writing tips

Writing for Children - Writing Tips by Sarah Webb


1/ If you want to write for children you must read children’s books – read picture books, early readers, middle grade novels (age 9+), teen books (age 11+) and YA novels (young adult). Ask a bookseller or librarian to recommend some award winning books in each age category.

Children’s books are not a genre, they are an age group. Within each age group there are books in every genre: fantasy, comedy, science fiction, history etc, yes, even picture books. You cannot write a book for age 4 to 14 – you need to narrow it down a little. Different age groups like different things from a book.

Once you have decided on an age group and/or settled on an age for your main character or characters, it’s time to start writing. Children like to read up an age – they want to read about characters that are older than they are.

Read Children's Books
Read Children's Books

2/ Write as often as you can and keep the story in your head. Think about your characters and your plot as you walk the dog, commute, wash up. Your subconscious will take over and unknot plot problems if you let it. Make time to write but also make time to think. If you want to write badly enough, you will find the time.

Take your head out of your phone – allow your mind time to mull over your story. Think deeply about your characters and what they WANT, what motivates them to live, what drives them.

3/ Carry a notebook. Whenever you think of an idea, jot it down. Keep another notebook beside your bed. It’s amazing how quickly ideas can disappear into the ether.

4/ Some writers like to plot, others don’t. Planners in life are often story plotters; people who crave spontaneity might be best not to plot too carefully. If you are starting out I’d suggest you put some plot notes in place to keep you writing.

5/ Don’t give up – stick your bottom to your chair and keep going. To finish a book you need bum glue. Whatever you do, finish your book. It’s a huge accomplishment and very satisfying. Most writers feel like giving up at some stage – a shiny new idea seduces them away from their novel – but keep going. Most people don’t finish their book – be the exception.

Allow your first draft to be messy and full of mistakes. You can clean it all up later. Just keep moving forwards. Finish your first draft. Finish!

E.L. Doctorow said: ‘Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.’ He’s right, just keep going.

Keep Going - Writers Sharing Lunch and Supporting Each Other - Who Can You Spot?
Keep Going - Writers Sharing Lunch and Supporting Each Other - Who Can You Spot?

6/ The difference between a published writer and an unpublished writer is tenacity, resilience, grit. Give me a naturally talented, outstanding writer with no drive and a good writer with the energy and enthusiasm to work on a book with all their heart and soul and I’ll bet on the good writer every time.

7/ Write from the heart. Write because you have a burning desire to tell your story. Write the book you’d write if you only had a few months to live. Write with your heart. Rewrite with your head. The first draft is only the beginning of the journey. Good luck!

These tips were prepared for TV3 by Sarah Webb.

Staying Motivated - Writing Tips for January

My New Children's Novel, Out in March 2016
My New Children's Novel, Out in March 2016

Hello, January. I've been expecting you. I'm currently in the middle of several projects - a proposal for a new children's series (writing good proposals takes a long time - I'll blog about it soon as it's vital to get your proposal right), the first book in that new series, a book about whales and dolphins (non fiction), writing the text for my book festival brochure (Mountains to Sea dlr Book Festival in March), and researching a new novel for adults.

I find starting projects the easy part, it's hitting the half way mark that I find most difficult. So here are some words for those of you who are mid way through a project and need some motivation.

Many writers get to around 40k or 50k words and then they hit a wall (novels for adults tend to be around 80k to 100k depending on the genre). They say ‘There is so much more to write, so much more work involved, I don’t think I can do this.’ It’s important to note that all writers have off days or weeks, published or unpublished, and it’s important to develop a ‘writing habit’ if you want to finish a whole book. As Clare Dowling says in her excellent writing tips (below) ‘writing is a craft and the best way to learn it is to practice.’

But how do you stay motivated?

All writers find writing a book tough going. I often hit a difficult patch roughly half way through a book, knowing that I still have a lot of work ahead of me. It’s perfectly normal to feel a bit overwhelmed at any stage of the writing process. You are writing a book after all. And if you are a huge reader like me, you have a responsibility to both yourself and the future reader to produce something worthwhile, something special, something original.

Woody Allan once said that ‘90% of success is just showing up’. And for writers, showing up at the page day after day, week after week is vital. For some, the effort proves too much, and the book never gets finished.

