How I Started Writing a Novel

Writing a novel had been in the back of my mind ever since being a young girl playing with my Grandma’s typewriter.

I’ve been getting a lot of questions about how I started writing my novel. Despite being far from finished (I’m currently editing the first draft) I thought I’d answer a few of the questions I’ve had as a blog post. It is also a great way for me to mark where I’m up to, and celebrate what I’ve managed to achieve so far.

The questions I’ve been asked can be summed up as;

  • How did I start to write the novel?
  • How did I sustain the momentum?
  • Did I get writer’s block?
  • How did I have the time to write a novel?

If you have any other questions then please feel free to ask in the comments and I’ll try to answer them.

Looking back to late 2017 I can almost pinpoint the swell of the idea. Me actually writing a book. I say idea because it’d actually felt like something beyond me before then.

I’d already started writing an ebook, something non-fiction that would be a download from my site. The seed of writing something with more weight was there, but something didn’t feel right. I might go back to this in the future as it’s about 70% done, it would be a shame to not put it out into the world, right?

During this time I was having some coaching sessions with Natasha Denness. Between the fortnightly Skype calls, I was reading On Writing by Stephen King. Both these things were key for me. I’ve written about the coaching before here.

With hindsight, it seems so obvious, but at the time I had to peel away many layers to get at the core of what I wanted, needed, to do. When I did, it didn’t feel like a revelation, but more of a realisation, Like it had always been there, whispering to me. I’d not been hearing it because I wasn’t listening closely enough.

Too many distractions, like so many of us and perhaps it’s a case of being ready to hear it too.

I started to make some notes about the ideas I had. More often than not these ideas, of scenes within a story, would come to me just before going to sleep at night.

As the house fell silent the analytical, decision making, child rearing side of my brain went quiet too, leaving space for the ideas to flow. The creative part of my brain kicked in. I had to (I still do) keep a notebook by my bed, or sometimes I’d write out the ideas in my notes section on my phone, that way I didn’t have to put the light on and wake my other half.

So that is how I started writing a novel.

But how did I find the time to do it?

The answer is, no one has the time to write a book. You have to make the time. You have to give something up in order to create chunks of time.

Here are some ideas to find the time to write.

  1. Get up 30-90 mins earlier than usual in the morning
  2. Delete social media from your phone
  3. Take a notebook where ever you go, when an idea strikes you can write it down and see where the flow takes you
  4. Give up Netflix for a bit
  5. Write after everyone is in bed
  6. Ignore emails on your phone, or reply to them during a set time of the day. Stick to it.
  7. Let yourself off the hook from self-imposed commitments. For me, this was relaxing my regular Wednesday blog post schedule.
  8. Reduce your social life. I’ve literally just started seeing friends again!

Once you’ve created the time to write, you’ve made it a priority.

Now it’s about creating momentum and sticking with it, even when it gets hard.

For me having a weekly word count target really helped. It meant I could break down the minimum number of words I could do each day and still achieve my target. Mine was 5000 words each week. That means in four months I’d have something resembling a novel. 80,000 words in four months. Some of which are probably nonsensical, but now I had something to mould, something to edit and to improve.

Accountability was also I huge help to me. I joined in with KickStart Your Creative Heart, which is writing from prompts every day for one month and sharing within a small group. The aim being you get into that writing habit of doing something every day. And I joined in with a hashtag on Twitter where we all tweeted our wordcount every Friday.

Lastly, with regards to writer’s block and not feeling “inspired” I carried on. Writing a novel is hard. Some days I was so tired, but I’d still sit and write something, anything, to add to my word count. Even if it was just 300 words. I’d attempt to make it up the following day/week if I fell behind.

Also, I found that blogging here became a little escape too. Yet it kept me writing. The voice here is my voice and it gave my “book brain” a rest.

I didn’t write in a linear way either. I wrote as each scene came to me. This really helped with momentum as it meant if I got stuck on something the whole thing wouldn’t slow down or stop. Although this means my first draft is all over the place. But the point is, I have a first draft and I can move those scenes to the right place in order for them to make sense and tell the story.

Would you like to start writing a novel? Is there a story growing somewhere inside you? Let me know.

