Once we’ve all got the parties, the turkey, the family and the tinsel out of the way, it’ll once again be time to settle down and give ourselves a fresh new start for our writing in the new year – a new decade, in fact! But sometimes getting down to work is more easily said than done. In fact, if you haven’t had time to look at your work-in-progress over the festive period, you might be feeling really remote from it. We asked some of the Curtis Brown Creative tutors for their words of wisdom on how to kick-start your work for 2020, and here’s what they had to say:
Emily Barr wrote and published 12 novels for adults before turning to YA: Her first novel for young adults, The One Memory of Flora Banks, was the bestselling YA debut of 2017. Her latest YA thriller The Girl Who Came Out of the Woods was published earlier this year. Emily tutors of our specialised YA and Children’s fiction alumni. She says:
The only way to achieve your goals is to use your time effectively.
It can help if you break down your day. Let’s say you sleep for eight hours (which would be nice) and go to work from nine to five. That leaves eight hours every day. Give yourself an hour at each end of the day for getting to work, and we have six. Allow four of those for cooking, eating, and family time, and you could give yourself two solid hours for writing every day, while working full time.
Don’t let anyone or anything get in the way. Switch off the internet. Write in bursts (there’s an app called Pomodoro which gives you a 25 minute countdown, and it’s psychologically very effective). Allow yourself to stop for a coffee or whatever at the end of one of these bursts, and then go back to it five minutes later.
When you have scheduled your writing time into your day, make sure you always use it.
Suzannah Dunn wrote six critically acclaimed contemporary novels and a short story collection before her first historical novel, The Queen of Subtleties, was published in 2004. It has been followed by five more Tudor novels. She says:
I need to steer myself away from always thinking in terms of whole days as units of writing time. I have a tendency to think of a writing day as ‘bad’, as ‘lost’, if it starts badly – and I end up writing it off. It’s more helpful to think of it as an unproductive or dispiriting hour and nothing more than that (ie it needn’t dictate how the rest of the day goes). Many of us regard each writing day as a fresh start, so why shouldn’t we do that with each hour?
Liz Jensen is the author of eight novels, spanning black comedy, science fiction, satire, domestic drama, historical fantasy, horror and psychological suspense. Liz is a member of the Royal Society of Literature and has taught creative writing for many organisations, including CBC. She has a playful suggestion:
What writer doesn’t love word games? I like crosswords and I recently became addicted to Words With Friends online. Writing isn’t always fun – but word games can be a reminder of how much joy language itself holds.
Playing games in which you generate words from a limited range of letters – be it Scrabble, Word Feud, Words with Friends, Bananagrams – is more than just a fun way of keeping your vocabulary flexible. It’s also a great way of finding new ideas and angles – or activating what’s already cooking.
William Shaw is the author of six highly-acclaimed crime novels and is represented by Curtis Brown’s Karolina Sutton. The second novel in his popular DS Alex Cupidi series Deadland is coming out in Feb 2020. He says:
In order to get back into gear, I always look over what I’ve got in front of me and give it a once over – particularly chapter openings. The place in which you naturally choose to start a chapter in the first draft doesn’t have to be where you finally do begin it. There’s often a much, much better place to start. Sometimes I find I have written the opening of the chapter for my benefit rather than the reader’s; I’ve just used the first few lines to build a scene, then ploughed on in without much care for shape or drama.
The simplest cure is cutting. There’s nothing like slicing off a paragraph or two to put the reader right into the thick of it. Where does the action in a scene really begin? Do I want to start before then, or after then? Can we push the reader forward in time and make them do the work of filling in the gap between where this chapter starts and the last one ends?
What is the line that will make the reader want to dive in? Is there a question that this scene is going to ask, and if so, how can I prefigure it?
Pace isn’t all about car chases and gun fights. It’s amazing how much you can sharpen up a narrative just by shaping it in the right way.
Jess Kidd is the author of three critically acclaimed novels, her latest novel Things in Jars was published earlier this year. Jess won the Costa Short Story Award in 2016 and has been a mentor for some of our CBC alumni:
Invest in a small notebook to carry round. Make a conscious effort to jot down lovely bits of overheard conversations, profound observations, gorgeous words and all the rest. This is your raw material – who knows what you’ll spin it into.
Print out your work in progress and then read it in hard copy. For me this is like the cold light of day on the 1st January. When I read in hard copy I see more flaws (whether I’m looking for them or not). It’s never too early or too late in the writing process to do this.
Remember to set – or revise as necessary – your writing goals. Stay realistic – it’s demoralising not to reach your own impossible targets.
But also, my own writing resolution is . . . stay curious.
This will be my shield against the battering of deadlines; my talisman against the fear of the blank page when there’s a story to be written.
Creating anything worthwhile takes discipline – we all know that. But you also need freedom, spontaneity and enough spirit and interest to keep going back (even when it’s not working). In the long drudge of the copy edit or the final proofread I try to remember that writing is where I find my most curious self. The child who likes to look inside, climb higher, turn over the stone. There are always surprises and detours if we look for them.
If you’re currently working on a novel, and are looking for an intensive novel-writing programme– take a look at our our Spring 2020 selective entry novel-writing courses, currently open for applications: You can join Lisa O’Donnell and Andrew Michael Hurley’s group on the Six-Month Online Novel-Writing Course or study at the Curtis Brown literary agency with the Six-Month Novel-Writing Course in London with Jake Arnott.
Or, if you’re writing YA or children’s fiction why not take a look at our selective entry online course for Writing YA and Children’s Fiction with Catherine Johnson.
We also run three short online courses at budget-price designed to help writers at different stages of their novel-writing journey: Starting to Write Your Novel, Write to the End of Your Novel and Edit & Pitch Your Novel – all starting in January 2020.