Here are some of my favourite quotes about motivation and staying the course:

The mere habit of writing, of constantly keeping at it, of never giving up, ultimately teaches you how to write. Gabriel Fielding

The only certainty about writing and trying to be a writer is that it has to be done, not dreamed of or planned and never written, or talked about, but simply written; it’s a dreadful, awful fact that writing is like any other work. Janet Frame

The way to write a book is to actually write a book. Anne Enright

And I particularly like this one, also by Anne Enright:

Remember if you sit at your desk for 15 or 20 years every day it changes you. It just does. It may not improve your temper but it fixes something else. It makes you more free.

She is quite right, it does change you. It does make you more free.

If you’re finding writing difficult and need some encouragement, here are some suggestions:

1/ Keep a writing diary

My Diary Collection 1986 to 2015
My Diary Collection 1986 to 2015

Every time you’ve finished writing, jot down how many words you’ve managed and how you feel your work is progressing. If you respond well to deadlines, keep deadlines. For example: Monday – write 500 words, Tuesday – finish Chapter Two. If you’ve stuck to your deadlines reward yourself with some television or a bar of chocolate.

2/ Attend writing workshops, readings and talks

Many libraries host regular events for writers. Check your local library for details. I love hearing other writers read their work or talk about their work, and I always learn something valuable or that makes me think. It’s a real treat to be around fellow book lovers too.

3/ Read books about writing:

On Writing by Stephen King

Inspiring and full of good advice – worth buying

The Right to Write by Julia Cameron

One of the best books about being a writer and living a writer’s life I’ve ever found. Succinct, direct and truthful, a book I come back to over and over again if I’m in need of a little writerly pick me up.

4/ Pencil in some internet free days. I check my social media accounts on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. I spend one hour on each of these days writing blogs/content for posts, reading and commenting on other people's posts and replying to my messages. That's three hours a week. I check in after working hours too, but I don't waste my writing time online. Perhaps you could set yourself some internet 'rules' too.

If your writing has come to a standstill and you need some practical assistance the following might help:

1/ Ask for advice and/or encouragement from a respected friend or work colleague; someone who loves reading and who will give you an honest but kind opinion. Explain that you need honest feedback, but ask them to be kind. If you don’t know anyone suitable, see number 3.

2/ Join a writers’ group

Many libraries host regular writers’ groups. These are not for everyone, but many writers swear by them. Many published writers are in writing groups, others have writing friends who they talk to about their work and any problems they are having. I have several writer friends and they are a Godsend. Writing can be a lonely old business, and having someone to talk to who understands is very important. Seek out fellow writers on the internet or in person.

3/ Contact a writer’s advisory service

For a professional opinion on your work, the following advisory services are recommended – www.cornerstones.co.uk/  and www.inkwellwriters.ie

Inkwell are based in Ireland, Cornerstones in the UK and both are excellent, well respected professionally run organisations.

On the Practical Side of Things

Even if you don’t feel like writing try to do something writing related: research, editing, making notes. Sometimes you may be simply too mentally tired or out of sorts to write, never force yourself, take a break and come back to it the following day instead. Try to approach the page with optimism and enthusiasm, not dread! Sometimes you will have to talk yourself into a positive frame of mind, but you’re a writer – you are smart, creative and powerful. If you can create a whole world on paper, you can certainly cajole yourself into a bit of writing.

Never use ‘I’m too busy’ as an excuse. Your house will probably be less tidy and sometimes the dishes will sit in the sink for the evening, but these are the sacrifices a writer has to make!

Once you’ve set your writing time aside try to sit down at your desk regularly so your story will stay fresh in your mind. If you can’t write every day, think about your characters and your plot when you can. Agatha Christie once said she did her best plotting while washing the dishes.

Try to write at a desk or table in a well lit and if possible quiet area. Buy yourself nice notebooks and coloured pens – these small things make writing more of a pleasure.

If possible get your hands on a computer. Typing directly onto a computer takes a while to get used to but it makes writing and most especially editing so much less painful – plus you have spell check!

How long does it take to write a book?

The old expression ‘how long is a piece of string’ springs to mind. Each writer is different. Popular fiction writers are often contracted to write a book a year. If you can manage to write 2,000 words a week for example, it will take you just under a year to write a whole book. Try to find a writing pace that suits you and your lifestyle.

The honest fact? I can’t motivate you to write. No-one can do that but yourself. If you want to write badly enough, you will find the time and the energy.

Yours in writing,

Sarah XXX

Tips on Staying Motivated by Clare Dowling

1/ Get into the habit of writing. This doesn’t mean you have to knock out a thousand words of a novel a day; it can be emails, letters to friends, or a description of your cat. Writing is a craft and the best way to learn it is to practise.

