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10 January 2018

How to finish writing your novel

Jenny Quintana
by Jenny Quintana From Our Students, Writing Tips

The latest CBC student to be published is Jenny Quintana. Jenny came to CBC’s six-month London-based novel-writing course to work on her debut novel, The Missing Girl, with support from tutor Erin Kelly and a lively student cohort which included fellow published author Caz Frear. Soon after the course finished, Jenny was signed up by C&W’s Sophie Lambert, who sold The Missing Girl to Mantle in the UK, and has also sold German, Italian and audio rights. 

The Missing Girl, which is now available to buy, is a beautifully written story about Anna Flores, a woman whose sister went missing thirty years ago, and who coped with the disappearance by distancing herself from her family as soon as she was able to – effectively disappearing herself. When her mother dies and she goes home to sort through her possessions, Anna finds herself finally  focusing on what happened to her sister, and starting to uncover the truth.

When you read a polished and finely-wrought novel like this one, you of course can’t see the agony that has gone into the writing process. Here, Jenny tells us how she finally finished writing The Missing Girl, and gives her tips for other writers engaged in the struggle … 

I have written all my life, but it took me a long time to get published. One of the problems was that although I could easily start a novel, I could never reach the end. I got to around thirty thousand words and then I stopped. I blamed life: work, family and a general lack of confidence. All of this was true, but eventually I realized I had to change the way I looked at my writing. I had to make it as important as other aspects of my life.

The first thing I did was to prioritize.  At the time, I was working as a freelance ELT writer, doing my paid work and then focusing on my novel. I decided to flip this on its head and do an hour or two of writing in the morning before moving on to my paid work. It usually meant working late into the night, but it was worth it. Not everybody works freelance of course, but changing your routine is a good way to find those extras hours.

I could find the time, but how could I push past that dreaded thirty thousand mark? I took on the Stephen King method of writing a certain amount every day. I didn’t read over what I’d written or worry if the writing was bad. I simply carried on day after day to get to the end of the draft. Once it was written I went through again, fixing inconsistencies, improving characterization, sorting out plot and generally making my writing better. I aimed for a thousand words and for some people this is too much, but I think that even if you only manage a hundred or just a few scribbled notes, it’s equally valuable. The point is to keep focused on your novel every day so that you don’t lose sight of what you’re doing.

Writing a novel is a huge investment of time which, when there is no certainty of a return, can be very demoralizing. To avoid thinking about this, I took my writing paragraph by paragraph, page by page, chapter by chapter, draft by draft keeping focused on each achievement as it happened.

Another good way to keep going is to enter work in progress into competitions as it keeps up levels of excitement and anticipation! At one point, I entered the Bridport Prize first novel award and was longlisted. It gave me a lot of confidence.

Meeting other writers and sharing common concerns is also very motivating. I considered joining a local writers’ group, taking part in one-of workshops or doing a course. In the end, I did the Curtis Brown Creative six-month writing course with Erin Kelly as my tutor. It took me right out of my comfort zone which was really good for me: going up to London once or twice a week, meeting other students and learning how to accept and give criticism. I also met people from the industry who gave us fantastic practical advice and, as well as Erin’s brilliant teaching, Anna Davis helped me fix some nagging issues with my manuscript.  And of course, at the end of it, that’s where I met my fabulous agent, Sophie Lambert.


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