Byte Experts: Write Advice by Philippa Donovan

Posted by Justine Solomons on 5 November 2018, in Byte Experts, News

One of our founding members, Philippa Donovan, worked in-house as an editor at various publishing houses for many years and then left to set up Smart Quill Editorial. At Smart Quill she helps authors get their manuscripts into shape and ready to be seen by agents.  We asked her for her top tips for budding authors. Here's what she told us:

1. Scrutinise Your Opening Sentence

It needs to be perfect. Write and rewrite until every single word and punctuation marks holds its weight. Often I suggest setting out each word and mark on a separate line so you can really see where the power is hitting and missing. 

2. Write Often

Don’t feel obliged to return to your “work” every day (i.e. the piece you eventually want to end out into the wide world). Writing anything at all keeps authorial muscles strong. Plus it gives you the chance to return to the main event with fresh eyes.

3. Set Your Goals

Even if it is just two pages a day. Or fifty. Or a bare sentence. Know what you are capable of contributing daily and stick to it. Remember that no one will necessarily see all these efforts - some of them may not even form part of the main narrative. As long as you are setting pen to paper (or fingers to screen) with some regularity. 

4. Think of Narrative

There are so many ways to tell a story - POVs, devices, tenses, tones; the list goes on. Select what your narrative needs, depending on the genre you want to write. For example, historical fiction uses different tricks and tools to crime thrillers. Read like mad in your chosen genre so that you have an innate understanding of what it demands.   

5. Push Forward

If you get stuck, sign up for a workshop, or a writers circle, or a coworking space. It is amazing what gets unlocked though tangential exchange.  It also helps to gather a team around you. This can be comprised of beta readers, editors, publicists, and illustrators/designers if required. Writing can be a lonely craft so establishing support for yourself is crucial.

Philippa Donovan is a literary consultant and offers various editorial options through her company Smart Quill. She also sets up new authors with literary agents and producers as a result of her current work scouting books for film and TV. You can contact her at

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