How To Write A Novel – By Women Who’ve Actually Done It

As Acting Features Director Corinne Redfern comes to the end of her six-week challenge to write a book, she speaks to nine successful authors about how they ended up getting published…

It’s been a month and a half since I began writing my first book (with the help of Microsoft Windows 10). And while I’ve been trying to make the most of my time by using my Surface tablet to write on my commute into work, got my head around finding a literary agent, and even overcome the early stages of writer’s block, there’s still a long way to go. Plus, there’s a constant niggling feeling in the back of my mind that other authors (other, authors), must find the whole process easier than me. Which is why I decided to hunt a few of them down, and ask them for their top tips…

POWER ON
‘At some point during the writing of your book, usually around twenty thousand words in, you will become convinced yours is the worst book ever written. You will get a sickening feeling as you open up your computer each morning and wonder what on earth possessed you to believe you could write. You will read other people’s books and yours will seem pathetic by comparison. Embarrassing even. Ian Rankin calls it The Fear, the paralysing conviction that your work is utter pants. The secret to being a writer is holding your nerve and powering on through the doubts.’

Tammy Cohen has written six novels. Her latest, First One Missing, is a psychological thriller about a serial killer on the loose in North London.  

BE YOURSELF

‘Write the story only you can tell. It’s really tempting to try and emulate your favourite authors, or follow literary trends, but for your voice to come across as fresh and authentic you need to be true to yourself. There’s only one you – take advantage of that! It’s worth noting this isn’t the same as writing what you know. It took me years of writing about characters who had lives suspiciously like mine, before I finally found my voice by writing from the point of view of someone very different to me – a transgender teenager. Don’t be afraid to take a few risks.’
Lisa Williamson’s novel, The Art of Being Normal, is published in paperback by David Fickling Books on 7th January 2016.

READ ALOUD
‘Read your dialogue out loud to yourself – do the voices and everything. It’s the best way to make sure that your characters’ voices sound authentic. Best not to try this in a public place though…’

Lucy Diamond’s novel, Summer At Shell Cottage, is out now.

CREATE A MOTIVE
‘Every story is driven by its characters’ desires, so the first question to ask when you create a character isn’t what they do or where they live, but what do they really want? Knowledge? Power? Forgiveness? To matter in the world? Often the character themselves won’t consciously know what they most want, which makes it harder for them to get it and drives the story. But the writer always knows. The writer always has the characters’ innermost desires in mind and puts obstacles – both internal and external – in the way.’

MJ McGrath is the author of the Edie Kiglatuk Arctic crime series, published by Pan Macmillan. Her latest novel is The Bone Seeker.

JUST WRITE
‘Writing is sometimes like diving from a scarily high board – and the only way through that fear is to let go and jump. It doesn’t matter if your first sentences are rubbish, you will warm up, become accustomed to the water and start to swim. You can edit your work later – far easier to work on a piece already written than write it in the first place. Smash that white page with any word to start the ball rolling and then follow it with more and you will amaze yourself with where your imagination takes you. Just write.

Milly Johnson is the author of eleven novels. Her latest is ‘Afternoon Tea at the Sunflower Cafe’, out now.

FIND A ROUTINE
‘Devise a working practice that frees you up to do what you do best: tell stories. When I started out I would just sit at my desk for hours and the result was chaos of the mind, chaos of the manuscript. I now use the Pomodoro technique which means writing for twenty-five minutes, taking a break, and repeating until it’s time for a longer break. During each block of twenty-five minutes there’s no phone, email or social media. Is this clinical? Anti-creative? Absolutely not! It is, for me, the fastest way to access a calm, imaginative mind.’

Lucy Robinson’s novel, The Day We Disappeared, is published by Penguin

ASK FOR CRITICISM
‘It’s great to get feedback from your friends, but give them guidelines to get constructive criticism. Ask them specific questions. Were you ever bored? What was the most exciting bit? Which character were you rooting for? Was there anything that didn’t ring true? Otherwise they’ll all just say ‘It’s good,’ because they’re your friends and they love you. It’s good for the ego, but it’s won’t make your book any better.’  

Erin Kelly’s novel, The Ties That Bind is published by Hodder & Stoughton

DON’T REREAD

For your first draft: keep going, don’t stop, don’t look back, don’t read what you’ve done, and don’t spellcheck. Just keep typing until you’ve written The End. Tell yourself the story, and get it down. Then go back and fix it.

Angela Clarke’s debut crime novel Follow Me, is out December 2015

NEVER GIVE UP
‘Keep what you write – even rejected material may contain the germ of a successful idea. The original version of my novel was a fifteen year old story that I had started but never finished. It sat around forever, but when I looked at it with (hopefully) more mature eyes, I saw that it had an energy and freshness the piece I was presently working on lacked. I took some of the old material and reworked it, and the result was a new book.’

Maestra by L.S. Hilton, a widely anticipated new thriller introducing heroine Judith Rashleigh, is published by Zaffre (Bonnier Publishing Fiction) in March 2016

To find out more about how to upgrade to Windows 10 visit windows.com/10

WATCH OUR ‘A DAY IN THE LIFE OF A NOVELIST’ VIDEO, IN PARTNERSHIP WITH WINDOWS 10:

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