As we’re now 21 days into 2013, all prospective novelists should be 21,000 words into their groundbreaking debut. The reality, of course, is that life – the demands of work and children, the lure of Borgen and Ripper Street – tends to get in the way. So how do you finish that first draft of the book you promised yourself you’d complete on New Year’s Eve? Well, you can either apply for the Curtis Brown Creative six-month creative-writing course (the closing date for submissions is this Sunday) or you can go it alone. Thankfully, if you opt for the latter, our literary agents have some tips for you.
Set aside writing time every day. Don’t turn on the TV when you get home – even if Homeland is showing that night. The black box just sucks up creativity and spare moments. If you’re struggling with a novel sometimes writing in a different place can help. Being at the same desk, hour after hour, isn’t always conducive to great work. Find a library or coffee shop and take a notebook, a printout of your script and write ideas/read over what you’ve written. (If you can find a library near you then hurrah, they are an endangered species.)
Cut back your sentences until they bleed.
Apply bottom to seat of chair – and FINISH IT!
Make sure you have something to write about. A lot of first novels are never finished because they run out of steam after a few chapters. Your story needs momentum. Have you done your research? Do you know where the plot is going?
Don’t wait for inspiration to strike. Write every day. Choose a time of day when your mind is at its freshest and don’t squander a minute of it. It’s your sacred time. Switch off your phone and email. Build a routine around your writing time. I have recently sold a debut novel written entirely on a commuter train – 45 minutes every morning. Be realistic about how long it’s going to take. Most first novels take at least a year.
Don’t be afraid of making mistakes. Most writers have a few unfinished novels in their bottom drawer. If you get stuck after a few chapters, perhaps you should start something else. Not every idea is worth finishing.
Set a target of how many words you think you can realistically write per week – and stick to it.
Make time for it! Most successful writers have a very disciplined writing structure – a dedicated number of hours for part of the day, which may not generate anything you actually use, but which does provide time to focus and let things unfold on the page. Time won’t come and find you, though, and your brain will devise all sorts of avoidance tactics, so pre-empt the dilemma and dedicate time when writing is your ‘job’. If you’ve got holiday to spare, take a day off a week for a run of weeks – or a run of half-days. Or make this the thing you do away from your family on Saturday morning. Or a night in you have with yourself during the dark months.
You could consider creating a dedicated email account for your writing so that you ‘file’ your copy periodically, giving yourself the sense of handing over something you’ve achieved, even if it is to a holding pen in the Cloud.
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.