Since my debut novel, Suitcase of Memory, was announced, I have heard from many hopefuls wanting to know how to write a book. The where, who, what and how to start is the kind of thing that most people ask. The truth is, it’s not so much about talent, as it is about sticking with it. Apart from recommending Mike Nicol’s excellent writing courses, here are the basics:
No rocket science here. If you want to be a writer, you have to actually do some writing. The general adage is that you ought to write every day – but honestly, this is not always possible. Especially if, like me, you have a full time job, a family, dirty dishes and a mortgage. The thinking behind writing everyday though is not without merit. First, it means you are setting time aside to write. And secondly, it means you are actually upping your word count and hopefully getting somewhere with your story. For me, however, the most important thing is making the time to write. So while I did not (and do not) write every day, I did (and do) set aside time – usually once a week for about two hours – to sit down and write. So yes, you’ve got to make the time. No excuses. Writers write. That’s it.
Let me be straight about this: you cannot be a good writer if you aren’t also a reader. Reading is the writer’s toolbox. The more you read, the bigger the toolbox. And yes, size does matter. You don’t have to fish out Shakespeare or the classics. Read things that interest you, read things you know nothing about, read noticeboards and obituaries, read comic books. While I love Shakespeare and the classics, comic books taught me everything I know about the nuances of language. It taught me how to play with words and how to play on words. So read as much as you can – it will all end up in the toolbox, so try to find some interesting things to put in there.
No one writes the perfect story the first time round. No one. Not Shakespeare. Not JK Rowling. Not Maya Angelou. No one. And thank goodness, because you don’t know how good your story can be until you’ve written the second or third (or fourth!) draft. It is not an indictment on your story, your characters or on you to go back to the drawing board and rework some (or all) of the scenes. The first draft allows you to see the story more clearly – what comes next allows you to tell it the way you intended. I have never cried over any paragraph that I’ve deleted – but I have certainly lost sleep over words that should have been.
- Bonus: Rest
The other R that isn’t spoken about often enough. I take regular breaks when I’m writing a book – and by a break, I mean being away from my laptop and not actively typing a word. I spend a lot of time thinking about the characters and the plot, but also spend a lot of time enjoying the characters and the plots of other writers. Know when it’s time to spill the ink and when it’s time to close the lid.