How to write a novel

4 Oct

pencilI spent quite a bit of the summer trying to finish the novel I’m writing. It oughtn’t to have been too difficult: it already has a beginning, middle and an end. It’s just the other stuff that’s not quite right.

On holiday, you can get up before anyone else and sit with a cup of tea and your words which are all in the wrong order and try to put them in the right order. This is because on holiday other people go to foam discos and bars and play cards until late even though they’re yawning and at home they’d have been in bed hours ago.

Last weekend I chaired an event at the Marlborough Literary festival with two young novelists, Edward Hogan and Evie Wyld. They’re both highly talented and extremely engaging and I highly recommend their books – but they are also very annoying. As invariably happens at this sort of event, they were asked how they go about writing. This is a good question because these days almost no one can afford to write full-time. Publishers are making less money and are resistant to investing in career development, so writers, even manifestly talented ones, have to fund themselves. Ed works as a student counsellor and Evie in a bookshop. They both said they like to get up really early: there’s something special about the slightly scrambled yet focused state of the early morning brain, untroubled by the white noise of work and commuting and other people’s demands.

Great. I already get up at 6.45. I’m not sure there is an earlier time than that. I make breakfast, argue about whether there’s time for a boy to have a shower (no), retrieve homework, Oyster card, find uniform, get the boy out of the house, get him to school and myself to work – well, you get the picture. And so it goes on, until I finish loading the dishwasher at about 9.45pm, when I’m ready to fall into bed.

How to write a novel. Be young, don’t eat breakfast, don’t have children who argue or lose things…oh, I don’t know. If I knew I’d have finished it.


7 Responses to “How to write a novel”

  1. Cari Rosen 4 October 2011 at 12:23 pm #

    To say that I agree with every word of that is an understatement. You described my day to a tee (and my second book is – and remains – only a prologue until I find the answer)

  2. Meg 4 October 2011 at 12:25 pm #

    Yes. That’s it. Just yes.

    • Josie Thaddeus-Johns 4 October 2011 at 1:23 pm #

      Maybe you should write a novel about foam discos so that you can have a proper holiday as research!

  3. amandacraig 4 October 2011 at 12:25 pm #

    This could be my own life….except that I am increasingly ruthless about how much housework I’ll do, to many complaints. Nothing more telling that JK Rowling’s account of being asked how she wrote the first Harry Potter with a small baby: “I did no housework and my flat was a mess.”

  4. Donna Thomson 4 October 2011 at 2:53 pm #

    Exactly. I didn’t write a damned word until I was 55 and someone else was looking after the kids. Heard Gloria Steinham on the radio the other day and she said women get more powerful with age, whereas with men, it’s the opposite. So, have your coffee, sleep in, and just wait till they’ve all gone. THEN write the book. zzzzzzz

    • Geraldine Bedell 5 October 2011 at 4:42 pm #

      Ha, this is such a great idea: I am looking forward to becoming powerful any minute now!

  5. Tiggy Hayes 5 October 2011 at 8:40 pm #

    I can relate to Edward and Evie as I write from 6-7 in mornings before the world wakes up. too scared to finish third edit as I might actually have to send novel somewhere!


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