How To Write A Novel

You will find advice here to help you on your writing journey. Use the search bar or browse through the categories to get a taste of the kind of insights and shortcuts we use to fast track our writers. 

Novel Writing Tips The Hero Three Wise Drafts Perspective Don't Try So Hard! How To Begin One Hour A Day Admit Your Ambition

‘...everything interesting begins with one person and one place.'

Nov 25, 2017

I commend to you today John McGahern and his work ‘Amongst Women.’ He was not a plotty writer, but he was a genius writer, supremely elusive in his work.

McGahern adhered closely to Flaubert’s guiding ethos that the writer should ‘be present everywhere, but not visible, like God in nature’.

If you have not discovered him you should. ‘The Pornographer’ is on the hero book list for The Novel in Ninety course.

Mr McGahern came to rock boats, not lull cradles.

As you will read in the blog tomorrow, I’m venturing to suggest you raise your game and follow rabble-rousing footsteps.

John McGahern, like so many of the greats, wrote for two or three hours a day, with ‘a lot of time looking out the window in between’. (Slow, steady writing beats bingeing; it produces results, not emotional fatigue.)

‘In fiction, the most powerful weapon the writer has is suggestion. I think that nearly all good writing is suggestion, and...

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Can I write a book about myself?

Nov 12, 2017

'Can I write a book about myself?'

This is one of the most common questions I'm asked.

Here's the answer.

Yes, and you should. But don't make it about yourself.

Your novel starts with you, yourself, and ends without you.

“All fiction is largely autobiographical and much autobiography is, of course, fiction.” P.D. James.

“The Coetzee who emerges from an informed reading of his papers is very different author from the one we thought we knew. Most surprisingly, his writing process turns out to be highly autobiographical, at least in its points of departure. It then involves a gradual, but determined process of writing himself out of the narratives, a ‘burning off of the self’ as it were.” David Attwell.

Why? And how?

Writing is, and I'm not ashamed to say it, the deepest form of therapy, treatment or self-doctoring not on the market.

It's like this:

A story starts with your recognition of your own deepest concern combined with your inability to...

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Bee's Writing with The Novelry

Oct 08, 2017

By Bee at Teachezbee. 

I graduated from Creative Writing at London South Bank University a couple of academic years ago now, and what I got out of it was a first class degree, a complete, ready for publication collection of poetry that I’m never going to do anything with, and the feeling that I was just kind of done with writing.

I took a break and quit my freelance writing career to work full time in a café and clear my head of all these negative feelings I had about writing after my course was over. Now I’ve decided that, of course, writing is my passion and my little special gift I’ve been given by God or my mother or whoever, and I know that that’s what I want to do with my life.

I decided recently to pick up creative writing again and try and get a novel finished, along with the help of Louise Dean who runs The Novelry, an online course for serious writers which offers an amazing plan where you can write the first draft of a novel in 90...

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Beyond You

Oct 01, 2017

Readers don't care too much about your education or your fine words. 

You may be using your best cutlery, the silverware that's kept in a satin-lined box, but it's still just 'tools'.

What's on the plate is human feeling, what T.S. Eliot calls 'the infinitely suffering thing.' How you get there is up to you, but sometimes the tools you use can be distracting, noisy, obtrusive - they say too much about what you're lucky enough to own, distance you even from the reader. 

Many of us as Thoreau said 'lead lives of quite desperation' and since he died in 1862, the scale of that desperation is more evident than ever, multiplied and intensified, regardless of advances in our communications 'tools'. Because of them, perhaps.

The tools ain't it.

If someone is bleeding in front of you, you don't fuss about finding shiny new tools, you get down on your knees and attend to the wound.

There's one quality that you need as a writer to be a good writer regardless...

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Why you shouldn't wait to write your novel.

Sep 24, 2017

See this picture?

The little lodge in the middle of nowhere, with a raging fire and food and drink and you inside all toasty warm looking rather charismatic putting down thousands of words of pure poetry onto a page. That ain't going to happen.

Never. No way. Not even one day. That 'golden time' to write your novel? It's not coming for you. Nope. Sorry.

So you're going to have to buck your ideas up a bit. Don't put off until tomorrow what can be done today! If I sound a little 1940's, well I am thinking that today's novelist needs to be like the wartime housewife.

This is more like it.

Think of writing your novel as if it's war time.

I've got a recipe for you from the Kritikme Ministry of Novels this week. (One day, your 'designer writer lifestyle' might come but when it does, you’ll still be using this chicory-stained tried and tested recipe from our scrap book.)

