10 tips to start writing a novel for aspiring authors

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Dear Louise, I have a lot of material and I would like to put it in book form. I haven’t written anything before. Do you have any ideas on how I should start?

I have done countless Zoom sessions with students over the past 18 months and questions like this come up a lot. I always struggle to demystify writing – there’s a lot of bullshit surrounding art and I don’t think it’s useful.

In fact, it can act as a barrier to entry. If you want to write, this desire is unlikely to leave you. It’s just about going out of your own way and letting the words flow onto the page.

I preface this column by saying that every author who gives advice on how to write a novel will tell you how he writes his novels.

Everyone’s toolkit of how to do it will be different, so feel free to ignore anything here if it doesn’t speak to you. The most important thing you can do is figure out what works best for you.

What time of the day are you most creative? I like to get up early and sit at my desk before the outside world (and my phone notifications) can enter my thoughts, but one of my closest friends, a very appreciated, prefers to write at night, working hard in front of her laptop until three or four in the morning.

Are you someone who likes to write little and often, or do you like to write in long bursts on the weekends? Do you need to trace your story in great detail or does your best handwriting seem to come when you hover over the seat of your pants?

No way is “better” than the other – the only thing that matters is that the book is written. All that being said, here are some tips I like to give to aspiring writers. Hope you find them useful.

1. Confidence is crucial

Before writing After the Silence, my editor asked me to submit a full abstract while she was going on maternity leave. It was my first time doing it, and after that this book was the fastest to write of all my work. A preview is basically a synopsis, like telling your best friend what happens in the story. You don’t have to strictly adhere to it (I certainly made a lot of amendments during the process and I think it’s a good idea to leave room for a change of mind) but I got it. made me feel more confident when I started. Confidence is crucial, especially with a first author.

2. Get to know your characters

Before I start writing a book, I’m going to do a long question-and-answer period with the main characters. It can serve as a useful benchmark for physical characteristics like hair and eye color (you’d be surprised how easy it is to overlook them), but it also brings the characters to life. I ask questions like “what was their first memory?” “,” What is the secret that they have never revealed to anyone? And “what have they done in the past that they are most ashamed of? The reader may never need to know the answers to these questions, but it will help you understand why the characters behave the way they do.

3. Avoid distractions

There are days when pushing yourself is futile, when the work, if any, you produce will be unnecessary. But in most cases, I find that setting an alarm for 30 minutes and leaving my phone in another room will always help put me in the right frame of mind. You’d be surprised how much you’ll want to write when you don’t have other distractions, if only out of boredom!

4. Set a deadline

Set goals and deadlines. If you wrote 1,000 words twice a week, you would have a first draft in less than a year. It is that simple.

5. Put your writing first

With that in mind, prioritize your writing. There may be some sacrifices to be made – maybe you can’t go out for a drink with your friend on a Friday night because you only have Saturday morning free to work on your novel – but it will be worth it. , at the end. Stick to your dreams enough to commit to them.

6. Write to get out of Writer’s Block

If you come across Writer’s Block, write through. Write a short story. Write a chapter that is out of order with everything you have written so far. Just exercise that muscle. Writer’s Block can become a self-fulfilling prophecy; do not allow it to take root. My first drafts are always at least 50,000 too many and I know these words were written when I had no idea how the story was progressing. I wrote through anyway.

7. Stop procrastinating

Start today. This is the best advice I can give you, both in writing and in life. If you wait until you feel “ready” you will wait a very long time. Procrastination is just fear in action.

8. Write a terrible first draft

Don’t expect perfection. In fact, give yourself permission to write a really terrible first draft. Sarah Moore Fitzgerald, a brilliant writer and creative writing teacher, always says you should have three first drafts. The first is to tell the story. The second project is to do it right. And the third project is to make it good. In the beginning, it’s quantity over quality. The real magic happens in the editing process, but you can’t edit a blank page.

9. Don’t compare your work to someone else’s

Finally, I would tell you not to compare yourself to others. Your favorite writers aren’t special, they just work really hard. They also have a team of people, ranging from an agent and editor, to editor and proofreader, to make sure their book is in the best possible condition when it lands on the shelves. Don’t compare your first draft with their 12th. It will leave you hopeless, and if there’s anything a writer needs, it’s a little faith.

10. Take a pen now

Start today: this is the best advice I can give you, both in writing and in life. Procrastination is just fear in action.

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