2/ Get yourself a proper writing space. Some people can write a book on the kitchen table amongst the dinner dishes but most of us can’t. It really helps if you have a special place for writing and when you arrive at it, your brain clicks into writing mode.

3/ Don’t wait for genius to strike. It probably won’t, and you’ll achieve tonnes more if you spent your time practising your writing, developing interesting characters, and thinking hard about what you’d really like to say. Most successful writers aren’t published because brilliant ideas visit them on a daily basis, but because they work very hard and stay motivated.

4/ Read, read, read. We can all learn from other authors’ work – how they construct a plot, how characters are effectively drawn; how they manage to make a scene in a supermarket the most memorable you’ve read all year. Don’t be afraid that you’re going to copy their style; you won’t. But you might find that that you learn lots of new techniques that will lift your own writing up a level.

See the writing.ie article I contributed to here.

What Lies Beneath Readers' Day - Timetable


What Lies Beneath: A Readers’ Day

Saturday 7th November 10am to 4.00pm

Kate Beaufoy
Kate Beaufoy

Lexicon Studio Theatre, Dun Laoghaire

Cost: e15 (includes coffee and lunch)

Booking: http://www.paviliontheatre.ie/events/view/what-lies-beneath-a-readers-day-programmed-and-hosted-by-writer-sarah-webb

On site bookshop with thanks to Dubray Books

If you’re passionate about books and love talking to other book lovers, this is the day for you. Find out how bestselling UK author, Freya North and Irish bestseller, Patricia Scanlan got their first breaks; hear how Kate Beaufoy and Kate Kerrigan researched their latest historic novels; listen to Sinead Moriarty and Claudia Carroll talk about their favourite books; discover the inspiration behind Sinead Crowley, Martina Devlin and Marita Conlon McKenna’s new novels; and hear Sinead Gleeson talk about the wealth of short story talent in Ireland, past and present, with Lia Mills and Éilís Ní Dhuibhne. A stimulating and thought provoking day for all readers and writers.

Martina Devlin
Martina Devlin


9.30am – 10.00am Registration

10.00am – 10.50am   This is How it Begins . . .

Martina Devlin, Sinead Crowley and Marita Conlon McKenna will read from their new novels and talk to RTE’s Evelyn O’Rourke about the inspiration behind their stories and characters.

10.50am – 11.10am  Coffee and bookshop signing

11.10pm – 12.00pm  The Long Gaze Back: Ireland and the Short Story, Past and Present

Broadcaster and Editor, Sinead Gleeson will talk about putting together her new short story collection, The Long Gaze Back: An Anthology of Irish Women Writers. She will be joined by Lia Mills and Éilís Ní Dhuibhne who both have short stories in the collection.

Sinead Gleeson
Sinead Gleeson

12.05pm – 1.05pm This Writer’s Life: UK bestseller, Freya North and Irish bestseller, Patricia Scanlan in conversation with RTE’s Sinead Crowley.

1.05pm – 2.00pm Lunch and bookshop signing – meet the authors and get your book signed at our dedicated bookshop, kindly provided by Dubray Books.

2.00pm – 2.50pm  What Lies Beneath:  researching a novel set in the past

Kate Beaufoy and Kate Kerrigan both write historic novels and will talk to fellow novelist and journalist, Martina Devlin about their research.

2.50pm - 3.10pm  – Break and bookshop signing

3.10pm – 4.00pm  My Favourite Books

Sinead Moriarty and Claudia Carroll share their favourite books of all time and talk about how reading has inspired their own work. Discover new ideas for your own reading or your book club and share your own favourite reads with the audience. Chaired by Mary Burnham of Dubray Books.

Claudia Carroll
Claudia Carroll

Top 3 Writing Tips - Martina Devlin + Kate Beaufoy

Martina Devlin and Kate Beaufoy will be talking about writing and their new books at What Lies Beneath Readers' Day on Saturday 7th November in the new Lexicon Library in Dun Laoghaire. To mark the occasion, I asked them for their top three writing tips.

Martina Devlin

Martina Devlin
Martina Devlin

1/ Write early in the day, as soon as you rise. It doesn't have to be a 6am writing spurt, but it does have to be first thing by your body clock. 3/ Take care with your characters, even minor ones, if you want readers to go on a journey with them. They need not all be likeable. But their actions should have an internal logic, or make sense to readers. 3/ Leave a note to yourself where you meant to take the story next at the end of a writing session. It's amazing how much we forget, even in the space of a day.

