Tips for writers & illustrators

I'm still discovering new techniques, new tips, & new processes, but I can share some random thoughts & tips I found useful, all arrived at through experience. 

Don’t compare your work to others (I still struggle with this!). Never think your work is not as great as theirs. Your work is unique. The last thing you want is to copy somebody’s style. You want to develop your own style. Your own voice.

Always carry a notebook or a sketchbook, or something that you can write down ideas or sketch interesting things you see without having to resort to using spaghetti sauce on paper napkins. It’s less messy, and less likely to be eaten by a hungry mouse/cockroach.

Write and draw your ideas! When you think of them! Because you’ll forget them otherwise. Trust me I know. I had a really good idea last night, but my bed was warm and comfy and my notebook so far away that I decided it could wait until morning. This morning, though, I only remembered I had had a good idea, not what the idea was, which wasn’t very useful. I think it may have involved a....nope. It's gone.

Your sketches don’t have to be neat! For a long time I thought that if my sketches weren’t neat they weren’t good. It's not true. My scribbly sketches help me to plan out compositions, what a picture book page might look like, where the text goes and where the light might shine from. The drawings I share in my Sketchbook gallery are more developed sketches. Most sketches start out like this one...

Practice! It’s like learning to read, or learning an instrument, or learning a language, or learning to play a new game. The more you do it the better you’ll get. There are some lucky people out there who are naturally talented, but you’ll find the rest of us work very hard to develop our skills, our sketches and our stories.

See?! Unless you're me you probably won't have a clue what's going on. But seriously, I refer back to sketches like these allll the time.

ps it's a layout for 4 pages of a picture book - in case you were still wondering.

Short sentences are easier to read.

Read your stories to your friends, show them your sketches or join a writing or drawing group. (We're friendly people I promise.) Such lovely people can give you feedback, can help you refine your work, and can also give advice, based on their experience. Otherwise, their are plenty of courses available through the NSW Writers Centre, the Australian Writers Centre, there are some courses run by publishing companies too. These can help develop your writing to a publishable standard and help you to network.

Longer sentences, with lots of clauses, can be confusing, especially ones that trundle on for several lines, or even a paragrah - see what I mean? 

Read books! Especially, read the types of books you want to write (if you already are that's great). It's a good way to see what is currently being published - and who is publishing it. You can find this information on that fine print page you normally skip over.

I hate to say it but the first draft of whatever you write - a short story, a novel, a picture book - is usually rubbish. You'll find a lot of writers say this! I know mine are. My first draft usually consists of me spitting out all my thoughts and ideas on the page. It's only through revising and editing that the narrative becomes tighter, and the plot is fully worked out. See the example below.

Beware of plot holes. Say you've got a character, Billy, eating peanut icecream on page 56 but on page 20 you'd stated Billy was allergic to peanuts and was lactose intolerant. Basically Billy's gonna die or you need to make that icecream peanut-less and dairy-free. And if Billy's your main character, it could be awkward if they died in the middle of your story - just saying. 

Writing and drawing become easier with practice. If you can, try to write and draw regularly. Every day is best, even if  you've only got 5 spare minutes. Believe me, it helps with conquering that scary blank page.

Never beat yourself up or devalue your work. If things aren't working it's best to have a break. Don't screw it up and chuck it in the bin, or delete the file. You'll probably regret it.

(ps. tantrums don't help either.)

Once you finish a creative work, whether a painting or a manuscript, put it aside. Don't look at it or read it for at least a week. Do something else. Then, when you come back you'll be able to read/look at it more objectively and see any bits that need fixing. Then you can send it out into the world to *hopefully* be published.

So you've worked up the courage and sent your manuscript/illustrations out in the world, only to have them rejected. It hurts. And it happens regularly. Be prepared for it. Rejection may have nothing to do with the quality of your work, it could be that the publisher already has a similar title, or your style doesn't fit their list. Just keep trying. It's all you can do! (It's interesting that most published writers say that getting published involves hard work and luck, luck that the right person saw your manuscript at the right time).

Are you ready to write? Or illustrate a story? Or write AND illustrate your story?

But suddenly, now that you've got out your pen and paper, all your ideas have run away? Well you're in luck because I've got some wacky story starters for you. Here goes:

  1. You have unexpectedly been transformed into an elephant. What do you do about it?

  2.  You stole something BIG. Now your mother wants to know how you came to possess said BIG thing. How do you explain away your new possession?

  3. Or look outside your window. What is happening on the street? Imagine somebody on the street has a secret. What is it? Why does it have to be a secret?

So you've read all this and you still want more?

Here are links to websites I like to go for information and for inspiration!

The Australian Writers' Centre has a free weekly podcast. They usually offer some good tips and interview a different author or publisher every week.

Shaun Tan's website has some great tips about writing and illustrating on his FAQ page. He posts new work on his blog. He is one of my favourite illustrators.

Quentin Blake's website also has some fantastic tips and videos about his drawing process.

Allen&Unwin have a webpage dedicated to tips for aspiring authors, not to mention their submission guidelines. Well worth a look. 

And finally, here's an older article (2010) in The Guardian that lists 10 rules for writing fiction. They regularly have articles about writing and writers and writers' habits, which are fun to read about.

There are many, many more sites I could list but googling will get you all the results.

Ok, enough with the words of advice. Now do your own thing and just have fun!