Just write!

category_diary80JUST WRITE! – I’ve been thinking about what advice to give someone who is starting to write – I’m going to be teaching a course on beginner’s fiction at the Arvon Foundation in October – so it’s been on my mind. You can still book a place if you’d like to come: it’s a wonderful, week long retreat in Devon with time to write, writers to talk to and workshops run by me and fellow novelist, Christopher Wakling.

So what would I say to someone who wants to write a novel and is just starting out?


  • Believe in yourself. Publishers are desperate for new novelists, writers who may be best sellers and haven’t yet been published and already disappointed them.
  • Make time to write, preferably a few times a week. Schedule it in your diary and make sure you and everyone else in the family know it’s your time.
  • Set yourself a word count. If you’ve only got an hour, it might be 200 words; if you’ve got the whole day, perhaps aim for 1,000.
  • Don’t write right up to the final second of your scheduled time. Finish early and make notes so that you can pick up where you left off next time.

But before you start writing…

  • Plot. You don’t need the whole thing worked out, it’s an organic, creative process. But have an idea where you’re going and preferably, what the end is going to be.
  • Spend time creating characters. Your narrative will stand or fall on the strength of your protagonists.
  • Do a bit of research. Enough to get going – oodles if you’re writing a historical novel – but then put it to one side. You can always do more/fill in the blanks/fact check afterwards.
  • If you get stuck, try and write something – anything – in your allotted time – and then go for a walk to think through whatever problem you’re wrestling with.
  • Read. Especially in the genre you’re writing in.
  • Carry a notebook with you and jot down ideas, fragments of conversations, the tail ends of dreams.
  • Don’t be in a hurry. A novelist is the marathon runner of the writing world. You’ll need a good 80,000 words when you’re done.
  • Reaching the end is just the beginning. Revise, revise, revise and then do a bit more editing.
  • Don’t give up the day job. Most novelists only earn around £5,000 per novel and even if you have had a few published, you are unlikely to command six figure advances if your novels haven’t sold in Dan Brown-like quantities.
  • Forget the idea of a crazy person alone in their garret. The novelist, whilst he or she may be a long-distance runner, is, like any athlete, surrounded by an elite team: your agent, mentor, reader, and then, hopefully, editor, copy editor, readers who buy your books, sales team and publicist, plus everyone in the publisher’s  office and their teenage daughter, will want to ‘help’.
  • Listen. Be nice.
  • Everyone says they have a novel in them. You are the only one who can turn that dinner party chat into a book launch in a bar.

Good luck!

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