Kate Beaufoy

1/ Try converting chunks of your text into a different font. That way you can read it with new, more objective eyes, and you’ll spot things you may not have noticed otherwise.

2/ Don’t advertise the fact that you’re writing a novel; you'll regret it every time someone asks you how it’s going.

3/ Find one or two readers whom you can trust to be straight with you in the nicest possible way. NEVER petition Facebook friends to read your work.


Hear more from Kate and Martina about their books and how they write at What Lies Beneath Reader and Writers Day - Sat 7th November. Lexicon Library, Dun Laoghaire, Co Dublin  

Book here.

 Or ring 01 231 2929 12pm to 5pm

Kate Beaufoy
Kate Beaufoy

What Lies Beneath

If you’re passionate about books and love talking to other book lovers, this is the day for you. Find out how bestselling UK author, Freya North and Irish bestseller, Patricia Scanlan got their first breaks; hear how Kate Beaufoy and Kate Kerrigan researched their latest historic novels; listen to Sinead Moriarty and Claudia Carroll talk about their favourite books; discover the inspiration behind Sinead Crowley, Martina Devlin and Marita Conlon McKenna’s new novels; and hear Sinead Gleeson talk about the wealth of short story talent in Ireland, past and present, with Lia Mills and Éilís Ní Dhuibhne. A stimulating and thought-provoking day for all readers and writers.

Book here. 

Patricia Scanlan
Patricia Scanlan

Writing Tips - Getting it Right - the Importance of Research

My New Book
My New Book

My new book, Sunny Days and Moon Cakes is out next week – exciting. It was great fun to write and even more fun to research. Sunny, the main character in the book, has a condition called selective mutism which means she finds it difficult to speak. In order to write her story I needed to do a lot of research. I was lucky to meet a mum early on who has daughters with the condition and she was really helpful, reading my manuscript and talking to me about her daughters’ lives. She was really kind to share her family's stories with me.

Research Tip No. 1:

Nothing beats talking someone with specialist or personal knowledge of a subject.

I also watched a lot of documentaries about selective mutism and read academic books. An expert in the field, a UK speech therapist called Maggie Johnson was also a great help. I read her wonderfully clear and well written book on the topic and also emailed her. It’s amazing how kind people are if you ask them for help with research.

Research Tip No.2:

Ask for help. Don't be afraid to go to the top. People who are fascinated by their work and love their subject are generally delighted to talk about their work.

In the book, Sunny's little sister, Min has a terrible accident and has to be airlifted to hospital in a helicopter. Now, I've never been airlifted, thank goodness, so I had to do more research. I wrote to the Irish Coast Guard at Waterford and they arranged for me to fly in their rescue helicopter with my daughter, Amy. It was a remarkable experience and made the cliff rescue scene in the book truly come alive.

Research Tip No.3:

Never say never.

Never think 'I'll never find someone to take me up in a helicopter/out on a super yacht/meet a lion'. Ask around - you'll be surprised how willing other people are to help you track someone useful down. My contact in the Irish Coast Guards came from an old school friend who is now a fireman. I put a call out on Facebook and he stepped in to help connect us.

I'm working on book three in the series now and it's all about dolphins and sea mammals. That has been a lot of fun to research too. I can't wait to share all my newly found animal knowledge with young readers. This photo of a Humpback Whale breaching was taken by Simon Duggan, an old school friend of mine who lives in West Cork - isn't it brilliant? My research is throwing up all sorts of ideas for this and future books.

A Humpback Whale
A Humpback Whale

Research Tip No.4:

Research can play an important part in the writing process.

It can trigger plot ideas and inform your knowledge or feel for a character. If your book is set in the past, research is a vital part of the process. The adult novel I am working on at present is set in the 1930s and I found reading novels set in this period particularly helpful, as well as newspapers and magazines from the time.

Research Tip No.5:

Don't let the research slow down or stop your writing.

It's important to get your book finished. So no matter how interesting the research is, you must know when to stop. If you've started coming across facts you already know it's time to get back to the writing. You can always go back and check details after you've finished your first draft.

Yours in writing,

Sarah XXX

A version of this blog first appeared on Girls Heart Books.

