Writing Advice: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly by R.S. Ford

Any aspiring writer will receive a boatload of writing advice on their way to Publishedhood™, so it would be remiss of me not to offer a canoe-load of my own. Here are some basic tips, in no particular order, which you may ignore at your leisure…

It’s not you it’s them/It’s not them it’s you 
Once your manuscript is the best it could possibly be (certainly as far as you’re concerned) you’ll be submitting to an array of agents and publishers. Always bear in mind that a novel, as with any piece of art, is perceived in an entirely subjective manner. What one commissioning editor will love, another might hate, so don’t take the rejection personally. My first novel Kultus, was rejected by an agent who found it too ‘baroque’. When it was commissioned, the editor loved the fact that it was – yes you guessed it – baroque! You have to take rejection, or any kind of judgement on your work, on the chin. Always accept a ‘no’ with grace. Remember, the publishing industry is a very small incestuous community, and if you’re snarky or petulant in the face of rejection, word will get around.

Always ignore criticism… until you shouldn’t
Once your book is out there on the shelves you will inevitably be reviewed. Said reviews won’t always be positive. In fact, sometimes they’ll be downright awful. Every bestselling author has their little black book of 1* reviews. Ignore them. It’s a subjective take on your work and one person’s opinion should never sway you…

…until it should! If you’re receiving regular criticism for one aspect of your writing, chances are it’s a problem. I wrote the Steelhaven series as a homage to Gemmell’s Legend and the TV series The Wire. Heavily influenced by the latter, I presented each chapter from the POV of one of seven different characters. This meant there was no repeat POV for the first 80 pages. A lot of readers were fine with this, but just as many seemed turned off by the constant break in narrative, which I’ve taken to heart with my latest series.

There’s a strong temptation to carve your own path, and rules should always be broken. Be selective!

Don’t wait for the muse, it never comes
Writing a novel is a marathon, not a sprint. It takes weeks of diligence and tenacity to claw your way along the Prose Road™. For this you’d think you need to summon motivation from all kinds of different sources. Well, waiting for motivation is probably going to see you fail, and your book condemned to that room in hell where all the other unfinished manuscripts wallow.

Discipline is your friend. Discipline you can control. Motivation relies on your mood and often on factors beyond your control. Discipline only demands that YOU put the words down no matter what other outside influences try to sway you from the path. In the words of Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson, ‘Success at anything will always come down to focus and effort, and we control both’.

POV – step out of your comfort zone
I’m mainly interested in writing about characters. I think that’s what a good novel is all about, not magic systems or worldbuilding, but people. That means creating an array of living, breathing characters. I was once criticised in a review for being ‘fattist’ because I’d used the term ‘fat ba**ard’ in a novel more than once. I was 18 stone (250lbs) when I wrote it, so it’s unlikely I would have a problem with overweight people. The reviewer had a problem with the character, not with me, and just didn’t realise it. Writers are not their characters, but they have to inhabit them to make them jump off the page. So here’s a nice little exercise:

Think of something that really offends you. A character trait you can’t stand about someone. Then, with the next thing you write, embody this aspect into their character. Then make that character sympathetic, or at least empathetic. Love them. Understand their motivations. Remember, we’re all the hero of our own story.


About the Author

R.S. Ford originally hails from Leeds in the heartland of Yorkshire but now resides in the wild fens of Cambridgeshire. His previous works include the raucous steampunk adventure, Kultus, and the grimdark fantasy trilogy, Steelhaven.

You can find out more about what he's up to, and download free stuff, here:

About the Book

A Demon in Silver (War of the Archons)
by R.S. Ford

In a world where magic has disappeared, rival nations vie for power in a continent devastated by war.

When a young farm girl, Livia, demonstrates magical powers for the first time in a century there are many across the land that will kill to obtain her power. The Duke of Gothelm’s tallymen, the blood-soaked Qeltine Brotherhood, and cynical mercenary Josten Cade: all are searching for Livia and the power she wields.

But Livia finds that guardians can come from the most unlikely places… and that the old gods are returning to a world they abandoned.