How to write a novel
by Sean McManus, author of 'University of Death'
I've met many people who say they'd like to write a novel and only two who have actually finished one. So now I've finished mine, I feel qualified to share some tips about the logistics involved. I'm not going to tell you how to paint a scene or structure a plot: there are many better-qualified people to do that.
Although my day job is writer, I don't think that gave me much of a head-start. I'm used to people telling me what to write. Believe me, a blank page with no brief is as intimidating to me as it probably is to you. What you and I most likely have in common is that we're writing in the gaps between a full time job - evenings and weekends.
Three ugly truths of novel writing
If you're going to write a novel, you need to accept three ugly truths.
- The first is that you're not writing a bestseller. If your goal is to get rich, you're better off spending your time doing a paper round and buying lottery tickets with the money. In the UK alone, 130,000 new books are published annually. That means that there are 356 new books every day. Maybe you'll strike it lucky. But the odds are stacked so overwhelmingly against you. The only good reason to write a novel is that you'll enjoy it. It's not worth being a tortured artist in the hope you'll get a payday at the end.
- The second ugly truth is that it's damned hard work. It takes dedication to complete a book. If you're writing a story of 100,000 words, you'll need to write about 2000 words every week for a year. I'm not saying your book should be that long. Publishing formats (including online) are much more flexible nowadays. But you do need to be sure you can commit the time necessary to finish the kind of book you want to write.
- The third bad tiding is that you're going to waste a lot of time. You'll need to rewrite scenes as your story evolves. You'll probably want to re-do earlier bits, as you get to know the characters better and improve your writing skills. You might spend a weekend writing a chapter you delete outright. Sometimes you have to write a scene to see whether it works or not. I don't think anything from the first three months of writing (perhaps more) survived into my final story. And that is very much a good thing. If you can't accept you'll waste time, you'll find it hard to delete stuff that really should go.
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