Do’s and Don’ts of Writing a Novel

by Caroline Hogg

CHoggBeing an editor is a lovely, sociable business: you meet all sorts of interesting people every week, you discuss ideas and experiences, you occasionally have some tasty lunches and a few glasses of fizz… But conversely, being an author – and authors make the publishing business go round: they are at the heart of everything we do – can be a very solitary pursuit. In the hard slog of writing 90,000 words or more it’s sometimes easy to lose motivation or question whether you’re doing the right thing. If you’re truly committed to what you’re writing you will push through. Quite simply: if you don’t write it down, it will never be a book. Your only real obstacle is yourself. Every author writes differently but the one thing they all have in common is that it is work, hard work and they keep at it until it’s right.

Here are some very general Dos and Don’ts that I hope will keep you at your laptop, happily bashing out chapter after chapter (rather than playing your 73rd game of Solitaire!). There are no hard and fast rules, and each author has to find the technique that works for them, but some of these might help you through a hair-pulling moment…

* Enjoy it. Write the book you would love to read. If it’s entertaining you, surprising you, delighting you then you have a better chance it will have the same effect on a reader.
* Write regularly. Your writing skill is a muscle and needs to be flexed! Even if you start your session by writing a character description, a blog post or even a shopping list, it will warm you up for your prose. You won’t come across a published author who says, ‘Whenever I have a few spare moments, I sit on the sofa.’ Write whenever and as often as you can.
* Talk to other authors. Whether it’s via Twitter or a local writing group, talk about and share your experiences. You might find like minds, new perspectives or opportunities to develop your writing; you will certainly find some great new friends at the very least.
* Read. Read the kind of books you write. Read very different books. Read anything. Because when you’re reading, you’re absorbing – how stories are effectively written, what impresses you, what bores you, what’s been done before.
* Finish the thing! Even if you’re not happy with your first or third or twelfth draft, don’t stop till you reach ‘The End’. Not finishing your novel means you have the perfect excuse to leave it in a dusty drawer, so be tough on yourself and set goals and deadlines to finish it and share it with early readers.

* Expect perfection. I can guarantee you’ll have to do many rewrites, simply because every author does, whether they have published 1 or 101 books. No one gets it right first time. So don’t beat yourself, but do keep working at it.
* Rush. Take your time not just in crafting your novel but in honing your approach to agents and any other publishing professionals. Do your research, triple check your submission emails, be patient and calm. Your first impression really counts!
* Bad-mouth anyone. It sounds obvious, but don’t start any email with a complaint about a bestselling author you think isn’t up to scratch or someone within the publishing industry who has turned you down. Not only does it show bad manners, but publishing is a small world and you might be email their former editor/best friend/spouse!
* Be disheartened.  If you receive rejections or less-than-glowing-reviews of your work, it’s natural to feel upset. But take a deep breath, shake it off and dive back in. For every story of an author being signed up on their first novel, there are countless others where the author kept trying until their 12th novel broke through.
* Jump on a bandwagon. It’s very easy to pick out the novels that have been written to ‘cash in’ on a market trend: they usually feel unconvincing and a bit hollow. Always write what you love, because that passion translates into a genuinely good read.

Caroline Hogg is the Senior Commissioning Editor for Women’s Fiction at PanMacmillan. Feel free to tweet her at @CarolinePanMac.


About iHeartChickLit

Chick lit enthusiast and owner of I Heart.. Chick Lit.
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