As I’m only a debut novelist, I am still working out the best way to write a book for myself. All authors approach their work differently and there is obviously no right way to do it. However, for what it’s worth, the list below contains some of the things that helped me when I was starting out:
1 Become an active reader
A lot of people will tell you to read as much as possible if you want to write, which I agree with, but try to make sure you read actively rather than passively. By that I mean make sure you’re thinking about what you like about a novel and how it’s working, trying to identify why it’s effective. If you can analyse a text and why it’s successful, hopefully you’ll be able to use this to inform your own work.
2 Hunt out ideas
If you’re waiting for the perfect idea before you start your book, you may find it never comes. Unless you’re very lucky, you probably won’t have a Booker prize winning idea floating about in your head. So be proactive. Hunt for ideas. Search for them in newspapers. Take the bus and listen to people’s conversations. Put yourself in new situations that might spark an unusual thought. Do anything and everything you can to get as many ideas as possible. Record them all in a notepad and see if any of them, or a random combination of two or three, might make a decent story.
3 Write about what you know
I don’t mean write about what you yourself have physically experienced. If this were my advice, I would have very little to use in my books as I had a very sheltered childhood. They’d be full of dancing shows and Sunday school and not much else! I believe wholeheartedly that, as a writer, you can put your characters in any situation at all, real or imagined, as long as the emotion rings true. So – send your characters on adventures to made up lands if you wish, but make sure you can write honestly about the emotions they feel along the way.
4 Be disciplined
The best piece of advice I ever received when I asked an author about writing was this: if you want to be a writer, write. And it’s so true. Be disciplined. Put it first. Devote time to it, as much as you can, as often as possible, with no excuses. I’m not one of those people who think writing’s always a pleasure and never difficult. Sometimes it’s damn hard work, utterly frustrating and far more easy to check emails than to persevere with a chapter that’s not quite working. But – a real writer will stick with it and get something finished, even on the bad days. You may delete it all the next morning, but sometimes you need to write it wrong to write it right.
5 Have fun
Whilst being disciplined, never forget that creative writing is supposed to be fun. Play with language. Be bold. Use words and paragraphs and punctuation in ways you’ve never thought of before. A writer friend advised me to spend the first thirty minutes of my working day picking random words out of a dictionary and using them as the basis of a paragraph or poem. What comes out is usually utter nonsense as I write without stopping, completely without censorship, but I enjoy experimenting with words. Sometimes I even stumble across a new idea or a new description. If not, it still acts like a warm up, making my brain work in the right way and helping me to feel positive about language before I tackle my novel.