Creative writing: How to be a successful writer


22 August 2019
Her-Last-Promise.-cover-38056.jpg Her Last Promise
Top tips on how to write by bestselling author and WM subscriber Kathryn Hughes
Creative writing: How to be a successful writer Images


Top tips on how to write by bestselling author and WM subscriber Kathryn Hughes

1.  First of all, just write! 

It may sound obvious but if you don’t write anything down then you’ve nothing to edit, nothing to improve upon. There is no substitute for just sitting down and getting on with it. I like to adhere to the BOSHOK method which stands for Bum on Seat, Hands on Keyboard, or if I have a deadline looming and the words are not flowing, then a more accurate description would be Bum on Seat, Head on Knees.

Content continues after advertisements

2. Change the view

A large part of my writing day is spent staring out of the window, so I like to move my laptop to another room and treat myself to a different view. This small change can sometimes be enough to get me going again.

3. Be firm with your friends

If you’re serious about making a living out of your writing, then be firm with your friends. I still have trouble convincing my friends that I’m not able to drop everything and meet them for lunch or a cappuccino because I’m working. Even though I’m now writing my fifth book, this is often met with something along the lines of ‘Oh, I didn’t know you had a job.’

4. Find your own voice

One of my favourite features in Writing Magazine is ‘How to Write Like…(insert name of famous author)’ and whilst we can learn a lot from those who are already successful it is equally important to find your own voice and style. Who knows, one day you might stumble across an article entitled ‘How to write like…(insert your own name!)

5. Always keep a notebook and pen with you, even beside your bed. 

I have my best ideas at three in the morning and if I don’t write them down, they’ve disappeared by the time I wake up  I have to admit though, I’ve written down some pretty ridiculous stuff in the middle of the night.

6. Write what you don't know (yet)

‘Write what you know’ is the advice routinely given to new writers. This may have been true in the past. Thomas Hardy, who grew up in rural Dorset wrote about the world he knew and the Bronte sisters, channelled their somewhat cloistered existence in the parsonage on the edge of the bleak Pennine moors. However, times have changed and with our fabulous well-stocked libraries and unlimited access to the internet, don’t just ‘write what you know’ but ‘write what you can find out’ too. That said, there is no substitute for hands-on research or field trips as I like to call them. Before writing The Key, which is set in a 1950s mental hospital, I visited the derelict Denbigh Asylum in North Wales and I made two trips to rural Spain to make sure I had all the details correct for my latest book, Her Last Promise. That was hard work – honestly!

7. Develop a rhino skin

You’ll need it to cope with all the rejections, which you can either laugh at or learn from, whatever keeps you sane. The path to publication is littered with rejection slips. Beatrix Potter, Stephen King, Margaret Mitchell and J K Rowling were all rejected multiple times. My first book The Letter, was rejected twelve times before I decided to self-publish. After getting to number one in the Kindle chart and being picked up by Headline, it has sold well over a million copies and been translated into thirty languages. Never give up, it’s all subjective. F Scott Fitzgerald was once told by an editor ‘You’d have a decent book if only you’d get rid of that Gatsby character.’

8. Try not to be afraid of showing what you’ve written to family and friends first. 

Any kind of feedback, brutal or otherwise is welcome. Ask them to read aloud a chapter you have written. The emphasis they choose to use or the accent they speak in can make you see your work in a different light altogether.

9. Be more Elmore Leonard

This is not a tip of mine but one from Elmore Leonard, which I try to follow: Try not to write the parts people tend to skip! 

10. Find what works for you

Finally, what works for me may not work for you, so please feel free to ignore any/all of the above.


Kathryn Hughes is the internationally bestselling author of The Letter, The Secret, and The Key. Her new book, Her Last Promise, is published by Headline Review.


Consider the effect of metaphor on your readers - and how it can bring your writing to life.