27 October, 2017 / Writing
Are you burning to write a novel but just can’t get the words on the screen? There’s no miracle trick, unfortunately – but here are some things I’ve learned along the way…
The hardest thing is getting started. There are always a million things you can do instead. It’s usually more down to fear – ‘What if it’s rubbish?’ – than being stuck for ideas of what to write. Bear in mind that, when you’re starting out, it’s just a draft – and no one needs to see it but you.
In fact your first draft will probably be a real pig’s ear. Don’t worry – you can go back and wrestle it into shape later. I normally edit my own books around four times before they’re in any fit and publishable form! My first drafts are mortifying.
You don’t need a fancy writing room or a silent house. If you have a fierce desire to write, you’ll find the time and space. I wrote my first book at night when my kids were in bed. A friend used to set his alarm for 5 am and write before his children woke up. If your home is too hectic, find a cafe, or go to the library instead.
Choose subject matter that interests and excites you. There’s no point in trying to identify supposed ‘gaps in the market’ – if your heart’s not in it, it will show. Be true to yourself.
You don’t have to try to be super-literary or overly clever. If you love pacy thrillers, write one of those. Ditto rom-coms or racy pot-boilers. Write the kind of book you love to read.
Experiment until you find the most conducive environment for you. For instance, I always have music playing when I write. I can now tell when I’m running out of energy and ideas, and when that happens I walk the dog, or go for a run – for me, it’s best to get out of the house. I also find cooking a great de-stresser. I’ll make dinner and then feel revved up to do more writing later.
Don’t keep twiddling with that first paragraph. You’ll drive yourself crazy. Get it down, then press on. You can come back and fix it later.
If you’re stale, take a trip. Trains are my favourite place to write. There is literally nothing else to do but sip coffee, glance out of the window occasionally and get on with the work.
Writing is hard. It’s bloody hard! You might feel as if you’re going a bit mad. Do other things – get out, see people, talk to humans, move your body about. Then get back to it. A lot of novel writing is sheer graft, but when it’s going well, and you think, ‘Actually, this is not bad at all!’, then it’s a joyous thing to do.
Loosen up, and don’t take yourself too seriously. In other words, have fun and let yourself go a bit with your writing. When I’m stuck, or tearing my hair out over a tricky chapter, I try to remind myself: It’s only a book!