If this has fired you up and would like to hear me talk about this topic some more, you can listen to the Going Rogue podcast episode I’m guest of here. Or search Going Rogue on iTunes and I’m episode two.

how to start writing a novel
hard at work writing a novel ūüėČ Photo by the brilliant Alexander Ward

Creativity Podcasts

Listening to podcasts is something I really love to do.

Sometime when I’m out walking, or sitting in the garden but more often than not I’ll be emptying the dishwasher or making packed lunches whilst I listen. I wanted to share with you some podcasts I enjoy. They have themes of creativity, writing and being online, I hope you find something you like.

Some of the shows I’m been listening to for a while, others are fairly new to me and I’ve really been enjoying them. I love finding podcasts on recommendation so I’m paying it forward. Let me know what you favorites are below, I’m always interested in new voices.

note- some of these are “writers” podcasts but I think anyone creative would get something out of these.

Writers Routine

Personally, I thrive on routine, a flexible¬†one, but nevertheless a routine. I’m fascinated¬†by where writers and creatives work, and their routines during their writing days. How long they work for and what time of the day, even what snacks they have to hand. This podcast interviews one writer each episode and the listener gets an insight into the different types of routine that work for writers and authors. Find it here or through your usual podcast app.

Hashtag Authentic

This podcast is commonplace on these “my favourite¬†podcasts” type posts and this one is no different. Sara from Me&Orla interviews¬†all types of creatives about their work and how they stay true to themselves. She asks all the¬†questions we want to know the answer to. I’ve found some brilliant, inspiring people via listening to this show. Listen in here.

writing and creativity podcasts

Style Your Mind

This is a fairly new one for me so I haven’t¬†listened to much, but what I have heard is uplifting. It’s about changing mindsets and creating a life you really want, it’s inspiring self-help. Something to listen to if you need motivating or feel like you want to change your life for the better. Get inspired here.

Story Grid Podcast (and sister podcast Editor Roundtable)

This is mainly for storytellers (and the curious) be that filmmakers, novelists¬†and similar. Long form stories are broken down into elements that make up the Story Grid a method of structuring stories. There’s a book that goes with this and a whole website dedicated to the Story Grid. It’s rather in-depth but fascinating to listen to. Link both here.

The Bestseller Experiment

Another bookish podcast here. Interviews¬†with authors and they’ve had some brilliant writers on, including¬†Joanne Harris and¬†Bryan Cranston. The discussion depends on the guest but often includes¬†tips on writing and trying to answer the question, what makes a bestseller? Link here.

inspiring podcasts

The Robcast- Specifically The Undernet Episodes

I’m recommending the Undernet episodes here as I haven’t¬†listened to any others. These are fascinating, it is about the underbelly of the internet and how it works. I was nodding all the way through, during the first episode especially. Rob is extremely quotable, my favourite being,¬†‚ÄúThere is no correlation whatsoever between number of views and quality of content‚ÄĚ, can I get an Amen?! Episode 192 here.

The Secret Library Podcast

This is a podcast¬†I found last year but really want to dig into the archives as it’s been around since 2016. Pitched as “the secret of writing books”, again I believe this could be applied to any creative process. The host, Caroline Donahue wants to get to the bottom of what it takes to create a book and she interviews authors, editors and agents to help her, and us, in that quest. Find it here.

The Riff Raff Podcast

I found this podcast one day on a train journey back from London to Manchester. I love that it is British and the hosts, Amy and Rosy, ask all the questions I would ask. And it’s funny. It has a slight focus on debut authors and it is fascinating listening to the path to publication stories from each interviewee. Riff Raff also put on author/writer events in London. Listen here.

Blogtacular

I’ve been listening to this podcast since the very first episode and I love Kat’s enthusiasm and knowledge of the blogging world. She invites a wide variety of creatives on the show to interview them all about their processes and how their creative journey has brought them to where they are now. I have a few to catch up on but this is a really uplifting podcast, and I always end up googling to find out more about the guests. Check out the episode guide here.

