04 September 2019

Jennifer Kerslake: ‘Keep moving forward and keep writing’

Jennifer Kerslake
by Jennifer Kerslake Writing Tips

Hello! I’m delighted to be writing my first blog post for Curtis Brown Creative after joining as senior manager for courses and operations. Despite a few technical difficulties, including one tense moment on my first day when I crashed the website (only for a couple of minutes, but obviously not ideal – thank you team for your patience), it’s been a busy and very enjoyable start to the job.

I’ve certainly joined at an exciting time. We’re poised on the brink of a new term, and I am looking forward to welcoming students to our novel-writing courses online and in the London office next week.

In my previous role as editor at Weidenfeld & Nicolson, the literary imprint of the Orion Publishing Group, I loved working with debut novelists, helping them to shape their stories and find their voice, develop plotlines and characterisation, sharpen dialogue and increase tension.

Writing a novel requires commitment to craft and a lot of hard work alongside talent and a little bit of luck. It’s a thrilling undertaking – and if you’re contemplating a blank page this September, preparing to give form to your imagination, here are my top tips for debut writers:

1. Read a lot! Read widely, especially contemporary fiction, and read critically, analyse what works and what doesn’t. What books do you like? What do you put aside, and why? Read outside of your comfort zone or genre. How do thriller writers create tension and jeopardy? How do poets illuminate an idea or image with beauty and precision? How do fantasy authors create an entire world in convincing detail?

2. Write every day. Even when you don’t feel inspired, try to get some words down on the page. You might not be happy with your prose, but you can revise and cut and edit later. It can be tempting to return to research or planning (and I do love a good plan), but sometimes it’s only by writing a scene that you realise it doesn’t work or might work better at a later point, or that a character’s motivation isn’t clear and their backstory needs developing etc. Jot down any problems or questions as you go – you can come back to these – but keep moving forward and keep writing!

3. Editing is writing. Finishing a first draft is a momentous achievement – and you should absolutely celebrate – but it’s only the beginning in terms of creating a polished, publishable novel. For your first read, focus on the big picture: does the story make sense, are there any plot holes, does the pace lag at any point, do you need to cut any scenes that aren’t moving the story forwards, are your characters fully realised?

When you’re happy with the structure and arc of the story, you can turn your attention to elements of style: do your sentences flow, is your dialogue convincing, can you cut any repetition or clichés, do you use too many adverbs?

Then, when you feel you can’t do any more, it’s time to share your work and get some feedback from readers you trust.

Good luck, enjoy, and I hope to read some of your work soon!

For more support and advice, take a look at one of our six-week online courses designed to help writers at different stages of their novel-writing journey: Starting to Write Your NovelWrite to the End of Your Novel and Edit & Pitch Your Novel.

Or, if you’re currently writing a novel, you could apply now to our upcoming three-month online novel-writing course taught by Suzannah Dunn. Or, our three-month novel-writing course in London led by Charlotte Mendelson.

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