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There are only so many background notes that are worth making. Only so many times you can tweak your 'outline'. Eventually, you are going to have to dive in: "Once upon a time there was…". Don't wait for inspiration.

How to write a NOVEL

Don't wait for anything actually - not approval, not a book deal, enough time, an agent. If you want to write, now is the moment to do it. As for inspiration, chase it.

Open the doors to it. Create a benign environment for it. By writing and thinking about writing. That's when it comes.


If you are really stuck - mix it up. Go out and take a walk, listen to music, paint a picture, cook something. Take your laptop into a different room, go to a coffee shop, write longhand in the garden. Just don't get hung up on the idea of the spirit moving you. Whoever said invention is 90pc perspiration OK, it was Thomas Edison , was right. I am not a fan of fetishising the writing process. There is no room in my writing life for special notebooks and fountain pens with violet ink, with the moon in a particular quarter.

That said, I am a fan of having something - anything - to make notes with, wherever you are. A phone, a notepad, the back of an envelope and a biro.

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Have these everywhere: in your bag, by your bed, in the car. You never know when an idea will hit, and if you're anything like me, no matter how good the idea is, it may not stick around. Scribble it down. Not everything is fixable. This is one of the most gutting of realisations. Sometimes, no amount of rewriting will sort that chapter or section out. Sometimes, you need to chuck it and write it all over again, from scratch, using perhaps a different angle, a different perspective or tone.

It's painful, but often you will find that, on a second go, you really nail it.

Then read Go Set A Watchman, essentially a first draft. If that doesn't encourage you, nothing will. How do you know if something isn't working? You know. Even if you are having a hard time admitting, it, deep down, you know. This may be a little controversial, but I am against the using of a thesaurus. My belief is that if a word doesn't spring to your mind, it isn't your word.

If you are looking up five news ways to say 'disappointed', you aren't being authentic, you aren't being true to yourself. If you really think your vocabulary is too limited - read more, and differently. Read non-fiction books to broaden your technical vocabulary, read writers known for their innovative use of language John Banville is amazing at very unexpected words , but don't go grabbing for elaborate synonyms to fancy up your writing style.

Accept that, in the heat of the moment, you are not the best judge of quality. I have written pages that have felt like squeezing blood from a stone, thinking to myself 'every word of this is crap! Equally, I have woken up in the middle of the night, grabbed a notebook and scribbled down what I think are lines and thoughts of pure genius, only to read over them the next day and see that they are banal, or absurd. This, ultimately, goes back to the first point: Just do it.

Just write, even if you aren't happy with what you are writing, keep going, see where you end up. You DO have time. Everyone has time. We all know people who have written novels around full-time jobs, small children, sick parents, at 6am and at midnight, in between all the demands of daily life.

It can be done. You do not need to 'set aside' time to write.

The stories of three fiction-writing collectives, on three different continents.

You just need to write. As Teddy Roosevelt said - and this is the one that has saved me time and again - 'Do what you can with what you have'. You don't need three clear hours for it to be worth starting. You don't even need one clear hour. If you have 20 minutes, write for 20 minutes. You may not get a whole scene, but you might get half of one.

If I can write a novel in a day, you can surely write a book in the next six months – Here's how

Get used to being on your own, but know when you need back-up. At a certain stage, you are going to need feedback. Choosing the person you show your work to is an art-form in itself. This needs to be someone who will be encouraging, honest, ambitious for you, discerning, and able to communicate clearly. They need to know books, and you. I wouldn't go scattering your work around - everyone you show it to will have a different opinion; you can't, realistically, cope with more than two or three.

It just gets confusing. Pick the one or two people, show them, then steel yourself. Having the book you have slaved over critiqued is hard and can feel very personal. But you need to be tough. The point here is 'how can I be better? Finally, my best advice - write because you love it. Expect nothing in return except that the book may find a handful of readers who also love it.

So you want to write your very own novel? -

Make it a habit. Anthony complaining that Anthony hadn't written to her in a while. Your silence is truly appalling. Are you dead or married? In a series of letters to another writer, the philosopher—who also wrote poetry throughout his life—recommended that writers know where their work is going to go before they sit down to write.

Each must work in his own way; and the only drill needed is to keep writing and profit by criticism. Sometimes, we all need to shut ourselves in to get down to work, as even the most successful writers would tell you. When he was writing The Hunchback of Notre Dame , Victor Hugo pursued this artistic isolation in a particularly extreme fashion. Presumably it deterred anyone from visiting, too.