. I think I heard that she cheated on her boyfriend or something and because I was a puritanical self-righteous know-it-all teenager I crossed her off my wedding list. Then I changed her character in the book so that the main guy would find out he hates her halfway through and fall in love with his friend Lucy Lockett instead. The book was absolute trash, but the point is I drew from real life and turned fantasies into a reality. I didn’t know anything about LA (other than what I’d seen on the TV), and I didn’t know too much about Jennifer Love Hewitt, either, but I created a story from that seed.

I wrote what I knew, even though I actually knew nothing . . .

“The only source of knowledge is experience.”Albert Einstein

Write what you know is one of the oldest writing rules, and it’s regularly misinterpreted. Most people, unless they’re particularly adventurous, don’t know that much. Our points of reference are small. We glean masses of information from TV and movies and books, but technically we don’t know a whole hell of a lot. If I were to only write what I know in the most explicit and literal sense, I’d write a book about masturbating and eating cheesy-pasta (not necessarily at the same time).

Writing what you know is more about drawing from your experiences to create your own world. For instance, I’ve never bungee jumped (I’d rather break my own legs with a hammer), so I don’t know how it feels to leap off a cliff into oblivion. However, I have fallen off a high wall before and I’ve been on a roller coaster which seemed to be heading for impending doom, and I’ve slipped off the top of a fence (which led to one of my fingers being severed) and I’ve experienced numerous mini death-defying moments in my life. Those are moments that I know, and I can use those to write a convincing bungee jumping scene. Fear is a universal feeling and we’ve all been attacked by it at one point in our lives (unless you’re a psychopath). If your character is in a situation loaded with fear, you don’t need to know what it feels like to be at the wrong end of a gun or blade. You can simply imagine a moment in your life when you were terrified and transfer those feelings, adapting them to the scenario at hand. It’s as simple as that.

And that can go for anything. If you’re writing a portrait of a heroin addict and want to understand about addiction, you don’t need to shoot up for two years and then attempt to quit — that wouldn’t be useful for anyone. But what you can do, alongside researching the relevant data online, is once again draw from your own well. We’re all addicted to things in small ways. For the most part we’re creatures of routine. Give up something for a month and see how it feels. Maybe you’re used to drinking coffee every morning before work. Cut that out and see how you react. Are you more agitated at work? Does something feel like it’s missing? Does it get harder as the weeks go by?

Talk to your friends too. Have they tried to give up smoking before? How did it feel? How did it affect them? The more data you collate, the wider your point of reference when you finally construct that character. And even though at no point have you had a heroin needle stuck in your arm, your account of it will most likely come across as authentic. You’ve taken feelings of addiction and blown them up in proportion to go alongside what you already know about the crippling power of heroin addiction.

But it doesn’t stop there.

“Experience is the teacher of all things.”Julius Caesar

Delving into what you know can help with story creation too. Let’s say we break it down to the fundamentals — what do you know? For instance, if you’re a plumber, you know how to fix pipes, unclog sinks, whatever. By itself that isn’t very interesting. What else do you know? Have you ever had a noisy or irritating neighbour? Okay, so let’s throw that in there. You’re a plumber working long hours with a noisy neighbour. Have you got children? Have you ever experienced the sleepless nights that comes hand in hand with a newborn? Okay, now add that in. You’re a hardworking plumber with a newborn baby who can’t sleep because of the noisy neighbour. It’s enough to make a man mad. So let’s say, after numerous letters and calls and friendly talks with the neighbour, this man (or woman) refuses to keep it quiet upstairs. Here’s where you can fuse what you know with the story world. This is where you begin to create a reality.

Your protagonist, the gentle sleep-deprived plumber, decides to break into the neighbour’s house and mess with the pipes in revenge. Now, you wouldn’t necessarily do something like that in real life, but if you build the tension enough you can make it believable that this guy has finally snapped. Then, once you’ve found a way to get your plumber in the house (it doesn’t have to be anything groundbreaking; a spare key, a loose window, whatever), you can now once again refer to what you know.

