Three top tips for writing amazing stories, from SF Said

Published on: 11 June 2023

Our Writer in Residence SF Said knows all about writing books! Here are his top three tips for creating brilliant stories.

SF Said standing in London holding up his book Tyger, with Tower Bridge in the background

Photo: Mel Taylor-Bessent

I believe anyone can be a writer! And I believe you can do it at any age. You don't have to be a genius to write. You just have to tell a story that excites you, and make it as good as you possibly can.

So here's my first writing tip: FORGET ABOUT WRITING!

Think of yourself as a reader and ask yourself this question. If you could have any story to read, anything at all, what would it be? Whatever the answer – and there are no wrong answers – I think that's what you should write.

The truth is that writers are really nothing more than readers who take one more step and write the stories they want to read themselves. That's all I do. I forget about the fact that I'm a writer, and ask myself, as a reader, what story in all the world would I most love to read? Then I sit down and write that story myself.

  • With Varjak Paw, I wanted to read about a cat having adventures as he went out into the world, learning all the skills he would need to survive: fighting, hunting, and more mysterious martial arts known only to cats.
  • With Phoenix, I wanted to read a space epic as thrilling as Star Wars, bringing together the most cutting-edge science of space with the most ancient mythologies.
  • And with Tyger, I wanted to read the very best book I'd ever read! I wanted a page-turning story that was full of exciting action and adventure, but also full of things that made me think, and laugh, and cry.

But how do I take an idea, and turn it into a book? The same way all writers do: by working on my stories until they're as good as I can possibly make them.

So here's my second writing tip: BE PREPARED TO DO MORE THAN ONE DRAFT OF YOUR STORY!

You can't get everything right first time. No writer can write a perfect story in just one go. Stories are too complicated for that. You have to build them over a number of stages, and we call these stages drafts.

On your first draft, I think you should just have fun. Tell yourself a story that excites you. Don't worry about getting it wrong. Don't think at all, if you can help it. Just put the words down on the page; relax and enjoy the story!

When you finish your first draft, put it away for as long as you can. Go and read lots of other stories. Then come back and read yours, but this time pretend you didn't write it. Pretend it's a book you paid money to read. Ask yourself: was it worth the money? What was good about it? What wasn't? Then do another draft, doing everything you can to make it better than the first one.

Keep doing this, again and again, until it's the very best version of the story you can imagine.

It took me 19 drafts to make Tyger as good as I could make it, and those drafts took nine years of my life. But all the hard work was worth it in the end, because I really do believe it's my best book so far.

Of course, I'm not suggesting that you should spend nine years working on your story, as I did with Tyger! But if you can read through your story again at least once, I'm sure you will find ways to make it better. And the more you can do this, the better it will become.

Which leads me to my third and final writing tip: WHATEVER HAPPENS, DON'T GIVE UP!

There may be times that you want to; there are certainly times I want to! But I think perseverance is the most important quality a writer can have. If you hang in there, keep going, keep trying to make your story better in any way you can – you will get there in the end.

So always keep writing, and always keep reading. Because every writer is a reader – and every reader can be a writer!

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