Everyone thinks they’ve got a book inside them.

This might sound daft, but starting really is the most important thing. Well – one of the two most important things – finishing is the other. If you can start and finish a book then you’re already a million miles ahead of all those people who talk about wanting to write a book.

One of the points made later is that writing a book is not easy. It truly isn’t.

So – if you’re prepared to start and finish a book, even in the knowledge that it’s going to be a total nightmare, read on …

Read a lot

Read stuff that’s similar to what you’d like to write and then read stuff that’s more literary, too. While you’re reading, analyse what it is that you like and don’t like about the book. Work out how the writer moves the story along, gets you into the heads of their characters, describes feelings and places. Don’t let the words wash over you – treat it like studying.

Write about what you know

It’s a cliché, but it’s true. Unless you’re very keen on research and are willing to learn other subjects in great depth, stick to your own experiences and feelings – you’ll sound more convincing and sincere.

Have your own voice

Don’t try to be the next Nick Hornby or the new Martin Amis. Just be yourself, and if people like the sound of your voice and what your voice is saying, then they’ll like your book. Agents and publishers are always looking for something ‘different’, a fresh viewpoint and a new voice, not just re-hashed versions of stuff that’s gone before.

Do a creative writing course

You don’t have to do this – most writers don’t. It can teach you to get into the habit of writing regularly, giving you the confidence to have other people read what you’ve written and accept constructive criticism (very important – criticism is the only way you’ll learn) and it was a good way of discovering whether or not you can actually write well enough to attempt a novel.

Decide on a genre

Do you want to write a thriller? A romance? A drama? It’s usually more important to concentrate on characters, if the storyline comes from them. However, with a thriller or a drama or a crime novel, you’ll have to do much more forward-planning – map the whole novel out before you start.

Write the ending first

This is what a lot of writers do, especially for genres that require tons of pre-planning and mapping.

Do a first draft

It’s like laying down the skeleton and then going back afterwards to put the meat on it. Start with a synopsis and take it from there.

Don’t be afraid to self-edit

Creative writing teachers call it ‘killing your babies’. You might have a cute sentence that you really like, or a character who you’re particularly fond of, but you have to be objective enough to see when something isn’t working and just scrap it. Some authors smartly run two documents concurrently – the manuscript and another doc that called ‘scrap’ and every time they cut something out of the MS, paste it straight into ‘scrap’. ‘Scrap’ invariably ends up being a bigger document than the MS! Just because you’ve written something, it isn’t set in stone. You need to be flexible, even to the extent of cutting out an entire character if necessary. The MS should be a fluid thing, that evolves and changes all the time. Don’t become too attached to things.

Be disciplined

Even if you can only spare a few hours a week, make sure that you sit at your computer for as long as you’ve said you will. You’ll find that you spend a lot of time staring into space, playing computer games, checking your email and making phone calls. But as long as you’re there at your computer, you’ll write when it comes to you.

Keep a notebook

Carry a book around with you, because, without wishing to sound too poncey, inspiration does tend to strike when you’re least expecting it and by the time you get back to your computer, you’ll have forgotten it.

Don’t give up

Writing a book is not easy. It sometimes looks like it is when you’re reading an ‘easy read’ book like The Third Wife by Lisa Jewell. It’s frustrating. You can spend a whole day writing and then just delete it all at the end of the day because you know it’s wrong. Lisa Jewell deleted 100 pages of her second novel while writing it – three months work – ouch!

You can get stuck for days on end without a clue how to move to the next section – you know what you want to happen next but have no idea how to get there. It’s a bit like being lost on a journey, really. But the thing to remember is that all this is perfectly normal, and even though it feels like you’ll never finish, actually, YOU WILL, and that’s the key. Finishing is the key. That’s what most people who want to write a novel never do. And just the very act of putting the last full stop on the last sentence puts you leagues ahead of everybody else, even if you’re not the greatest writer in the world.

Give it to trusted friends to read

Many authors do this, and it has helped tremendously, if they have friends who read and can articulate correctly what they see incorrect and as correct. Other writers say they’d rather eat their own leg than let someone see a ‘work in progress’. It’s up to you and what kind of support system you’ve built yourself.

Now – presentation

The wrong presentation, basically, puts an agent or publisher in a negative frame of mind before they’ve even started reading. Sometimes your submission will get deleted entirely if you didn’t submit correctly to their guidelines.

Below is some great advice to follow to ensure hat your manuscript follows most guidelines by publishers and makes their job easier:

  • Use double spacing on one side of the paper only.
  • Left hand margin should be one and a half inches, right hand three-quarters of an inch.
  • Do not justify the right-handed margin, ie. you must have a ragged edge. (Justified margins cause unnatural spaces between words. This is a cause of eye strain).
  • Use a typeface that most resembles a type-written font ie. Courier or Times New Roman. Font should be 12pt.
  • Indent paragraphs. Do not leave a space between paragraphs unless it is to show a time break. Use *** to annotate scene changes.

Punctuation should be within quotes, thus:

  • ‘I love you, John,’ she said. NOT
  • ‘I love you, John’, she said.

Always use a comma before a name in dialogue – thus:

  • ‘Has the doctor seen her, Fanny?’ NOT
  • ‘Has the doctor seen her Fanny?’
  • Learn the difference between ‘its’ (possessive) and ‘it’s’ (it is).
  • Number each page consecutively, do not start again at each chapter or part. (It is very important to number pages).
  • Do not put your name, title, lines, etc. on each page, just the page number and the text.
  • Start each chapter on a new page.
  • If mailing in your manuscript – Do not bind your pages, or use staples. Hold together with paper clips or rubber bands, or in a folder.
  • Once you’ve got your immaculately presented, completed manuscript, go out and research which publishers and/or agents best fit your book’s genre. Some publishers allow manuscripts to be submitted without an agent, and some don’t. Do your homework!
  • The most important thing, if mailing in your manuscript submissions, is to enclose return postage. If you don’t then you’ll never see your work again and you won’t get any feedback.

There you go. What are you waiting for? Get writing!


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