As a plumber you most likely know how to toy with someone’s pipes and sabotage their plumbing system. Have your character do it. Maybe he feels guilty doing it; maybe he feels nothing but glee, glad to give the neighbour payback. That’s for you to choose. After that, you can go in any direction. He’s ruined the plumbing. Now what?

In a short story, you can leave it with a twist: the water floods through the ceiling and the plumber realises he’s made things worse for himself. He notes the grim irony: dealing with his baby’s nappies whilst shit drips through the ceiling from the overflowing toilet upstairs. Or perhaps you want your plumber to have a win: the neighbour offers an apology, and asks if the plumber could take a look at his (or her) pipes, unaware he’d sabotaged them in the first place. They end up on good terms and the neighbour agrees to keep the noise down in the future. Or maybe you want to go dark with it: the neighbour slips on the water of a busted pipe and cracks his skull open. The plumber is regretful, but also happy to finally get a good night’s sleep. He snuggles up to his wife and baby.

It doesn’t matter. Choose whatever ending works for your story.

The point is: you can write or create almost anything from what you know. The above probably wouldn’t win any awards for story of the year, but it’s a simple template for writing something short from your own experience. It has all the elements needed: a sympathetic main character, a desire/need (silence: so he can get a night’s sleep with his family), and a bad guy. On top of that, you’ve fused your own experiences to give the story authenticity. You can do this for anything. If you want to think broader, in novel terms, just do the same — draw from your own experiences and create something that’s both true and false. Every good piece of fiction has a truth at its core. It needs to feel real, even if we know it isn’t; even if most plumbers wouldn’t go to the lengths of sabotaging someone’s pipes for a night of sleep, it works in fiction. The audience suspend their disbelief.

So write what you know if you have to — but make it interesting.

“Nothing is a waste of time if you use the experience wisely.”Auguste Rodin

If you’re not sure how to apply the above to a novel, you do exactly the same but bigger and larger. A novel needs subplots, more depth, more layers, a story big enough that can grow over many pages. But that doesn’t mean you can’t draw from your own experience for every scene, conflict, and twisted scenario. Maybe you want to write a murder mystery from the point of view of a Private Eye but know nothing about private detectives. So? Learn a little and make up the rest. If you want, fuse your plumbing experience into it.

Maybe a plumber finds blood and hair in someone’s pipes and takes it to the private detective. Plausible? Possibly, although not likely. But you can think of something. After that, as the private detective investigates, he’ll be talking to people, asking questions, meeting a crazy cast of characters. You’ve most likely met a few cuckoo people in your time — now’s the time to pick your memory. You’ve also had people lie to you (and you’ve known they were lying; sometimes from a gut feeling, other times because they’re shifty or contradictory when they talk), so you can put that into your scenes. Your private eye thinks one of the witnesses is lying, and he’s determined to find out. The possibilities are endless. Take something small and blow it up. Make things bigger and better than real life. Just make sure they retain a truth to it.

And if you can do that, you’ll be fine. Write what you know, sure. But fuse it with what you don’t know. It’ll be more fun that way. And much more interesting to read.

Now get back to work. Those pipes won’t fix themselves.

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Will Video Game Films Ever Surpass Superhero Movies?

This week’s guest blog is about video game film adaptations by Christopher Aguiar.

You can check his previous blog here: The Fear of Subtitles.

megaWill Video Game Films 
Ever Surpass Superhero Movies?
by Christopher Aguiar

Ever since comic book and superhero movies became near-guaranteed box office monsters, other attempts throughout the film industry have been made to tackle this emergence — reboots of famous franchises that play on nostalgia (Jurassic Park, Terminator, Die Hard, etc.) being one of the main forces. Yet there is one sector that struggles to get its feet off the ground, and has yet to create a widely accepted great film: the video game scene.

We’ve sat through the idiocies of Resident Evil, the mindless and inconsequential action of every single Hitman film, as well as the exposition-heavy Silent Hill, so it’s understandable when game-to-film transitions are met with a groan. But the saddening thing is that these franchises are utilised to garner easy money from hardcore fans of the games — those who, whether they love or hate it, will pay to watch. Therefore, it’s difficult to convince studios to get on board with releasing a story-heavy film that challenges the audience — even though that is what they necessitate.

