After six weeks of planning and research, I am about to start writing my next novel.
Writing a novel is a marathon, not a sprint. You will read articles from writers who write four books a year (how?????) and others that take a decade to complete their masterpiece (that’s much more like it!). For me, writing a novel, from initial idea to either publication or being put in a drawer never to be looked at again, takes around three years.
The first nine months of that is usually working on the first draft. I always aim for six months but life gets in the way. I then have a month off to let the story marinate and do some research before embarking on the second and third draft. Only then do I let anyone read it. More on that stage later.
Before I lay pen to paper however, I read about writing. These are my favourite craft books that I come back to time and time again. Some of them are on my kindle, so I don’t have pictures, but where possible I have put the Amazon link.
They may suit you, or they may not. We’re all different and we all write differently. If you have any other suggestions, I would love to hear them!
Are you a planner or a pantser? Or do you, like me, fall somewhere in the middle? This is a great method for someone who doesn’t want to plan a story to death before they even start writing but will inevitably run out of steam if they just start writing without an outline.
Plot, character, plot, character, plot, character – following this method you will build up your story from its very essence outwards. The story is told as an analogy with Goldilocks, the Three Pigs and the Big Bad Wolf as characters. You might not like this style, but I have found it essential reading and a great approach to writing a novel.
How to Write by Harry Bingham
Getting Published by Harry Bingham
If you want a no-nonsense approach to writing and getting published, I can wholeheartedly recommend these books by Harry Bingham. He also runs Jericho Writers which is a treasure trove of information and advice for aspiring writers. Visit https://jerichowriters.com/ for more information. Their writing festival, which is held every September in York, is excellent and well worth attending if you can afford the ticket. This year the festival has moved online from June until September (you can still get a ticket and watch the events on catch up).
The second edition of Getting Published is about to be published. I have been lucky enough to receive an advanced copy and it is worth waiting for this one to be released. It has been updated with more information about e-books and using social media to promote your book and engage with readers. You will find the first edition (published in 2010) a little lacking in these areas.
All the tips for writing a good film are transferred to the writing process in this book. This is a really good way of structuring your novel – including the crucial inciting incident, the act breaks, the midpoint and the denouement. Probably better for genre and commercial fiction as it can feel a little bit formulaic but well worth a read.
A lot of writers swear by this book. Again, it can feel like writing a book is like solving a mathematical equation, but Snyder knows his stuff. These essential rules of storytelling will help any floundering novelists. Ignore them at your peril.
Write Great Fiction series
I have all these books, either in print or as an e-book. They cover all aspects of writing including plot and story structure, creating characters, setting, descriptions and dialogue, etc. If you’re struggling with some aspect of craft (and you no doubt will at some point), these are good books to turn to.
Part autobiography, part essential lessons on writing great novels, this is a classic for all aspiring authors. Whether you love his books, or haven’t even read them, you will learn a lot from his practical and pragmatic approach.
If you are writing characters that are different from you, then you need to be sensitive about how you portray them. This book is a good guide to thinking about how you create your characters, do your research and not rely on lazy stereotypes.
As you can tell by the peeling Paddington Bear stickers, I have had this dictionary for a very long time. I think it was a birthday present when I was in primary school. These days I will often rely on the internet, but you should always have a good dictionary to hand. Spell check won’t help you choose between ‘defuse’ and ‘diffuse’, for example. Whether online or in print, make sure your dictionary reflects the country you are in (US or UK English for example).
Spelling, grammar and punctuation won’t make or break a book deal, but they will create an impression. You don’t want that first impression to be sloppy.
If you struggle with grammar and punctuation, I can highly recommend Grammar Girl, which if nothing else is a really good read if you love words, and the BBC GCSE Bitesize website, which has some simple guides and quizzes. Or get a proofreader or a trusted friend to read through your copy.
Self-editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King
Your first draft is likely to be a mess. Your characters will have several names, different eye colours on p7 and p107, and you may be fighting with the classic ‘sagging middle’ (where the story just drifts along between an exciting beginning and a thrilling end).
Once you have finished celebrating reaching the end of your first draft, I would recommend putting your manuscript away for a few weeks (I usually aim for a month) and then reading this book. It will take you through the different stages of editing, ready for draft two.
Every author I know struggles with the synopsis. How do you boil down 100,000 words of carefully crafted fiction into a 500-word synopsis or, even worse, a 25-word elevator pitch? This book takes the pain out of the process.
I hope these recommendations help other writers out there. Happy writing!