I like to break writing down into three steps. The first step is HAVING AN IDEA. People often ask me how to get ideas. The truth is that we all have ideas, all the time. Just think of yourself as a reader rather than a writer – and then write the story you would most love to read yourself!
That's how I had the idea of writing Phoenix. I’ve always loved space stories. The stars have always filled me with a sense of wonder. I love the thought of other life; other worlds, out there in the universe… Yet there aren’t many books set in space for younger readers. So I had to sit down and write my own!
The second step is WRITING A DRAFT, in which you tell yourself the story you want to read. Do a bit of it every day, until you reach the end. But remember that no-one can write a great book in just one draft. I've never met a single writer who could do that; a book is too big and complicated. You need to build it over a number of drafts.
The way you do this is the third step: EDITING. Once you've written a draft, try to read it as if someone else had written it. Stop being the writer, and become the reader again. And then, as the reader, ask yourself all the questions you ask of every other story you read. What works? What doesn't? What should there be more of? And less of? Then go back to being the writer, and do everything you can to make it more like the story you want to read. Keep doing this, again and again, until it's the best version of the story you can possibly write.
To illustrate how much things can change in this process, I'm going to show you an early draft of Phoenix. First of all, for comparison, have a good look at the extract above. It's the opening of the final, published draft. Once you know it well, have a look at the opening of my early draft:
Can you see how much has changed? It's gone from first person to third person. From present tense to past. It's become a dream. The setting has completely changed. The only thing that's the same is a character gazing up at the stars. That's the heart of it; but everything around it is different!
That process took me 13 drafts. It was long and hard – but it was worth it, because Phoenix is the book I wanted to read; a book that didn't exist before I wrote it. And you will feel the same about the stories that you write. So I'd like to wish you all happy writing, and happy reading – because in the end, the key to being a writer is really just being a reader!
Note from Little Star Writing: 'We consider ourselves very lucky to have met the talented, award-winning and super-inspiring SF Said. SF met some of the Little Star Writers at Nelson Primary School and Trafalgar Junior School in 2013 / 2014, and gave feedback on their work, offered some helpful advice and writing tips, and even signed some copies of his books for them. It was great to hear about life as a writer from such an honest, hard-working author, and we hope you enjoy reading his very special LSW blog post. For more information on SF and his books, go to his website (click here) and do make sure you follow him on Twitter -@whatSFsaid'