So you want to write a Novel?

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So you want to write a novel? You’ve had an idea rolling around in your head for months, perhaps even years, and now you’re just itching to get it down on paper and have the world read your story. Having recently written and published my first novel and now working on the second, I learned quite a few things along the way. Here are 10 of my top tips.

  1. Have an outline. Write a plan, a rough guide, for what your story is going to be about, where it takes place, who your main characters are and a chronological order of events. You won’t stick to it but it helps to start with some structure.
  2. Word Count. Start small – many of you writing your first novel will perhaps be working full-time or you may be a busy parent or carer. Whatever your situation, it’s highly unlikely you can spend all the hours of your day totally devoted to writing – so have a goal. I aim for 1000 words every day. Sometimes I manage 2000 words in one day, on other days I only manage 500 words. It’s fine if you don’t always hit your daily target but if you have one it helps to keep you motivated. John Grisham began his writing career as a lawyer. He got up early every morning and wrote one page – we can all manage that. And Jodi Picoult said, “You might not write well every day, but you can always edit a bad page. You can’t edit a blank page.”
  3. Give yourself a weekly deadline. It can be a word count, percentage of progress, number of pages, whatever. Have something to aim for, and someone who will hold you accountable.
  4. Have a set time to write. Be strict with this and try and stick to it. After a bit of experimenting I’ve discovered that writing in the morning works best for me. Work out what’s best for you and don’t let yourself off!
  5. Choose a place to write. It doesn’t really matter where it is, your spare bedroom, the kitchen, your study (if you’re lucky enough to have one), wherever, just make it unique to your writing. I personally need to work without interruption. However, some of my family members think if I’m writing it’s okay for them to keep disturbing me. As a consequence, I now carry out a lot of my writing in the spare bedroom at my parent’s house.
  6. Get early feedback. As soon as I had finished my manuscript I had several copies made and kindly asked likeminded friends and colleagues to read my novel and provide me with honest feedback. I was lucky in that some of my first reviewers included journalists, writers and editors.
  7. Accept constructive criticism. Reject destructive criticism. Not everyone will like your story or style of writing but there will always be those who do. Study the constructive criticism and see if there is anything you agree with or had niggling doubts about and decide if you need to make changes.
  8. Re-write. Accept that you will have to re-write your novel several times before you can honestly say it is finished. Early feedback will help highlight any weak points or indicate any links that can be strengthened within the story or between the characters.
  9. Proofread. Get someone to proofread your finished manuscript – I can’t stress how important this is. It doesn’t matter how good you are at proofreading the work of others, you are too close to your own work and you need fresh, expert eyes to pick up what you will miss.
  10. Don’t give up. Get your first novel out there. Send it to a publisher or self-publish if you prefer. Accept it may not be a masterpiece and it may not be your best work. Some authors are embarrassed by their first book. But without that first novel, they never would have learned the lessons they did. So get it out there and move on to your next project. This is the only way you get good. You practice. Edgar Rice Burroughs said “If you write one story, it may be bad; if you write a hundred, you have the odds in your favour.”
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