Author Jolyn Phillips’ 10 tips for aspiring writers

Shopprice Australia

Smalltown girl Jolyn Phillips  recently released her debut novel Tjieng Tjang Tjerries & Other Stories, and knows writing can be a relentless, all-consuming task. ‘I’ve asked many authors about their advice before – at festivals and when attending lectures,’ she says. ‘Here are some of the lessons I’ve learnt.’

1 If you want to write, just write!

I read somewhere that writing is the cheapest form of art – all you need is a pen and paper. While this is true, writing is time-consuming and you’ll feel like an exhausted mother after a night shift with a newborn. Later, you will be anxious, worried, nervous – as though your writing is going through the Terrible Twos. If you’ve experienced or feel like this, you are on the “write” path.

2 Writing can come at the best, worst or oddest times

For me, writing came at a time of healing. Looking back, if I could sketch myself, it was as though my skin was coming apart and the words hung loosely from my body. I took on the difficult things I was faced with and transformed them into a possibility.

3 Sometimes, it finds you and not the other way around

Don’t write short stories, novels or poems. Just write your truth and your stories will mould itself into the shape it needs. 

4 Trust in those that offer their help

Whoever you’re working with – a supervisor, publisher, editor or mentor – you need to feel safe that they are there to help you. If not, it can affect the outcome of your writing process.

5 Kill your darlings

By this, I mean those favourite words that speak to me as the author. Sometimes what you think is “awesome” or “beautiful” might not be useful for your characters. This may seem strange, but my characters let me know that the story is not about me. Turns out, you can be your own worst enemy during the writing process.

6 Find a good reader

As an aspiring writer, you’ll be so caught up in the business of writing that you’ll need someone to read your work. However, you’ll find that a good reader is almost impossible to find and they may even be the person that offends you. Don’t get offended – ask them for suggestions and accept the comment as it will allow you to view your text with new eyes.

7 Writing is rewriting

Each of the stories in my collection have about 20 or more drafts and these are a constant reminder of where I started and where I am now. If you have any respect for the editing process, write with a pencil. A pencil says, ‘I acknowledge that I will improve on this draft. I am human and make mistakes but I am responsible for more than just the story – I am responsible for writing this to the best of my ability.’

8 “Fiction are lies that tell the truth”

My first-year lecturer said this. It means that fiction is often interpreted as something unreal or untruthful. I’ve learnt that by accepting my truth, I was able to transform, transpose and translate it into my own work.

9 Characters are people too

Respect the process of writing a character as each one represents a person somewhere.

10 Keep your day job

While there are plenty of writers who do this as a full-time job, it’s important to hold on to your day job. I knew that my book would not be picked up by a massive movie house and turned into a film so having a qualification and doing other work helps keep me from becoming a hungry artist.

Want even more advice from South African authors? Our Book Club has got you covered!