As Somerset Maugham said, ‘There are three rules for the writing of a novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.’
While we’re waiting for someone to discover those golden rules, here are eight tips I’ve learned while sweating over my writing for the past ten years.
1. READ – Keep a note of the books you’ve read. What kind of book was it? Was it written in first person or third? What did you like about it and what did you hate? You should find that there are similarities between the books you love. Dark humour? Feisty heroines? Crime? If you aren’t writing the kind of book you enjoy reading, you are making your writing life more difficult than it needs to be. We all want to write something original but don’t let that put you off reading books similar to yours. The more books you read in your chosen genre, the more you will get a ‘feel’ for how you should structure your novel. Most of the time you won’t even be aware that you’re doing it.
2. BEFORE YOU START – They say writers fall into two categories the Pantsers and the Planners. Though it’s fun to ‘write by the seats of your pants’, planning makes life so much easier. BUT, if you’re not sure where your story is going, start writing and see if your characters offer you inspiration. Your plan can be as tight or loose as suits you. At the looser end, you will have characters and the basic premise of a story. At the other end of the spectrum you will know everything that will happen to each character, chapter by chapter, and how the story will end. As you write, you might see a different, better, path that the story could take, or a character might surprise you – and that’s okay too.
3. LEARN – Every book you read and every word you write is an opportunity to learn. I did a creative writing course with Curtis Brown Creative, but the costs of these courses are prohibitive to most. Find a bunch of like-minded writers, either locally or online. Accept critique and learn from it. There are some great craft book out there, such as Stephen King’s ‘On Writing’, and John Yorke’s ‘Into the Woods’. You could find the inspiration you need between these pages. Absorb what works for you and ignore what doesn’t.
4. WRITE OFTEN – As with everything, your writing gets better with practice. If you’re waiting for inspiration to strike, your book will never get written. There’s nothing like a deadline to focus your mind, so set yourself one. If you set a target of 5,000 words a week, before you know it, a month has passed and you’ve got 20,000 words. In four months you’ve got the first draft of your novel.
5. WRITE QUICKLY – Whatever target you set, get the first draft written quickly. It’s difficult to see the shape of the novel until you’ve reached the end. There is no point polishing each chapter as you write it when it might not make the final cut. The quicker you write, the less likely you are to second guess yourself. Let it flow. Ernest Hemingway knew what he was talking about when he said, ‘Write drunk, edit sober’. Writing is where you throw every idea at the page, not knowing if it will work or not, but editing is where the book finds its voice and you can’t edit a blank page.
6. EDIT – For me, editing is the most rewarding part of the writing process. You’ve got your basics, you know where the story is going, and now is the time to go back and fill in gaps, add in the set-ups, iron out niggles. Each draft adds new depth and complexity.
7. MAKE IT PERSONAL – Unless your book is autobiographical, you probably won’t have experienced the exact same thing as your characters. However, you will have experienced strong emotions such as love, heartbreak, and bereavement. Channel those feelings and make it real. Though the disclaimers at the front of books state ‘any similarities to those persons living or dead are purely coincidental’ we use character traits of people we’ve met, whether consciously or not. True words are the ones that mean the most and if you care about what is happening to your characters because you feel their pain or their elation, your readers will too.
8. BREATHE – You and your book will benefit from some downtime. Writing is an intense process, and you spend more time with your made-up friends than your real ones. At the end of each draft (and there will be many of these) take a break of at least a week before looking at it with fresh eyes. When you revisit your novel look upon it with pride. That’s something you’ve created – something that wouldn’t exist without you. Now nurture it.
Jo Jakeman is a novelist based in Derby. Following completion of a creative writing course with Curtis Brown Creative, she won the prestigious Friday Night Live Award at York Festival of Writing where she was also shortlisted for best opening chapter. Her wickedly dark debut thriller, Sticks and Stones, has been sold in eight territories and will be published by Harvill Secker (Penguin Random House) in July 2018. She is currently writing her second thriller due summer 2019.
Follow her on Twitter https://twitter.com/JoJakemanWrites
Find out more about her on her website https://www.jojakeman.com/
About STICKS AND STONES
Imogen’s husband is a bad man. His ex-wife and his new mistress might have different perspectives but Imogen thinks she knows the truth. And now he’s given her an ultimatum: get out of the family home in the next fortnight or I’ll fight you for custody of our son.
In a moment of madness, Imogen does something unthinkable. Something that puts her in control. But how far will she go to protect her son and punish her husband? And what will happen when his ex and his girlfriend get tangled up in her plans?
Sticks and Stones is a deliciously twisting psychological thriller from an exciting new voice.
Category: How To and Tips