Writing Advice from Graeme Simsion

Writer of screenplays, short stories, novels and a couple of short plays, an occasional producer of films and formerly an IT specialist (data modeling), also founder of a business and IT consultancy, Graeme Simsion, the author of The Rosie Project, seems to be skilled in all the fields he is trying. He is therefore the right man to give us some writing tips.

1. Don’t take ‘write everyday’ as some sort of mantra that has to be given

There are two ways to write a novel, one is that you have a very detailed plan for that novel, or a quite detailed plan, and you write within that. The other is you just start somewhere and let it come out.

I belong to theory #1, and I believe that theory #2, ‘just keep writing,’ is taught to too many people. What I would say to you is if you’re writing and you say, “I’m the sort of person that just starts on Page 1 and just lets it flow,” I would say, “Is it working for you?” And if the answer is, “Well, I’m really struggling at the moment, I’ve been at this novel, this second novel for four years and getting nowhere,” I’d say, “Try the other way.” If it’s working for you, by all means. But, it is not a natural way to undertake any activity, and if it’s not working for you, then I would say try what I would consider a more conservative, conventional sort of approach.

2. Planning is as important as writing.

I’m a planner. I do sometimes dive in and write a bit without a plan, but then update the plan to reflect what I’ve done.

I spend a lot of time planning, then write very quickly. The Rosie Project took five years to plan (including writing many versions of the screenplay) but only a few weeks to write the first draft of the novel.

3. Use short stories to experiment and stretch yourself. Your manuscript can always be made better.

Be prepared to write and write and re-write. Write for publication and enjoy the success of having articles or short stories published. I do lots of drafts. Good writing is re-writing. I estimate I re-worked The Rosie Project end-to-end about seventy times as it progressed from dramatic screenplay to romantic comedy novel.

When I took delivery of The Rosie Project, I mean after the final edit, when we were all done and dusted, and the editor said, “No more, it’s done. Here it is for the weekend.” I incorporated all of her edits, I went, “Fine,” and dusted it. I went through the whole thing again after that, and then I picked it up and read the entire thing aloud to my partner, and still found.

4. Join a writers’ group and/or class.

Courses and writers groups provide the writer with theory, feedback, peer support and discipline. I’d advise any writer to get these things – even if by some other means. A couple of tips: if two people make the same criticism of your work, you’d better take notice! And force yourself (if you don’t have a teacher to do it for you) to write short stories outside your comfort zone – try something different: stretch yourself.

5. Give attention to structure as well as beautiful prose.

So why don’t people do outlines, or not do them seriously? It may be because they discount the importance of story. My screenwriting studies, if anything, over-emphasised story and structure at the expense of learning to write good scenes. But perhaps this was wise. Most students could write – and fix – scenes. The big picture, structure, was the challenge. Or maybe there’s a (to my mind snobbish) view that story is unimportant, that the reader will keep turning the page just to enjoy the beauty of the prose. Sure, but why not fit it into a story? Especially if you’d like the rude public to read it.

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