Hitman is a video game series that is almost episodic, has no conclusion, and rarely focuses on its story — the beauty of the game is its stealth, and this stems from interactivity. So why did it get adapted to the big screen? If anything, the episodic structure should mean it naturally besets itself in the TV realm.

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It is regular to see, or hear, misconceptions about how video games are just mindless fun and lack story depth. Yet one glance into what has been produced in the last decade alone tells you otherwise. The storylines are far more intricate than they’ve ever been, and game developers are no longer just creating immersive worlds with cardboard cutouts; they’re now populating these vast landscapes with fully formed characters. This added realism challenges the gamer in a far more interesting way than eating dots with Pac-Man. Video games have evolved into the beating heart of new-generation storytelling. So why should they be omitted from the big screen — or, rather, why do studios opt for the decrepit toy over the shiny one?

Recently, Michael Fassbender was cast in the upcoming Assassin’s Creed film as Callum Lynch (a character created solely for the big screen). This could be the catalyst for video game adaptations to finally hit that high note. As a game franchise, Assassin’s Creed often does a great job of embroiling drama and action within a historical time period (Italian Renaissance, The Third Crusade, The American Revolution, etc.), and this means that the film is forced to adhere to the same structure — thus, the first Assassin’s Creed film will be set in 15th century Spain.

Having an Oscar nominee spearheading the project is a huge indicator that the film’s material is strong. Perhaps the most positive aspect is that Assassin’s Creed rarely stays within one confined genre; it dabbles in action, drama, sci-fi, and the stealthy gameplay often gives it elements of a thriller. Ultimately, this forces the studio to study the source material heavily and deliver a strong and coherent story above everything else.

Furthermore, director Justin Kurzel’s rendition of Macbeth, with the aforementioned actor, shows he’s no stranger to adaptations. There is a lot to be positive about with this upcoming film, and if it succeeds in becoming the first great video game film, then we can expect to see an influx of excellent and diverse stories catapult above the mundane and repetitive.


With the hype of The Walking Dead still knocking around, there have been various attempts at an “emotional” zombie-infestation film. Maggie was the recent trial, but it paraded poor writing and too much ham acting to really hit a tone with the majority of people. One video game that perfectly encapsulated heartfelt, zombie-apocalypse drama was The Last of Us.

The film version is still in its casting process, and it recently picked up Game of Thrones starlet Maisie Williams to play the role of Ellie: a teenage girl immune to the infection, who sparks up a faux paternal relationship with Joel — a man grieving the death of his daughter. Despite feeling like a burden toward one another, the two become caring, and, what sets out to be a journey from Point A to B (using Ellie to find a cure to the world’s infection), ends up being one that teeters in the middle as Joel becomes protective over her safety. It’s a truly heartbreaking game with phenomenal world creation, character development, and a satisfying ending. This is a perfect project to stand out as a top tier video game adaptation, as well as an interesting zombie flick. The game garnered huge financial success and reaped in countless awards — there is little risk attached to studios going all out in launching this film to the very best of their abilities.


And even though the films above sound like they could be great, why have their predecessors been so unimpressive to say the least? Well, there is an obsession with money over quality in the upper echelons of the film industry, and unfortunately, video game adaptations tend to be helmed by said echelons due to their high budget demand in bringing their world to life. Secondly, most video game adaptations tend to be released during the summer Blockbuster period, which forces them to mindlessly entertain rather than challenge audiences. This is counterproductive because it forces studios to opt for the turgid and one-dimensional video games. Luckily, Assassin’s Creed seems set to break the mould with a December 2016 release. The issues that constantly appear in these adaptations could be eradicated once one film defies all the odds and succeeds.

The superhero franchise was often toyed around with, but never reached the consistent heights that Marvel and DC are currently producing. There were abominations like Batman & Robin that almost killed an entire franchise. And while there were some hits here and there, it was only until Batman Begins (2005) and Iron Man (2008) that superhero films became a respectable sector of film. All it takes is one big hit for a snowball effect to kick in. Since the first Iron Man — which was fantastic — we have had superior films such as Avengers: Assemble, Captain America: The Winter Soldier and so on. Now, almost every superhero film is a grand hard-hitter with its budget and subsequent box office return.

