Five Things I’ve Learnt About Writing A Novel Before I’ve Even Finished My First

I’ve been working on (and off) my novel ‘Recital‘ for a fair while now, and I’ve come to some less than earth shattering realisations that, even though they may not help you finish your own incredible novel may at least help you sleep at night, safe in the knowledge that you’re not as hopeless as me or, at the very least, that we’re both as hopeless as each other and you’re not alone in your hopelessness.

So here, in no particular order, are my five startling realisations:

1. Life gets in the way

Even if you block out an entire three months to sit on your backside and ‘just write’ it’s amazing what can happen. Burglars. The flu. Washing up. Accidental visits from relatives. Sudden lapses in reality. Trees falling down. Lightning. Power cuts. Weeks of accidental drinking. Weeks of recovery featuring self-loathing. Scurvy. Lice. Mumps.

‘Hitting ones stride’ appears to be almost entirely unobtainable, whereas ‘can write at a moments notice’ seems to be a real thing and is the only tactic that has propelled my writing forward in any way whatsoever. Life will never bugger off, and I think I’ve realised that people who finish novels are able to commit pen to paper the moment that there appears to be, at least for a fraction of a second, a lapse in the humdrum distractions of everyday living.

Someone once said ‘Life gets in the way when you’re making plans’ and if your plan is to write a novel then apparently it doesn’t just get in the way; it gets to know you, moves in and has your children, and no amount of pretending you’re not married to it makes it stop.

2. Research is your friend

As I’ve researched, so the structure and plot of my novel has changed for the better. Research is a strange thing as the more ones uncovers, the more influence it has on story, plotlines and characters. It feels like archaeology between the real and unreal; discovering things that add a dose of reality to the fiction, uncovering connections between the historical and the made up.

Keeping the research out of the reach of the reader is also important; how much will be seen, how much obscured. But that’s part of the fun.

3. Write for the hell of it

I’ve started Recital a few times. 10k words. Binned. 20k words. Binned. However, I came to different realisations both times. Attempt one made me realise that I needed to decide on a way of saying everything, tone and vocabulary. Attempt two made me realise that this was going to be a book that needed a stronger structure than I had imagined and that I had too many questions to be able to continue writing in this way.

Attempt three will be draft one, from beginning to end. I know this now as I have the structure, which has taken me quite a while to iron out. Of course, the moment I start writing my first draft things will start steering by themselves all over again, but at least this time I have a heading and I’m not scared to simply write, and bin, anything I come up with. I’ll probably not bin things from now on but put them aside for later reference.

4. Tell everyone you’re writing a novel

If you tell people about your novel, you’re going to have to write it. And if you tell people about it while you’re writing it, you’ll have promoted it up to its launch date, instead of using your launch date as ‘promotions day one’.

Established authors already do this with ‘coming soon’ style promotions. If you don’t have a fan following then of course this is impossible. But if you’re going to spend the best part of a year writing your first novel, surely you’re exactly the kind of person who desperately needs to get the word out way in advance of any release, just to be heard?

You can blog, tweet, Facebook and blab about your book at the same time as you’re writing. On the day you finally release your book, you’ll be glad you put the effort in. Otherwise your poor, but possibly brilliant, first novel will be sitting there on Amazon with one review for many months while you stare at it, helplessly, wondering who to tell apart from your mother and best friend.

Of course, your book might be crap. But it’ll still probably get more reviews than an unpromoted book of genius if you get the word out, so start now. If you’re a slow writer, just think how many years of pre-promotion you’ll have!

5. Get the right tools for the job

There’s a reason for this. One of the main reasons is so that, when you’re sitting there writing your heart out, you’re also not worrying that you haven’t got all the tools you need, or you’re doing it wrong.

It took me ages to stop messing about with software; settling on a few bits of software and being happy to stop searching proved rather challenging.

There’ll be no surprises here: Scrivener, Scapple, Curio, Evernote, Writeroom. Scrivener is awesome, as everyone knows. Their mind mapping software Scapple is also very cool as it doesn’t force you to make connections, it’s more like a large piece of paper. Curio is cool, if pricey, but it’s the only bit of software that acts like a digital scrapbook, full of bells and whistles, which also plays very nicely with Evernote. Writeroom (which I’m typing this on) is a very simple ‘turn your computer into an old style word processor’ kind of thing which I use for moments when I don’t want any distractions. I also use Aeon Timeline, but to be honest I’m thinking that it might be easier to use Numbers / Excel for orders of things.

You really don’t need any more software than that. Honest.

Written by Julian Moore