How (not) to write a book
1 – How to write a book.
Let’s get this straight. There is only ONE way to write a book. ONE. Nur Ein. Il n’y a que un. As Ernest Hemmingway put it….
“There’s nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”
Textbook Ernest. Brief and to the point. There’s nothing more you need to know.
2 – How not to write a book.
This list, on the other hand, is quite extensive. Never, simply never….
A – Fall in love with the idea of writing.
Be honest, is this familiar? The idea that the mechanics of your craft is somehow fascinating, and will be scrutinized by people in centuries to come when they talk about your genius and how you wrote. What pen you used, where you sat to scribble, how many drafts/reams of paper/lovers you went through for each novel. What you will no doubt be forgetting is that in order to be a literary genius, you have to actually write. (I refer you to Section 1.)
B – Own a device with access to the internet.
Do you know what made Dickens, Shakespeare and Austin such great writers? They weren’t on Facebook. Shocking, isn’t it? They didn’t even have Candy Crush saga. I know! They wrote for a living. (I refer you to Section 1.)
C – Get bogged down in articles about writing.
Except this one, of course. You may get to the end of this one. But the others? All those books on characterisation, and plotting, and submissions. There is an industry out there, trying (very successfully in this age of mass literacy and online publishing) to make money out of your desire to be a writer. What they are hoping is that your desire to write is stronger than your will to pick up a pen, and you may in fact squander that rare resource, Time, on reading instead of writing. Because how many books you have read will not make you a writer. There is only one way to become a writer. (I refer you to Section 1.)
D – Think you’re a great writer because you choose to be.
David Beckham did not wake up one morning the perfect sportsman. He worked relentlessly from the age of 10 onwards, in specialised academies, to hone his skills. Do not think that because you decided at 10am you were going to write a novel, by 10:30 you will have plotted a masterpiece. You may have learnt to ‘write’ at school; but plotting a novel, developing a voice and creating a character and a world to go with her – this will take you years. You will fail more often than you succeed. You will probably not succeed, not for a very long time. I wouldn’t expect to wake up and become a footballer without having invested most of my life on the pitch….the same goes for writing. It takes years of apprenticeship. (I refer you to Section 1.)
E – Be an island.
You need other writers to give you feedback. Not your old Mum. She’s a sweetheart, it’s indisputable, but unless she has been on the Amazon Bestseller list for the last few months, forget it. She’ll care more about your self-esteem than your novel; that’s her job. Which is great for you – it’s just a waste of time for your writing. Ditto for your husband/wife/partner/neighbour/cat. They love you, but they don’t know diddly about crafting a novel. Get thee to a nunnery writing group, and find some people who you trust to give you feedback straight. You will need it. Then listen carefully – don’t bother arguing, even if you think it’s baloney. Just take it home and ponder it for a bit. You can decide to ignore it and carry on as before, or take the advice and edit your work. But you will never make it without some honest critiquing.
F – Write to coincide with a current publishing trend.
Write what you want to write. The meme that sparked in your brain and exploded like a firework. The thing that makes you fizz in front of your laptop screen. Don’t ever try and just write to follow a trend. Why? Not because your writing will be flat and uninspiring. (It will.) Not because you will find the writing slow and laborious and unenjoyable. (You will.) But because, by the time you have finished that tailor-made niche novel of yours, the market will be saturated. Did you love Game of Thrones? Great, so did a million others, and the lucky ones who came out with a Dystopian novel around the same time got snapped up there and then. Now the market is full to bursting, and however good your novel is, there’s no place for it anymore. So write for yourself, because the writing process is too arduous to play the Futures Market with.
G – Write for money.
Have you any idea how long it takes? Really takes, to write a novel? I’m not talking about the chunks of time you sit at the computer. It’s the endless fretting over your plot, thinking it through, realising some character or other has gone in completely the wrong direction, and has totally changed the face of the book. It is legion, the time and heartache you will render to this bastard-child of yours. Minimum wage doesn’t come into it. If you don’t love it, don’t bother. Write for prestige, of course. For love. Out of anger, and bitterness and resentment, if it inspires you. But not for money. If you want money, go scrub someone’s toilet. It pays more. If you love writing…I refer you to Section 1.
So there you have it – the guide to how not to write a book. Now you’ve got to the end, you’ve finished your coffee, the sitting-room does not need hovering, and the dog can cross his legs.
GO AND WRITE.
Alison Moulden is a member of the Hog’s Back Writers http://www.hogsbackwriters.co.uk and some day she’ll take her own advice, stop entering competitions, and finish her novel.