Top Tips for Writing a Novel

For those of us who dream of seeing our novels on the bookshelves of Waterstone’s and in the hands of readers who aren’t related to us, the biggest mystery is how to write and keep writing. The first moment of inspiration, when we have a bright new idea, feels like that really is all we need to write – a good idea! Writing, for those first throws of our new idea, comes easily. Pages seem to write themselves!

But then, the plot gets complicated, words stick at the back of our brains and characters become so unruly that we begin to wonder if we really even like them enough to write about them. Sometimes, life gets in the way, we get bored or just too tired to face up to The Blank Page. So how do I keep going? How do I write once the early burst of fresh inspiration has passed?

Here are my top tips on writing for the long haul:

  1. Change it up
    Routine can be good. Some writers swear by it. But I feel that as creative types, it is best to be free to change how we work and go with our instincts. Sometimes I like to write with pen and paper, other times I find a computer much more efficient. I often make notes and these can vary between orderly chapter plans and haphazard scribbes, usually written diagonally. Give yourself the freedom to break with routine and let your creativity flow.
  2. Pick a piece and stick with it
    This is a difficult one. And not everyone will agree with this, but I feel like my brain is constantly bursting with dozens of ideas for stories and novels. However, the thing with novels is that they are long and complex and require a lot of attention – yes, like small children. I find that it’s best not to flit about between ideas but to pick one and give it your full attention. Remember, the easiest part is starting your story, the hardest part is completing it. In my experience, taking a break to work on something new, tends to mean the death of my original MS.
  3. Let your mind wander
    Not everything has to be written down. Not every scene and chapter will make it to your final MS. It’s ok to write parts of the story that are just for you. Let your mind wander and consider the endless possibilities away from the page before coming back ready to make some tricky decisions.
  4. Read. Read. Read.
    It’s a cliché. Every writer says it. They can’t all be wrong. I would suggest aiming for at least a book a fortnight (though I read closer to two a week) this is so that you don’t get stuck with one writers individual style. Yes, reading the genre you are writing is helpful, but I think its best to read widely. I love to go into a book shop and just pick randomly and remember that even bad writing can teach us something. You could also join a book club or online forum, just to get you out of your reading comfort zone.
  5. Dont’ Get Stuck Inside
    I mean this in two ways:
    Firstly, writing can be sedentary and it’s easy to get stuck in the house and your armchair. I like to go for a walk every day, especially when I’ve been writing for hours. It’s good for your health, your mind and getting those plot holes figured out.
    Secondly, writing can be lonely and sometimes you need a change and/or an outside perspective. Join a writing group. go to a book club or ask friends to read your work and give HONEST notes. Hopefully one of them will be prepared to talk about your book over a coffee and let you talk about your characters as though they are real people.
  6. Read aloud
    Sometimes when I get stuck with a piece of writing I like to print out the last few chapters and read my writing out loud. I find this helps with tone and pace and that by the time I have finished reading my last few chapters, I have the next bit of plot ready to write.
  7. Know your setting
    Writers block can often appear because I don’t exactly know what a realistic next step could be. If you’re writing in an unfamiliar setting,  or need to consider dates, then it can be hard to know how people would react and how characters might be effected by their environment. When I reach a moment like that, I like to press pause on writing for two weeks and do some thorough research. This can mean going to the library, creating a timeline of historical events, looking at travel guides or simply reading some fiction which is set in a similar time or place.
  8. Ask yourself questions
    I often like to take a few pages in my notebook and just write down, without thinking too long, of all the things that are worrying me about my plot. I ask questions about my characters, how a reader might react and where I see my novel going. This always helps to get me writing again.
  9. Take a writing break
    This might seem counter-intuitive, but if I’m tired with my characters or feel fed up with my plot I don’t allow myself to start from scratch. Instead, I will write a couple of short stories, or short descriptive pieces to give my “Novel Writing Brain” a rest. I always go back to my work in progress refreshed after doing this.
  10. Be kind to yourself
    At the end of the day writing is a great thing but if you don’t enjoy it, don’t do it. If you hate your story and nothing helps, start with something new. If you don’t think its perfect, remember that nothing really is, especially on a first draft! Writing is a process, if it was over in seconds then where would be the fun?

I hope you have found my little pieces of advice helpful. I would love to hear your top tips for writing – whether you write novels like me, or poetry, or short stories – so please comment below.

Happy writing!

Speak soon,

Hannah

hannah

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