Top tips for young writers

Kim Slater, author of Smart and A Seven-Letter Word, shares some of her essential tips for young writers.

Want to know how to become a writer at a young age? Kim Slater, author of Smart and A Seven-Letter Wordshares her writing tips. 

I visit schools all over the country and a question I get asked an awful lot is, ‘What advice can you give to young writers?’ So I thought I'd share with those of you who are writers or want to be

1. My first piece of advice is to enter writing competitions.

There are masses of resources for these online including, who have a section dedicated to advise young writers. The BBC also runs writing competitions and publishes online advice for young people.

Entering and hopefully getting shortlisted in competitions really helps build your confidence and the more you write . . . the better you will get!

2. Ideas

Where did I start when I set out to write Smart and A Seven-Letter Word?

With an idea, of course! I always get the main character’s voice through first and then I match ideas to that character and see what works. I wanted to find a way for Finlay to be able to control words in one way, even though he had difficulty speaking.

At first, I tried the idea of Finlay being a really good writer or poet and I liked that match but it didn’t really excite me. When I played with the idea of Finlay being a brilliant Scrabble player, everything seemed to fit and I couldn’t wait to get writing. Every writer is different, so you might get an idea first and then start to think about characters. Whichever way it works for you, characters and ideas need thinking about quite a lot and I like to do the thinking before I start writing.

You might see something on TV that interests you or your friend might tell you a funny story that gets you thinking  . . . jot everything down ready for when you need a good writing idea. You’ll be glad of them at a later date!

3. Plot

You have your characters and ideas . . . now you have to write your story.

Some people plot extensively, knowing what they will write in each and every chapter. I tend to outline the story first of all in about two pages. I know roughly what will happen where and when and if I’m not quite sure of the ending, I make one up at this early stage even if it’s not very good because I know I can make changes later. In my first draft of A Seven-Letter Word, I had a different ending to the one which eventually got published (sorry, can’t give details – no spoilers allowed!) I get new ideas or I might change my mind on some events that were going to happen in the story – I like it when this happens!

Don’t be frightened if you don’t know everything about the plot right at the start . . . just begin to write and let it flow.

4. Twist

If you are writing a mystery or thriller, it’s often fun to include a plot twist. This is where you can surprise the reader – maybe lead them to believe something is going to happen and then have your characters do the opposite. I don’t always know what the twist is going to be when I start writing. Sometimes really good plot twists come as you develop your characters and storylines.

5. Edit

Always remember, the first draft doesn’t have to be perfect. It is just that . . . a draft. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself as you are writing, you can make changes and improvements later, in the editing stage. A Seven-Letter Word had four edits in the end.

The nature of writing is that one day you can be really pleased with your work and the next day, you might think it’s a bit rubbish. I call it the ‘writing rollercoaster’ and that helps because I know that the bad days will pass and that with perseverance and editing, I will end up with something good. 

The main thing is: 

6. keep at it. 

So. . . What are you waiting for?

Need more writing tips? Check out award-winning author Frances Hardinge's top writing tips.


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Shortlisted for the Waterstones Children's Book Prize, and longlisted for the 2015 Carnegie Medal, Kim Slater's outstanding debut, Smart, is a moving and compelling novel with a loveable character at its heart.

There's been a murder, but the police don't care. It was only a homeless old man after all.

Kieran cares. He's made a promise, and when you say something out loud, that means you're going to do it, for real. He's going to find out what really happened. To Colin. And to his grandma, who just stopped coming round one day. It's a good job Kieran's a master of observation and knows all the detective tricks of the trade.