10 things I learned from writing a novel

After six years, I have a manuscript. It’s not perfect. I have no doubt that a professional assessment will highlight a number of areas I still need to work on. But I’ve got a complete story, and I love it.

The last few years have been quite a ride. Here are ten things I have learned along the way.

      1. Writing a novel is 5% breathless, giddy inspiration, 95% slog. Furthermore, you can never predict when that 5% will hit (and it will only hit when you’re deep in the middle of the slog).
      2. You have to love it. I mean REALLY love it. You have to be so in love with your story and your characters that they sustain you through the dark, lonely, soul-destroying moments when you think your novel is a pile of shit and you are an even shittier writer.
      3. Write regularly. Every day, if you can. The momentum will help the ideas and the words flow. The longer the gap between writing sessions, the more difficult it is to find your way back into the story. I have learned this lesson the hard way, many times over.
      4. Cut, cut, cut. Anatole France once said, “You become a good writer just as you become a good joiner: by planing down your sentences.”
      5. Cut some more.
      6. Listen. Listen to the music of your words, your phrases, your sentences. Read your sentences out loud. Can you feel their rhythm in your bones, your heart, your skin? My writing has to sing. If it doesn’t, I haven’t done my job properly.
      7. Stay at your post. Just sit down and write the f#@*ing story. Turn off your internet. Put your phone on silent. Ignore everyone and everything. Do this for just 15 minutes. Have a quick break, then do it again. And again. And…eventually, you won’t want to take that break.
      8. Abandon your post. Every so often, get up and stretch. Rejoin the world. Laugh. Hug your cat. Sit under a tree and run your fingers through the grass. Reconnect. You cannot dwell alone with words indefinitely. Life – doing, being, loving, learning – is what fuels our writing. So take a break if you really feel you need it. Then go back to Number 7.
      9. Don’t settle. If something is niggling away at you – if you think a passage may not be quite right, or a chapter needs rewritten, or a character is a bit one-dimensional – wade in and get to work. I know it’s a drag, and you just want the bloody thing to be done, but you’ll regret it if you don’t give this your very best shot.
      10. Finish it. Don’t give up.

And just to keep things in perspective…


(It’s not true – lots of people do – but we writers don’t want to get too cocky, now, do we?)


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