Having reached the ‘Thank God the first draft is over’ stage of novel number three, (number four if you count my first unpublished manuscript) I feel I have come to understand a lot about the writing process and what works for me. Not content to sit here and keep all this useless valuable information to myself, I’m gifting it to the world!
- Your first book will probably be a bit shit. That’s okay – it would be far more disconcerting if your first attempt was your magnum opus (that’s Latin for ‘get the posh ice-cream out – I’ve just written a bestseller!’). You will often hear writing referred to as a ‘craft’ and as such, you are doing an apprenticeship. Get yourself down to the library – yes, the library – and find some really good books about writing novels, from arcs to POV’s, characterisation to pacing. The only way to get better is to keep writing and not get too upset when you have to put that first manuscript in a file called ‘Why world? Why?’ or as I labelled mine ‘That’s the end of this writing malarkey!’
- READ. This is not optional. Just like artists study the great masters, you have to study the great authors. The trick is not to compare yourself to them. That’s the quickest way to end your writing career. As the poet Jane Kenyon said —“Read good books, have good sentences in your ears.”
- There is no ‘one way’ to write a novel. Some people have mood boards with photos of their characters and settings, along with floor to ceiling post-it note maps, all tied together with a lattice-work of red thread. Personally, I like to just sit at the computer and write. ‘It’s all in here!’ I assure people as I tap my head. Then I like to really ramp up the tension by doing things the hard way, like writing chapters out of sequence, creating different timelines and then frantically trying to match them all up at the end. Bliss.
- Define your idea of success. This is really important – in all areas of life. In this age, I think we all suffer to some extent from the ‘nothing is ever good enough’ bug. We are constantly bombarded with other peoples’ amazing success and so our own expectations keep shifting, as we are always looking for the next thing and the next. When I started writing, I just wanted to write a book that I was proud of and that readers would enjoy. My goals have grown and changed since then, but my idea of success hasn’t.
- Staring out the window is writing. It just is. Taking a bath. Going for a walk. Reading a book. It’s all writing – so give yourself permission to spend time away from the screen.
- I used to think that your ‘writer’s voice’ was important. I probably blogged about it (see point number 8). Now I realise that a writer’s voice is the last thing you want to hear when reading a book. I want the writer to be invisible. I want the book to feel like a lost story I just happened to pick up by accident. In other words, good writing shouldn’t sound like writing.
- I like to write ideas down as I get them – preferably on random pieces of paper I will spend the next 48 hours searching for in the bin, while my lovely ‘writer’s notebook’ lies idle and pristine in some far-off corner of the house.
- There are an infinite number of bloggers online telling you how to write. ‘100 ways to write that snogging scene’. ‘150 ways to beat writer’s block.’ After a while, you realise that you would be better served spending your time reading the back of a cereal box. (Who doesn’t love a good word maze?!) What’s worse is, you waste valuable writing time trying to learn a load of rules you’ll probably figure out for yourself anyway. Unless it’s an established author that you admire handing out this advice (who’s at least on novel three!) – ignore it.
- I edit as I go along. There I said it.
- Give yourself permission to write a terrible first draft. I once heard it said that a first draft is telling yourself the story, so just let it be that. A rudimentary ‘he said she said’ gawky-looking manuscript that will, after much love and attention (and unhealthy dollops of frustration) turn into a beautiful swan.
- If you ever want to get those odd jobs around the house that you’ve been putting off for years finished – start writing a book.
- Adapt or die. Well, you probably won’t die, but in this highly competitive space it’s always good to be able to adapt your writing plans. You may not get the publisher you wanted, or you might get an agent you hadn’t foreseen. Maybe you’ll end up writing children’s books instead of crime. Allow yourself to be open to opportunities, but that doesn’t mean you should write something you don’t love. If you don’t love it, what’s the point?
- Connect. Whether you are self-published or traditionally published, you are the best person to promote your writing and the best way to do that is to connect with your audience, peers and industry professionals. Even though Twitter and Facebook are the MORTAL ENEMIES of your writing time, they are a vital tool when it comes to marketing your book.
- If you write – call yourself a writer. Simples.
- Creating a book out of nothing is a kind of alchemy. Enjoy the magic! Writing is the best thing in the world because you get to tell a story that is uniquely yours, and in a way that nobody else could. Write it, because no-one else can.
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