You may have written short stories or poems for a while, and now you’d like to write a novel. Or you have an idea that you feel would make a good book, but you’re not sure how to start. And while it’s tempting to dive right in to your first chapter, you might like to first consider some of the suggestions in the following series of posts in this section of my blog. In the following months, I’ll be adding posts on characterisation, plotting, voice, saggy middles, point of view and much, much more. I hope they will help make writing your novel easier, so that you’ll be less likely to run out of steam halfway through, and thus be more likely to finish your book.
But first, a few things I found out when writing my own novels that may help you:
1] Writing a book is hard – no, let me rephrase that. Anyone can write a book, but writing a good book is hard, because it involves a lot of work. There will be times when the words just flow and you’ll write a thousand words in an hour, and there’ll be times you’ll be lucky to write a paragraph in that hour. There will be times when you’ll love what you’ve already written, and there’ll be times when you read what you’ve written and think ‘what a load of utter rubbish!’ And then there are the rewrites, and the edits, and and and… But all of this is normal, so just be aware of it and tell yourself it’s all part of the process.
2] Staying focussed is hard. People sometimes say to me they don’t have time to write – but they have time to go on Facebook, to watch Netflix, to text with friends and so on. Now there’s absolutely nothing wrong with doing any of these things; what is wrong – if you really want to write a novel – is spending so much time on these other activities you leave yourself no time to write [and yes, I will admit to spending too much time on Netflix!].
3] Writing a novel takes time. Don’t expect to write a novel in a few weeks, or a month, or even a year. Yes, I know people say they’ve written a whole novel during NaNoWriMo, but I would argue they’ve written a first draft, at best. Writing a novel is not a race – The Yellow Papers took me three years from first idea to final draft, That Devil’s Madness took two-and-a-half years, and I’ve been writing my current work – Orphan Rock – for two-and-a-half years so far and have not yet finished the first draft. So don’t rush it – your novel will take as long as it needs.
4] Researching a novel is fun – and interesting. And it’s something you have to do, no matter how well you think you know the setting, the time period, the characters and so on. The problem is when you find yourself clicking more and more interesting links, and before you know it the day is gone, you haven’t written a thing, and if you’re honest with yourself most of what you spent time on is irrelevant to your story. Or your research will give you another idea for a book – an idea that’s seems much more interesting than the one you’re working on – and you want to start writing/researching/plotting that one right now. I’ll talk more about researching in another post, but for the moment, just make sure you don’t use researching as an excuse not to write.
5] Writing a book is a process.
‘This is how you do it: you sit down at the keyboard and you put one word after another until it’s done. It’s that easy, and that hard.’ Neil Gaiman
But the more you think about it, the more you plan what sort of story you want to write and where you want your story to go before you begin writing, the more confident you’ll be when you start. And if, when you start writing, your story leads you away from your original idea, that’s okay too.
6] Don’t expect your first book to become a best seller. In fact, don’t even expect your first book to be published at this time. Yes, you’ve read about some author’s first book becoming a best seller overnight and being made into a big Hollywood movie, but that’s not the norm. In fact, I’d argue that it may not even be true – I mean, how do we know that this really is the author’s first book? First published book, yes, but how many other manuscripts did that author write that never saw the light of day? That received rejection after rejection and now sit in their computer’s writing folder, waiting to perhaps be resurrected and re-written some time in the future?
There is one exception where first books have a reasonable chance of being published, and that’s when writing a novel is part of the writer’s PhD candidature. But in such a case, be aware that the writer has had the guidance and help of recognised writers and academics-in-the-field for at least three years [the length of your average Creative Writing PhD].
And whilst on that topic – I’m often asked ‘Do I need to do a writing degree to become a writer?’. Of course not. Creative Writing degrees have only been around for a relatively short time – a writing workshop was first set up at the University of Iowa in 1922, followed by the University of East Anglia, which offered a Masters in 1970, then a PhD in 1987. And books – award winning books – have been written long before Creative Writing degrees were a thing. So don’t believe all the hype about all these ‘first books’ becoming best sellers [or even getting published]. ‘Debut novel’ is an advertising phrase publishers like to use, but it only means ‘the first published book’ by that author. Yes, it could happen that the first book you write gets published, becomes a best seller, and wins stacks of awards, but then again… Just take it one step at the time, write the best book you can, and don’t even think of publication at this stage.
‘Focus more on your desire than on your doubt, and the dream will take care of itself.’ Mark Twain
7] Finishing a book is quite an achievement – many people say they want to write a book but never start, let alone finish. So whether or not your novel gets published, you will have every reason to feel proud. You will have learned a lot in the process – methods and techniques that will serve you well in your writing career. And you will have created something unique, something you have every reason to feel proud of. So celebrate the event – you’ve earned it! So no, writing a book isn’t easy, but I find it a wonderful, very satisfying thing to do.
What about you – have you started writing a book? How are you finding it – is it anything like what you’d imagined? #writingtip #novel #WritingPromptFollow