Video game adaptations will be the next in line, and far less one-dimensional than the usual “oh, look, it’s a superhero saving the world again!” scenario.



Chris Aguiar is an amateur screenwriter (still learning the ropes) and incredibly passionate about film and TV. He identifies with Latin-American cinema and ranks The Matrix as his all-time favourite film (he is prepared to fight anybody — dead or alive — that questions this).

Find more of his work here: RCDAguiar and follow him on Twitter here: RCD.

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Never Stop Learning

character sitting on the top of book's heapNever Stop Learning
(You Don’t Know Everything)

“The fool doth think he is wise,

but the wise man knows himself to be a fool.”

William Shakespeare

A lot of writers — both professional and amateur alike — fall into the trap of thinking they know enough. They’ve read numerous books about writing, or they’ve attended multiple seminars, or they’ve written fifteen bestsellers, and so they give up searching for any more education on the subject. They think they know it all.

But, the thing is, they rarely do. Writing is a lifelong apprenticeship — we will never complete it. Lawrence Block once said he learned more from teaching writing, than he ever did at his keyboard. He learned by being open to new ideas; by allowing his ego to step aside and admit to himself he might not know everything, and these students might be able to teach him something new.

Many seasoned authors think that an admission of ignorance about the craft is the same as saying they know nothing, or that they’re a hack. They feel the need to portray this image of an all-knowing omniscient writer-god to those around them. The true greats, however, know that to stay on your throne, you need to keep a constant vigil. Be aware of everything around you: never get comfortable. Never sleep on your craft.

Because someone, somewhere, is waiting for you to slip up so they can take your crown.

“Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.” 

Mahatma Gandhi

They say you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, which may be true: but if that dog never quits learning, never curbs his education, he’ll never have to break his bad habits. If you make sure you’re always experimenting and soaking in advice, you’ll be fixing and adapting and growing as a writer as you go along. You’ll be an ever-evolving unpredictable writing machine.

If you aim for perfection, you’ll eventually shake hands with her. You’ll never quite grasp her — perfection is slippery — but you’ll come close.

“Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.”

Benjamin Franklin

One of the arguments some writers put forth is that they don’t need to learn any more. They’ve sold a novel, their writing is widely praised, or they know they’re competent, or whatever, and they feel that taking in even more advice can only hinder their progress. It will ruin their good work, cause them to over-think and change their style. That’s a legitimate worry. There are those who take learning too far: they change their approach and end up writing something so intricate and perfect on every level that it lacks heart. Their sentences become too refined; their stories too contrived. Everything about their work is robotic and lacks passion. That’s a risk for people who take advice literally. You need to know which parts to absorb, and which to say no to. Not every snatch of writer advice will apply to you or your situation.

A perfect example of this from the rap world is Eminem. In the past, at the height of his fame and success, he wrote intricate rhymes that were somehow both simplistic and complex: rhyme patterns that twisted and turned; he constructed sentences that had rhymes spiralling within rhymes, and yet they were also accessible to the average listener. They could rap along to him and feel as if they were part of his music. Now, however, his style has advanced to such a degree of intricacy that his music has lost its flavour. It’s not easy to connect with his songs anymore. The average listener can’t understand him, let alone rhyme along with his words. He took his learning too far. He adapted and changed in order to prove he was the best rapper on the planet: by doing this, he alienated what made him so good — his ability to write rhymes fans could relate to and vibe with.

Some writers are like that: they’ll refine their craft to a point that it comes across as inauthentic. They’re trying too hard. They’ve lost sight of the bigger picture. Every adverb, verb, adjective, is so thoughtfully and wonderfully placed that the words have lost all meaning. The pages feel lifeless; the characters are manicured to an extreme.

Don’t fall into this trap. You can learn without wiping what you already know. This is an insecurity thing. You need to realise and understand your strengths — with every piece of advice you read or hear, take it into consideration alongside what you already know. If it seems like it will aid your writing, or make it stronger, or more complex, then experiment and see how it goes. If, however, it seems ridiculous or goes against how you write, then discard it. Don’t ruin who you are to please someone else.

