As I have recently discovered, writing a novel is not for the fainthearted. For starters, there’s the exhausting process of living and breathing your characters, plots and storylines, only to realise how unfeasible everything looks when it stares back at you on the page in unforgiving black and white. Writing fiction is never going to be easy, but the following 10 tips might just help you hang on to your sanity.
- Don’t squirrel yourself away
Tempting though it may be to hide yourself away from the world with just your keyboard for company, too much time focused on your novel without a break is more likely to stunt your creativity.
- Say ‘Yes’ to things to which you would normally say ‘No’
Experiencing different things and meeting new people is the perfect way to get you away from your desk and give your poor whirring mind a rest. Unless you really can’t afford the time, think twice before you turn down an invitation.
- Do some regular exercise
It might sound boring but fresh air and a power walk is the best way to clear your head and prepare you for another few hours of writing. Personally, most of my inspiration comes to me when I’m doing Pilates, much to my teacher’s frustration (‘Focus!’).
- Tell people you are writing a novel
Brush the self-consciousness aside, and tell your friends, family, work colleagues, and whoever else you can think of that you’re writing a novel. Why? Because some of them will be your first readers, and when your book is published, your nicest reviewers.
- Try to write as often as possible
Writing a novel is one of the toughest things you can do, and finding the time to do it between your paying job and family obligations can seem impossible. But setting yourself some reasonable targets is a great way to get you into the rhythm of writing. For instance, I set myself a goal of writing 1,000 words of fiction every day but I take a break at weekends.
- Plan the next steps of your story
When you have finished writing for the day, take a moment to think about what you will write next. Jot down a few sentences as a guide so you won’t be stuck for ideas when you return to your novel the following day.
- Be alert to the world around you
One of the hardest things about writing a novel is bringing your characters to life on the page. Be more observant about your environment and the people around you. For example, you might notice that one person you are talking to has an unusually deep voice, or has a habit of adjusting her glasses, or has a slightly odd way of walking. All of these seemingly minor points of observation could go towards building your characters.
- Seek feedback
Some writers like to receive feedback after every chapter, while others (like me) prefer it after completing the first draft of the manuscript. Whatever your preference, just be sure to ask for feedback. Remember, no book was ever published on a first draft, and getting input from others is the best way to get your book to where it needs to be.
- Tap your network
While the internet is great for connecting with people online, it is no substitute for meeting people face to face. Make a point to attend industry events, join book clubs, and writing groups. The more people get to know and like you, the more support they will give you and your book.
- Get yourself out there
Whether you’re signed to a publisher or not, once it’s out there, you will need to promote your own book. This might be everything from Tweeting, posting on Instagram, setting up an author page on Amazon (and remembering to keep it up to date!) to making a video of yourself talking about your book, not to mention book signings and attending other writing events.
Finally, the most important tip of all: READ, READ and KEEP READING! Read all types of books, fiction, nonfiction, the classics… You may not think it, but reading will always make you a better writer.
Emma Murray is a bestselling, award-winning author and ghostwriter. Her first novel is being published in February 2020