Teenage Scream

This one is a bit of a wildcard. I have an inkling that many of you, my lovely readers, are around the same age as me and you might have been as obsessed with the Point Horror books in the 1990s as I was. I could be wrong, but I couldn’t resist including this brand new podcast, I’ve listened to the first episode and it brought back memories of me reading The Lifeguard in my parents back garden one summer in the mid-nineties. Find it here or in your regular podcast app.

 

Photos by Alexander Ward in my back garden

Great Gifts to Give a Writer

Hello, hello! There are some changes going on around the place at the moment here. I feel like I’m in a chrysalis¬†stage. Sometime soon I’m going to burst forth with a new and improved version of myself ūüėČ One of the small things I’ve started doing of late is that when I get asked what I do, I say I’m a writer.

A writer is someone who writes, right? (groan)

It felt weird at first to say, “I’m a writer”, but I’m growing into it. I think.

The next question is usually, what do you write?

At that point in the conversation, I’m usually rather cryptic¬†because I don’t want to jinx anything, but also because the potential for the story¬†to change is highly probable. Also, side note, I’ve been working on my elevator pitch for ages and for me this finally feels comfortable, if a little short. Ha, it’s clearly a short elevator ride right now.

I’m writing more than I ever have before and it is blowing my mind that I’ve stuck with it.

There are some things I use that make my¬†life easier and that I wouldn’t¬†be without. I’ve included these below.

There are other things I’ve included, in this gifts for writers article, which would help any writers life. I’ve not tried them, yet, but I intend to. Read on for gift ideas for the writer, blogger or budding novelist in your life.

thoughtful gifts for writers

Sticky notes/ Post-it notes

I go through so many of these and I’ve tried a few different brands too. I always come back to Post-it though as they seem to have a bit more sticky staying power than the others. Great for To-Do lists, word count targets, scenes or chapter shuffling,¬†messages for family members (send more coffee) and general notes.

Schrivener

This is something I haven’t tried yet and at the moment I feel like the learning curve would be too steep for the time frame I have. Having said that, Schrivener does tick a lot of my boxes. Its app-based and you write within it. You can store all research and notes in one place and also shuffle things around. I’m currently working on¬†Microsoft Word and I’m not a fan of it at the best of times. I’ll definitely¬†be using the free trial of Schrivener at some point soon.

Subscription to Writing Magazine

I first bought this magazine off the shelf last year when I was in the midst of my coaching. There was a great offer on a subscription within it so it seemed like a sign and I subscribed. Some months are better than others at Writing Magazine, but I love getting it through the door and reading all about the wider world of writing. This magazine covers so much and has loads of actionable¬†content. It’s a definite motivation boost¬†for me. Another one I’ve spotted recently is Mslexia magazine which is specifically for women writers.

Grammerly premium

This is another app which does all your spell checking and grammar¬†checking for you. I use the free version¬†at the moment, but there’s always room for improvement. I hate getting bogged down with spelling and grammar. I find it muddles up my creative flow, so having this tool in my arsenal¬†is helpful for me making progress.

Notebooks

This is self-explanatory, right? All writers are stationery fiends I’m sure.

Pens

Another self-explanatory one, but this pen especially. I write a lot in pencil but I’ve realised that pen is much more legible, even in my handwriting!

i am a great writer pen from paperchase perfect writer gift

Healthy snacks

Okay, so when I realised I’d be sat at my laptop for hours on end it felt like (dairy-free) chocolate was the only way I’d get through. After a while of doing this, I started to feel sluggish and bigger around my middle. I wasn’t moving around and I was eating way more than I needed to. So I looked into healthier nibbles and now have a mix of almonds, walnuts and pumpkin seeds on hand for those, I need a nibble, moments. I’ve got lots of herbal teas in too, as too much caffeine hinders rather than helps me. Although I do have coffee, I’m trying not to have too much.

Comfy and Warm clothes

Being uncomfortable and/or cold does not help when writing. You need distraction-free clothes. Jogging bottoms or yoga pants, thermal socks (if you’re in the UK!) and layers on top. My house gets cold and layers work best. A Tee shirt with a shirt over with a cardigan over that. I’ve even worn a scarf before now. I’ve seen some wrist warmers too which still allow you to type.

thoughtful gifts for writers

Time to Write

This is the biggy, isn’t it? How to find the time to write. The truth is no one has time to write. Unless you’re Stephen King.

