Advice On How to Write a Short Story From Top Irish Authors

Advice On How to Write a Short Story From Top Irish Authors

WITH the Irish Post’s annual short story competition open for entries, we asked for some  advice from our favourite Irish authors to help amateur writers to get started and get their entries finished before the March 20 deadline.

Louise O’ Neill is the author of Only Ever Yours. She won the Best Newcomer of the Year at the Irish Book Awards in 2014 and has been shortlisted for both the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize and the YA Book Prize 2015.

O’Neill starts with the bad news. There are no magic tricks to ensuring brilliant reviews or enormous sales, she says.

“Just sit down in front of your computer/blank page and start writing. Carve out a specific time and day to dedicate to your book or short story or poetry and be ruthless about protecting that time from life and all of its distractions.

I read The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron before I started work on my first novel and found the tools recommended such as Morning Pages and Artist’s Dates enormously useful.”

O’Neill’s method is to begin with a “very rough first draft”.

“I never look back over it while I’m writing for fear of becoming discouraged or bogged down, I just keep writing until it’s finished. You can and will make huge changes once you are re-drafting the manuscript but you can’t edit a blank page.”

Never compare your first draft with someone else’s finished novel, she warns and if you do remember what Hemingway said; “The first draft of anything is sh*t.”

Million-selling Dublin author Patricia Scanlan stated her writing career while working as a librarian. She noticed how popular Mills and Boon novels were, so she set out to write a book in the same style. That attempt was rejected, but her next effort, her debut novel City Girl was a hit and she’s been penning bestsellers ever since.

Scanlan’s advice is this: "I would say if it's in you, it will flow out of you. Sit down and write …just write whatever comes into your head. Let it flow like a volcano erupting! Just keep it coming and coming. The first draft is always the most exuberant. Dermot Bolger said you should 'write with fire in your blood and edit with ice in your veins.‘”

Acclaimed author of Star of The Sea Joseph Connor says “Whether it’s a novel, a short story, a letter to a loved one, a gossipy email to a friend, a blog entry, a book review, or any other kind of writing, always give the reader a reason to be interested.

They have a lot of reasons not to be. They’re busy. They’re tired. They have endless other things they need to be doing. So introduce yourself. Try to make an impression right from the start. Be bold. Grab your courage. Otherwise they’re going to leave you. Think: ‘I’m on a date. And the clock is ticking. And this is someone I’d like to stay.’

Colm Tobin's advice to writers is "finish everything you start." Colm Tobin's advice to writers is "finish everything you start."

A song by the Australian rock-star Nick Cave commences with the line: ‘When I came up out of the meat-locker, the city was gone.’

Who wouldn’t want to keep listening to such a tale? A short story in Anne Enright’s collection The Portable Virgin begins: ‘Cathy was often wrong.’ What a brilliant opening sentence, so simple and pure. We all know a Cathy, right?"

Award-winning author Colm Tobin’s advice to young writers is to follow through. Finish everything you start. Often, you don't know where you're going for a while; then halfway through, something comes and you know. If you abandon things, you never find that out.”


We are looking for an original short story of up to 1,000 words reflecting Irish life in Britain.

The winner will get a trip to the prestigious Listowel Writers’ Week in Co.Kerry which takes place May 27-31, 2015 plus €500 in prize money.

Their work will also be published in the official Listowel Writers’ Week brochure and in The Irish Post.

Details on the prize and terms and conditions are here