Fifteen writing tips from award-winning Australian authors

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One of the few good things to have come out of the pandemic is the proliferation of online writing courses and workshops. As a regional writer with a day job and a family, improved access to online education has provided me with the opportunity to learn from some of the best writers and teachers in the country, many of whom I wouldn’t have been able to access otherwise.

This year I was fortunate to be selected as a participant in the ACT Writers’ Hidden Nerve program of masterclasses and have also attended individual workshops run by the Emerging Writers’ Festival, the Australian Society of Authors, and in person at festivals. As a result, I’ve had the privilege to learn writing craft from an astounding number of literary legends. Here I’ve attempted to distill a fraction of the knowledge imparted in these presentations into soundbites in the hope that these ideas might inspire others. Any inaccuracies are likely due to the doctor handwriting in my notebooks.

I encourage all writers to engage with the high-quality learning opportunities available online and in person.

Word choices should be purposeful and specific. When editing, slow down and read every word.” Mirandi Riwoe

Rhythm can enhance or destroy a story. Reading poetry is like doing push ups for writers.” Claire G Coleman

Paragraphs are macro punctuation marks. Doing away with indented paragraphs makes the reader do more work and invokes poetry stanzas. Floating paragraphs are not tied to notions of progress, order, and stability.” Delia Falconer

Roadblocks occur when we pursue structure at the expense of voice or vice versa. Adjust both voice and structure until they align.” Stephanie Bishop

Cut the dialogue once you’ve said what you need to say without the tone going flat. Read it aloud and look for the livelier version.” Amanda Lohrey

Small details can puncture an illusion better than a grand gesture. Details bring bodies into dialogue and texture to a narrative world.” Belinda Castles

When editing, take words out one by one until you get to the heartbeat of the story. If you don’t tell the truth through your art, you’re writing propaganda.” Alice Pung

A story needs a strong sense of purpose. Find one word to sum up what drives your writing emotionally and creatively and display it near your computer, so you don’t drift off course.” Tony Birch

Humour can take many forms, from playful judgement to finding sense in nonsense. Coupling of dissimilar things in your writing can be particularly powerful because it forces the brain to pay attention.” Rick Morton

At least 95% of the work of creating a compelling character should be through indirect characterisation (their choices, actions, behaviours, speech, private thoughts).” Chloe Wilson

You need to have processed events to write about them. Writing is not therapy.” Sarah Malik

A writer’s job is to express the truth of a feeling without taming it, without marching it along well-trodden linguistic paths. The more you avoid emotive words, the more moved the reader will be if they work out the character’s emotional state from specific and vivid details.” Lee Kofman

Find out what your characters are angry about and go deeper. Where does it come from? Despair? Desire? Jealousy? Think about how to make your reader physically respond to your text.” Peter Polites

Main characters must be the agent of change. They can have flaws, but they can’t be hopeless.” Michael Robotham

At every point imagine you’re the reader and ask yourself, ‘Why do I care?’ ” Candice Fox

By Lisa Kenway

Lisa Kenway is an Australian writer and doctor. Her psychological thriller manuscript, 'All You Took from Me', was long-listed for the 2020 Richell Prize. Her short fiction has appeared in Meanjin Quarterly, Meniscus Literary Journal, Brilliant Flash Fiction, X-Ray Literary Magazine, Ellipsis Zine and elsewhere. Find her at or on Twitter @LisaKenway.

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