Tips for Writing That Novel Inside You

1. Write something. Anything.Think about your idea. It doesn’t have to be clearly formed. You don’t have to have the entire plot mapped out in some massive diagram with PowerPoint presentation, you just have to have an idea. So as you sit there staring at that blank Word document wondering what on earth you think you’re doing, write something about your idea. It could be the start of the novel, a scene in the middle or even the last chapter (ala J.K. Rowling). If you literally sit there and make yourself write, something will come. It may be bollocks, but then they always say the first draft of anything is crap. Give yourself permission to be rubbish, don’t judge too harshly, just write. At this stage, the only person that’s going to see this other than you is God and he’s busy trying to sort out the Middle East. Aim for 2000 words. If you get to 1000 and can’t do anymore, don’t beat yourself up. When you come back to it, reread what you’ve written and you may well be surprised by what’s there. At least, I hope you are or this piece didn’t do what it said on the tin and you will be mad with me.

2. Keep Going. The trap I always fall into is to keep going back to the start and rereading from the beginning, mainly because this is easier than carrying on. This is fine when you first start but I find when I keep doing this, I never progress. You continually rewrite what’s already written, never getting much beyond the first few chapters. So, write more new material, as much as you can. Even if the hoovering suddenly seems a lot more appealing.

3. Don’t write yourself into a dead-end. Sometimes I get stuck. Where is the story going? What does my main character do now? How do I transition from where I am to where I want to be? The trick here is not to stand up, swear and curse the day you ever thought you could do this and abandon your writing. Try and write yourself out of it. Otherwise, you won’t want to come back to carry on. You will dread returning to the computer because you know you are at a dead-end. So, get yourself out before stopping for the day if at all possible. I know, easy to say, harder to do but I promise you’ll feel good if you get out of the hole.

4. Get to the End. Once you get going, you may find the words just flow which, of course, is the optimal place to be. Keep writing, get those 80,000 plus words down. 80,000 words! What the hell! No one told me it had to be 80,000 words. Finish it. When you’re done, give yourself a pat on the back. Maybe even have a bottle of wine to celebrate. You deserve it, because you have just completed your first novel and that is a fantastic achievement.

5. Put it away. Leave your book alone for at least 6 weeks. Don’t look at it, don’t touch it. Do all those things you wanted to do when you were writing it. Yay!

6. Review and edit. When you’ve given yourself some time to recover, come back to your novel and start to read. It will feel strangely exhilarating. Some bits will be utter crap but other parts will surprise you. I found myself thinking ‘wow, did I really write this, that’s actually pretty good.’ It’s a great feeling. Sort of like getting drunk and fooling around with a total stranger some bits are good, others…not so much. Now get your manuscript up to as good a place as you can. Be ruthless, take at least ten percent out of it. Needs to be tight, not flabby.

7. Send to friends/people whose opinions you respect. Once you’ve got it as good as you can, send to 5-8 friends or others you respect and ask them what they think. Tell them to be honest and ask for constructive ways to make it better. You don’t want to hear ‘I thought it was good/bad.’ You want reasons. Ask specific questions like ‘do you like the main character, is he/she believable? Is there too much/too little description? Secondary characters, like/don’t like, why? Also ask what’s good, what did they like? Some points you will agree with, some you won’t. Don’t get all shirty when they tell you the main character is about as sympathetic as typhoid, it’s always about making it better.

8. Send to strangers. Once you’ve done another few drafts incorporating the comments you receive it’s worth trying to get people you don’t know to read it. Strangers? I don’t want strangers reading it, what a ridiculous suggestion! What if they hate it? Then what? Websites like Youwriteon.com are a great way of getting complete strangers to read your work and give you an honest opinion that friends sometimes won’t.

9. Get it out there. Now it’s polished and edited to the absolute best it can be, start sending out to agents/publishers. Good luck! If you get that six figure deal as a result of reading this, let me know so I can send you my bank details for my percentage.

Some of the tips here are from Stephen King’s excellent book On Writing which if you haven’t read, go buy it and heed its message. It’s from the master. Here endith the lesson.