Monday, 6 June 2016

Writing a novel

When I'm writing or editing, the two things I find myself staring at around the room most are my cat, and the window, for some reason both are endless sources of inspiration for me.

Writing a novel is a tricky business, it takes time a lot of time, hard work and dedication. It can be stressful when you have this perfect idea painted in your head but cannot translate it into words. You have to really want to write a novel, because it is one of the most time consuming, mentally straining things you can inflict upon yourself.

So why would you want to write one you might ask? I've almost finished the last (seriously the last) edit of my novel, and I feel very proud of it, its a strange but amazing feeling. I believe everyone has a book in them, and if you want to write one, you can - and should.

1) Characters

The first thing you should start thinking about before putting pen to paper is your characters, the more you think about them and what they are like, the more you will get to know them and be able to flesh them out as believable people. Keep a log for each character and try to do one at a time, what is their favourite cocktail? what political party would they belong to? are they lazy/frustrated/miserable/happy go lucky/artsy/serious. Note it all down, When you feel like you know that character inside and out, move on to the next.

2) Read 

Read a lot. The biggest teacher of writing are books so you need to read as much as possible. Read everything, magazines, trashy books, fantasy, science fiction, murder mysteries, etc etc. You learn as much from reading bad writing as you do from reading good.

3) Plot plot plot

A novel is nothing without a plot. Plan exactly what is going to happen to your characters. Some people like to write and just 'see what happens' but that is exactly what I did, and I wouldn't recommend it. This technique will give you infuriating writers block on a weekly basis. If you don't plot, you will get stuck later on. Plotting makes the writing easier because you know where you're going with it.

4) Write everyday

This is difficult to do, everyone's busy and writing takes up a lot of time, but just like you have to make time to read, you also have to make time to write. You could spend that hour train journey on the way to work writing, you can write at the hairdressers, at the gym, on the toilet (you get the idea) Write when you're tired/hungover/bored/happy/sad. You have to treat it like a job, even if you wrote a chapter a month, that could be a novel in a year.

5) Get off the internet

You will get distracted, we live in a society that has a thousands different useless things trying to grab your attention at once. You need to focus, disconnect the wifi if you have to, turn your phone off, and write. I literally have a sign which hangs on the wall that reads 'For fucks sake Amanda get off the internet and write' it works.

6) Dialogue

This is something many writers struggle with, because there are so many different ways of speaking, so how will your characters speak? When I first started writing dialogue my characters sounded stiff, false, and not at all believable. I realized I wasn't thinking about my characters and how they would actually speak, in relation to their personalities. The things that affect your speech most I think are personality, friends/family, and your environment. Read your characters dialogue out loud, does it sound right?

7) Edit like a butcher

This is one of the most brutal parts of being a writer, "Kill your darlings" is an apt phrase for this point. No one wants to cut out a sentence (or sometimes a whole chapter) that they worked really hard on, you poured your heart and soul into it, you are emotionally attached to it, but you can't be. You have to be ruthless enough to cut out anything that doesn't work for the story. I've cut sentences, paragraphs, characters, plot lines and a lot of dialogue, because it hasn't worked, it kills me to do it but I know it must be done to make the story as good as it can be. I have been through 4 serious edits, how many you do depends on how lazy you are the first time you edit. Get someone to proof read it when you think you've finished.

8) Don't give up

Or if you do, don't give up forever. I shelved my book for many years and even when I picked it up again I would go through periods of getting pissed off at myself for not being able to explain random plot points, or not knowing how to end a chapter, and drop it again. Other things that put me off were the difficulty of editing. Write when its hard, write when its easy, and always stop when you feel you could keep going, it will make it easier the next time you sit down to write again.

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