You have to carve up the rest of your day and create the time to write. In terms of giving this as a gift, you could take the kids swimming on a weekend morning and give your partner that guaranteed time each weekend or treat your writer to a couple of nights in a local hotel with the aim of getting a large chunk of work done. Perhaps find your writer friend a local creative writing group and insist they attend. Improvise and see if you can give them some time, or go to the next point…

A writers retreat or festival ticket

If you want to invest in your writing or give the gift of time for your beloved writer, then perhaps a residential writing retreat like Arvon who have several sites in the UK would help. There Literary Festivals all over too, you just need to look for them (hello Google) Or maybe a Summer Writing School like Swanwick is the perfect writers’ gift you’ve been looking for.

 

Do any of these float your boat? Let me know in the comments.

I’ll write about my favourite¬†books about writing in a future post because they make great gifts too, but clearly need a list of their own.

Collected thoughts on blogging/writing

Today I’m sharing a few blog¬†posts I’ve loved recently.

I’ve been thinking a lot about blogging, writing and creativity. On my quest to write a novel, and it be imperfectly perfect, I’ve found it hard to avoid online distractions.

As my work (blog stuff) is basically on the internet and creative writing is on my laptop;¬†temptation is waiting, just a click away. Lately, I’ve been feeling rather torn between the two things and these articles have really helped me.Continue reading “Collected thoughts on blogging/writing”

Manifesto for Imperfection

I was clearing out some stuff recently and came across this manifesto for imperfection.

This A4 sheet of paper is something I’ve kept for years (since 2001!). Through house moves and multiple clearouts. Not wanting to let it go because on each rediscovery, I find it more meaningful.

It was written by Bruce Taylor, an artist and one of the tutors at Kingston University School of Art where I did my degree. He created this Manifesto for Imperfection to help him in is own creative work and life. He kept it pinned up in his studio.

In essence, it’s about continuing to do creative work, even when the outcome isn’t¬†perfect or how you imagined it would be.

being an imperfectionist creative living
Like that time at the Artsynibs Brush lettering class. Photo by @thepublishedimage

Imagine if David Bowie (or any artist that you love) had been a perfectionist? Of course, some people say he was. I’m sure he strived for perfection, but his version of perfection was so beyond ours. He put the work out anyway and kept pushing on and reinventing himself. We would’ve truly missed¬†out if he’d been too afraid to share his journey.¬† Being as experimental as he was, was Bowie’s way of striving to close his creative gap.¬† Great artists have become great through sheer hard work and not giving up. Trying new ideas. Some things work, some things are a disaster. They don’t stop, they keep on pushing through.

This Manifesto for Imperfection obviously fits in really well with any creative pursuit. But I think it can be applied to any part of your life; a good example is when you first become a parent, first start blogging or first start renovating a home.

Manifesto for Imperfection

  1. Enhance and nurture difference.
  2. Communicate by describing, not naming. Don’t feel pressured to name, explore the essence of ideas.
  3. Act, produce (do?) in a way that feels natural.
  4. Make as much mess as necessary
  5. Be honest, admit to not being in control. Don’t¬†waste energy¬†aspiring to it.
  6. Become an imperfectionist.

Over the past month, I have been living this perfect/imperfect ride. I’m writing a novel and it feels like it’s just a load of jumbled up words inside a Word document. The idea of what I want it to be, how I imagine it could be, seems so far away right now. But I’m determined to keep going.

The story is coming out of me and through my fingers. The temptation to edit as I go along is huge. But editing is for the second draft, not the first. I’m definitely¬†working with the fourth point on this list at the moment;¬†Make as much mess as necessary! At this stage done is better than good.

Do you get frustrated with things not being “perfect”? Tell me in the comments!
You may know the great Ira Glass quote on the creative gap, which is a similar vein to being an imperfectionist.

Take a look at the video and you’ll see what I mean.

THE GAP by Ira Glass from Daniel Sax on Vimeo.

manifesto for imperfection