Remember: your style is what makes you unique. Don’t lose that.

“Education is what remains after one has forgotten what one has learned in school.”

Albert Einstein

For those who think a writing education is a waste of time, what are your reasons? Write them down and analyse them. Do they seem reasonable? Or are you just being arrogant? Footballers practice almost every day of the week. Do you think Ronaldo or Messi don’t know how to kick a ball by now? You think Ronaldo needs a manager to tell him what angle to aim from when he shoots? Or what runs to make? Or when he should sit back? Surely the best player on the planet would know all of that by now? But even so, he practices every day — he stays behind for shooting practice. He goes to the gym. He harnesses his skill and hones it. And that’s why he’s one of the best.

Plenty of writers reach a level of competency and then arrogantly shrug off further education. Which is how many authors end up running into a brick wall during their career. Their sales flag, their books repeat old patterns, they lose their spark, and they have no idea how to get it back.

Only once they’re forced to, once they’ve crashed and burned, do they consider going back to the drawing board — but by that time, it’s too late. They’re old news.

“There is no end to education. It is not that you read a book, pass an examination, and finish with education. The whole of life, from the moment you are born to the moment you die, is a process of learning.” — Jiddu Krishnamurti

How can you learn? What should you do?

Firstly, read a shitload of writing manuals. Some will be informative, some will be smart, and others will be brainless and harmful if you take their advice on board. Those written by established authors are the best to start with — who knows better than the pros? — but even they tend to have advice that could be counterproductive to your writing career. Just because it works for them, doesn’t mean it works for you. Make sure you remember that. You don’t want to emulate or copy their rhythms. Just learn about them. That way you can pick and choose and accumulate a list of good ideas.

Many of the writing manuals offer similar advice: write what you know, show don’t tell, etc. It’s the stuff all of us know, and for the most part you won’t learn anything new reading these sections, although I’d suggest you go over them anyway. In some manuals they’ll approach these subjects from an angle you’ve never considered before, illuminating an otherwise dark corner. Further still, they may explain it in a way that unlocks something inside your creative brain. It might make you realise a mistake in one of your novels, or a way that can help with your future writing projects. Sometimes a small line from a writing book can trigger something and you’ll think: You’re right, I forgot about the motivation of my main character, and then you can fix it. 

Don’t think because you know that stuff, that you actually know it. Check with someone who has a master’s degree in English. Ask him what he knows four or five years on. If he hasn’t been practicing, the likelihood is that he doesn’t know much. Memory is constantly changing and recording over itself. Try to think back to school: can you remember everything you learned? Probably not. School was a long time ago.

And what you know today, you may very well forget tomorrow. So keep learning, keep soaking it in, and keep it at the forefront of your brain — simmering in hot water.

How can you forget something if you’re constantly reminding yourself?

“He who learns but does not think, is lost!

He who thinks but does not learn is in great danger.”


Read plenty of interviews with authors. You’ll find that in most of these interviews, they’re questioned about their writing habits and practices. Every now and then they’ll drop a gem of advice that changes the way you view your writing. Pick your favourite authors, go online, and binge on their interviews. Get inside their head, see what makes them tick. Learn how they write, what brought them to the stage they’re at. Do they write in the morning? The evening? Do they have a particular ritual? Read it and learn from it.

And read lots of novels, too. And when you’re reading them — analyse the writing. If you keep your analytical mind open, you’ll always be learning. If you close it off, your mind dulls. Even with practice, you can slip into bad habits. Picking apart another writer’s style can help to keep your mind sharp. Look at what works and question why it works. Look at what doesn’t and do the same.

The more flaws you find, the more you’ll stamp out in your own work.

And this works vice versa too: if your mind loses that sharp edge, if you begin to see all writing as flawless, you’ll view your own work in this way too, and that’s bad.

In order to write well, you must hate everything.

And then love it again.

Hate it, love it, pick it apart.

Reading’s like a puzzle: it’s no fun unless it’s smashed to pieces first.

For more on critical reading, click on this link: READING WITH A CRITICAL EYE

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