14 December 2012

Writing Tips from Tracy Chevalier

by Rufus Purdy Our Courses, Writing Tips

Bestselling novelist Tracy Chevalier took time out from honing the final sentences of her new book The Last Runaway to spend time with students on the Curtis Brown Creative novel-writing course recently. Her entertaining talk was peppered with excellent advice for prospective novelists, and we’ve condensed it here into an inspirational 12-point guide for those embarking on their own literary journey:

‘Being a writer is about the blank page every morning. I write around 1,000 words a day longhand and I type it up at the end. Writing longhand makes me work at the speed I think, and the pen feels connected to the brain. The writing doesn’t look neat and perfect like it does on a screen – and that’s a good thing.’

‘If you’re not reading a lot, you shouldn’t be writing a novel.’

‘Girl With a Pearl Earring was really easy to write – but no other book I’ve written has been like that. It was linear, tightly structured and I knew the ending. It was great to know where I was going. It was simple and not tricksy – like a Vermeer painting.’

‘I do enough research so I feel comfortable writing in the historical period. I do a bunch of research and fill a notebook, but I always feel there’s one thing missing –one book or article that will explain everything. And that’s when I realise I have to start writing. It’s time to take a leap of faith.’

‘Once I’m writing, I have to work five days a week. I have to work constantly and not stop. I write a draft and then redraft. I’ll probably do six or seven drafts in total. The first draft takes the longest, as pulling the book out of yourself and getting it onto the page is really hard. For my new book The Last Runaway, it took me about a year and a half to get the first draft down; subsequent drafts took just months or weeks.’

‘Two-thirds into a book, I always feel so bored and I hate it. It’s a natural moment to grind to a halt. You just have to take yourself in hand and keep writing – even if it’s bad. I often go back to my research at that point.’

‘Creative-writing courses are like dieting: we know we’ll lose weight if we eat less, so why don’t we just eat less? But life isn’t like that; we often need help. With writing, you may need help and practice.’

‘I ask questions of myself. I’m hard on myself, and I edit and edit and edit. Writing needs to be even. If something reads badly, it has to go. And – often – if I really like something, it also has to go.’

‘You have to figure out the balance between accepting criticism and having confidence in what you’re doing.’

‘I don’t plan all the way through, but I often know the big things that are going to happen. Not necessarily the ending, though. If you plan too much, you kill spontaneity.’

‘I think modern novels need as much research as historical ones. It’s not good to write books that are very autobiographical. It’s good to step out of yourself.’

‘Novels are all about lies and omission. If you don’t have that in your book, it’s going to be really boring.’

As well as expert teaching from published authors, all our novel-writing courses offer dedicated modules on submitting your novel to literary agents – and include sessions on writing a synopsis and preparing a covering letter. Click for more information or to apply for our creative writing courses.

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