Writing Tips from Award Winning Author, Sheena Wilkinson

Writing Tips from Sheena Wilkinson

Sheena Wilkinson with Elaina Ryan of CBI and Writer, Deirdre Sullivan
Sheena Wilkinson with Elaina Ryan of CBI and Writer, Deirdre Sullivan

See Sheena at the Mountains to Sea Book Festival (details below)

  1. Everyone will say the same thing here; that’s because it’s so important. READ. Read everything. Read in your favourite genre and outside it. Read to see how stories work. Read to remind yourself that books are magic, and that you want to create that magic for someone else.
  2. Find out what works for you. I faffed around with unfinished novels for years because I kept stopping to edit as I went along, always aiming for that perfect first chapter. For me, it’s better to write to the end of a rough first draft and then go back and redraft, and redraft, and redraft. It’s less work in the long run, and for me having a complete draft, even though it’s rubbishy, gives me a feeling of achievement and something to work on. This seems to work for lots of writers. It may not work for you but it’s worth trying if, like me until about six years ago, you find it hard to get to the end. And the first drafts are getting better.
  3. Give yourself goals. It may be that you’ll write for an hour a day, or that you’ll finish a sort story by the end of the month, or that you’ll do a thousand words a day, or 500 or even 100. You can move the goalposts as you get more serious. If I think about the whole project of a novel, I feel a bit gulpy and want to go and lie down, but if I think that I aim to do 6,000 words a week and that means 1,000 words day with a day off, that seems more manageable. I have printed off a geeky calendar so I can waste time filling it in and adding happy/sad faces accordingly. You can get software to do this for you, but why bother, when you can use up hours of writing time colouring in and highlighting?
  4. Fall in love. With your book. I can’t get into something and spend a year – or, in the case of my forthcoming novel, 2 ½ years (I took time off to write another book in the middle) – on it unless I love it. So don’t follow the market or write about something because you think you ‘should’: write what you love. It helps to have a bit of  a crush on at least one character. BUT, however in love you are…
  5. Don’t be precious! You know how being in love is great, but it can make you a bit blind to someone’s actual qualities? That. So when your editor/agent/writing buddy/mum suggests that something in your book could maybe work better, consider that they might be right. After all, you want them to fall in love with your book too.

Sheena will be appearing on the Going Too Far? Panel Discussion at the Mountains to Sea Book Festival 2014 with debut novelist, Louise O'Neill, David O'Callaghan from Eason, reviewer and writer, Mary Arrigan and reader, Aaron Williams.

A must for anyone interested in writing or reading YA fiction.

Saturday 13th September, Lexicon, Dun Laoghaire (new library) 4.40-6pm

e8 adults/e5 students

The Most Important Advice I Can Give You About Writing

The Holy Ghosts
The Holy Ghosts

I was at a 40th birthday in London recently and I got talking to the band – lovely Scottish lads called The Holy Ghosts. They have been working their wee socks off, playing gigs and parties all over the UK and Europe. They’re super, their lead singer has buckets of charisma (and an amazing voice) and I know they’ll make it because a/ they’re determined b/ they’re damn good and c/ they’re putting in the hours.

I told them the story about The Beatles playing in Hamburg that I first read in Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell. In the book Gladwell explains the 10,000 hours rule – how if you put in the time and work hard, success will follow.

In a nutshell The Beatles performed live in Hamburg, Germany over 1,200 times from 1960 to 1964, amassing more than 10,000 hours of playing time. According to Gladwell the hours and hours that The Beatles spent performing live shaped their talent. He quotes their biographer Philip Norman who said ‘So by the time they returned to England from Hamburg, Germany, they sounded like no one else. It was the making of them.’

Gladwell also talks about Bill Gates and how at the age of 13 in 1968 he spent over 10,000 hours programming on a high school computer.

Putting in the hours. It’s not very exciting, is it? But it’s so important. I think a lot of people starting to write don’t realise how hard writers work to get published and to stay published. How many hours they put in.

Coming up with an idea is the easy bit. Creating characters, plot . . . not so hard. Writing the first few chapters of a manuscript . . . not so difficult either. Finishing a book and then rewriting it over and over again until it’s as perfect as you can make it, that’s the hard part.

I’ve said it before but it’s worth saying again – you learn how to write by writing. By putting in the hours. At night after work, early in the morning before the kids get up, at weekends, on holidays, when you’re on top of the world, when your heart is breaking – you have to keep at it. You have to put in the hours. It’s as simple or as difficult as that.

All the very best for Christmas and 2013. Try to make some time to write over the holidays. And I’ll try to follow my own advice!

Yours in writing,

Sarah XXX