Earlier this year I completed the first draft of a novel, Control Alt Delete. The novel is about an independent and intelligent woman, who becomes a victim of coercion and control and how she manages to escape and survive. For years one of my oldest friends had been nagging me to write a book. It is no exaggeration to say that it took me a good thirty years before I finally had the discipline to sit down and write it. I kept thinking that there was some magic formula to discover before I could physically put pen to paper. But there isn’t. You really do just have to force yourself to sit down and write.
Over the past few years, I’ve undertaken quite a few writing courses. I first attended a very short speech at the Penistone Literary Festival given by the romantic novelist Milly Johnson. Milly is from Barnsley and she is one of the most generous and supportive writers out there. She did an A-Z of novel writing and the advice she gave me has stayed with me ever since. Milly has a great technique called the Pomodoro. You set a 20-25-minute timer on your computer. You write solidly for that time and afterwards have a break. This really works.
I also did a few online courses with Laura Jane Williams. She has written two books and is a Red magazine columnist. The best piece of advice she gave me was to just write, write, write and then edit, edit, edit. Then when you think that you have edited enough, edit some more. This technique enables you to really concentrate on what you are trying to say in your novel. It cuts out waffle and ensures that your writing is clear.
I’ve also done several writing courses with Curtis Brown. One of the main benefits of this was that there was an online feedback forum where you would read other students’ work and they would read and comment on yours. Feedback on your writing is invaluable. I understand now that it is my writing that is to be critiqued not me. Don’t take anything personally. Of course, a lot of views on writing are subjective but it’s essential to put yourself out there and seek and give advice. On one of the Curtis Brown courses, we even set up our own Facebook group where we discuss new avenues for writers and competitions. It’s very supportive and essential. Writing is very isolating and one of the few occupations, where you do your best work when shut away. That is why it is vital to network.
Twitter must be the best place for a writer to engage with other writers. If you eventually decide to seek representation from a literary agent then it’s important to do your research first and know what each agent is looking for. Writers regularly publish great advice on Twitter too and there are Twitter-led competitions such as Pitch Wars.
Nowadays literary agents are reluctant to take on new talent and prefer not to take risks. Most agents want to see that you are already established with a large social media following. This is very frustrating as a writer, but it’s essential that you accept it and try your upmost to gain a following and try to be creative in how you do this. A blog is a great place to start, as it showcases your writing. It’s a good idea to write short stories and submit them to magazines too or have them published in local anthologies. I’ve been immensely lucky to get to know Nev Raper. Nev has self-published his own series of hilarious and thought-provoking short stories and he helps new writers a great deal. He’s publishing a collection of poetry and short stories to raise money for Mental Health Charities. I’m really pleased that he has accepted some of my work for inclusion in this. Self-publishing is something to consider and it is also worth considering writing a non-fiction book, to give yourself more credence when approaching agents.
Finally, and this is the best piece of advice I have ever been given, discipline yourself to writing a minimum of a thousand words per day. This came from the MP and writer Nadine Dorries, when she appeared on The Wright Stuff. If you do something every day for about a month then it becomes a habit. Writing a thousand words a day meant that I was able to complete my first draft of my novel in just over three months. When you think that it had taken me thirty years to sit down and finally write, completing a novel in just over three months was quite a surprising achievement. I think no one was more shocked than me when it was finished!
Good luck in your writing journey!