1. Dig for victory. Go scrump and scrounge. 

Go get some free ingredients for your...

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This is the life. More advice from Annie Proulx.

Sep 17, 2017

There is a commonality to the writing writer’s writing life. It is a love of reading and the joy of the craft and getting better at it.

The joy of the craft comes from daily tickling. Tickling that joy with good habits and wise reading is what we do at The Novelry for 90 days on the trot, then it’s there for life.

A funny bone, on the house.

It took Annie Proulx almost 60 years to write a novel. In the video interview, she says she's still learning; it's her life.

Proulx briefly went to college in the early 1950s, but left to get married. There were two further marriages, all of them unhappy. She raised three sons alone. It was a time of grinding poverty.

'I had a talent for choosing the wrong people . . . I'm just the sort of person who should never be married. I like living by myself. It's odd, but I think in my whole life I have had almost no one understand what I was trying to do with the writing, or why it was so intensely important to me. So it was...

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Painting by Punching. (The Knockout Novel with Advice from Annie Proulx.)

Sep 10, 2017

There's a time for brushstrokes, and there's a time to paint by punching.

Perhaps you're working too finely, that's all well and good when you're laying down a first draft with uncertainty but when you've got wind of your story you need to land a few blows on the 'characters' in your work in progress.

Let insults pelt the page, and injuries accrue upon the person leaving behind a dense impression of a life being lived the way we live them - in suffering - punctuated with occasional rare joys.
Look at your 'main character' the person pushing your novel and see a slow-moving morass of personable misery. Suited. Booted. Custom made, their plight tailored to them by your prose. We want to see the lumpen shape of slow-moving misfortune. Your job is to wound him or her, in order to get them to wake up and live the life they've been given against their wishes.

Annie Proulx's Pulitzer Prize winning 'The Shipping News' delivers a masterclass in 'character' creation via the hapless,...

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Tense? Point of View?

Sep 04, 2017

My writers often ask about first or third person, past or present tense and all the wonderful variations of those.

One of my favourite books of all time, and Mr Graham Greene's too, is Ford Madox Ford's 'The Good Soldier.'

The clue is most certainly in the title. 'The Good Soldier' is meant as in 'the good sort' or 'the good egg'. It's sly.

Ford Madox Ford writes as 'I' with what turns out to be knowing 'melancholy' about an event in the recent past, and the self-pity is pure cyanide.... it could not have been written in present tense, because he is an unreliable narrator.

He begins the book with formidable élan, unreliably, apparently with heartfelt poignancy. "This is the saddest story I have ever heard."

As Julian Barnes put it 'What could be more simple and declaratory, a statement of such high plangency and enormous claim that the reader assumes it must be not just an impression, or even a powerful opinion, but a "fact"? Yet it is one of the most misleading first...

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How I wrote my novel with The Novelry - by Cate.

Aug 20, 2017

By Cate Guthleben

I've started many books over the years but, until today, I'd only finished one. That one came from an MA in Creative Writing and took nearly two years to write. After I'd finished I sent it off to agents and publishers and got some nice comments on my writing, but no enthusiasm at all for the book. I knew it was flawed but didn't know how to fix it.

A little while later I started another. This one was going to be the one. It had a cracking premise and a protagonist I really cared about. I took a synopsis and three chapters to a Writers' Workshop conference in York and got really positive feedback from three agents. One wanted to see it as soon as I had finished. But I couldn't finish it. I got stuck somewhere around the middle and stayed stuck for a year. Then I read a review in the Sunday Times of my book. Same premise, same setting, same main character name for God's sake!

I wallowed for another year, flip-flopping between writing mine anyway and throwing it...

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Daily Word Counts. (Are You Normal?)

Aug 14, 2017

Are you normal?

As part of our peering over writers' shoulders to see whether we are in any way 'normal' please find here the calibrations.

It's a little like the old shoe-sizer which we put our tootsies onto at 'back to school' time. I don't know about you but it gave me a funny little thrill. I hope this gives you a funny little thrill...

As for me? I'm deviant as often as I can be. Last Saturday it was 7,500 but when I'm on the first draft, I'll write about 1000 (rather poor words.) Some days it will be a cryptic misspelt-by-Siri note in my iphone notes programme, supposedly revelatory of a major insight (see last blog.)

I wwrite hundreds of thousands of words to reduce down to the 80k or so for a novel. This is a fool's economy of course, but then as Dolly might have said 'it takes a lot of money to look this cheap'.

During the first draft, please don't worry about word count, you will find your way, just be regular.

If you need to get your novel done in 90...

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