Ten things I have learnt writing a novel

I’m giving my manuscript a final proofread before submitting it to a potential publisher later this month. It’s been years in the making, this novel. It has sat, untouched, for months at a time. Life has gotten in the way, including setting up my own editing business, raising my daughter, becoming single, rebuilding a life, and pursuing other creative passions, including performing in New Zealand productions of The Phantom of the Opera and Les Misérables.

But this year, suddenly, I wasn’t prepared to wait any longer. It’s time to get this book published. So here I go—and here are ten things I’ve learnt up to this point.

  1. Writing a novel is 15% breathless, giddy inspiration, 85% slog. Furthermore, you can never predict when that 15% 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. I still love my book. It still makes me laugh, and cry. It has come straight from my heart, and I’m proud of it.
  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 learnt 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. Identify and kill your darlings. Be brave and be ruthless.
  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 fucking 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. Have amazing sex. 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 suspect 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. Don’t give up. Believe you can do it. FINISH.

Comments Off

4 Comments on “Ten things I have learnt writing a novel”

  1. mphtheatregirl October 20, 2020 at 12:13 pm #

    Been writing my 1st WIP for two years now- on its 5th draft, which isn’t the final draft. However, it is close to being done.

    • thebellbirdblog October 20, 2020 at 5:48 pm #

      Well done. Keep going!

      • mphtheatregirl October 21, 2020 at 12:44 pm #

        What surprised me about writing Tale of The Cattail is that literally in the middle, my characters started writing the rest of the story

      • thebellbirdblog October 21, 2020 at 5:41 pm #

        Yup. Been there. All you can do is try to keep up.

%d bloggers like this: