They say everyone’s got a book in them, and for many of us writing the Next Great British Novel is at the top of our bucket list. But if it were that easy, we would all do it, so, why don’t we?
The answer is quite simple. Because it’s not that easy. As George Orwell said:
“Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout with some painful illness”.
Sounds cheery, right?
And it isn’t just writing the book to worry about. Once you’ve committed your masterpiece to paper, wrangling through writer’s block, the distractions of life and past your own procrastination, there’s the editing, finding a publisher/self-publishing and promoting the darn thing.
If you’re still adamant about doing it though, the sense of achievement is reported to be akin to finishing ten back-to-back marathons. The beauty is that you can do it any age – in fact, many consider being older and more self-aware a bonus in having the life experience to add depth and richness to your story.
So how do you get started? Given that our authorship status is somewhere at ‘dreaming of getting going’ we didn’t consider ourselves quite equipped to share that with you.
Fortunately, though there are some wonderful writing teachers available willing to share their advice.
Once such mentor is the multi-award-winning author, Tim Lott. We were lucky to attend Tim’s seminar ‘The Beginners Guide to Writing a Novel’ at the Guardian this week.
When you meet an acclaimed author you admire, you secretly hope they have that slightly distracted, eccentric air, interspersed with moments of sudden brilliance. Tim doesn’t disappoint and whilst we wouldn’t like to spoil the class by giving away all his secrets there were some great points made such as:
- Work out why you want to write a book – and be honest about it. If it’s for fame and money, that’s quite fine but be prepared to be disappointed
- If you DO want to make money, writing a genre novel is best
- Ignore the fear about writing and just get going
- Don’t get distracted by people calling you lazy or selfish. You sort of should be to write
- When you’ve written your book, go through it and remove ALL the clichés. All of them. Every single one
You can even create a contract and put it somewhere obvious if you wish to encourage you to keep writing.
Tim mentors aspiring authors and suggested that the one key trait all successful writers have (or those who at least finish their books) is not brilliance with words (although that certainly helps) but determination. To avoid distractions, the pressure of family and friends and the voice of your own ego and finish your work requires discipline of monumental proportions.
In her book of creativity, Eat, Pray, Love author Elizabeth Gilbert suggests making a pact with your idea (or creative spark). When that idea for the novel hits, you make a conscious agreement with it to get it down no matter what. You can even create a contract and put it somewhere obvious if you wish to encourage you to keep writing.
Some authors find going to creative writing classes or groups helpful. Tim does exercise caution here though. If your teacher or group aren’t themselves very experienced you can end up with opinion dressed up as constructive criticism which rarely helps the creative process or your technical skill.
The key seems to be getting on with it. Plot your story, be clear about what you’re trying to achieve and keep going. You might want to write in a café, or at home. You might like to write with a pen or save to your computer, but if you don’t get started, you have absolutely nothing.