Wednesday, 21 November 2012

A Love Letter to Anyone Writing a First Novel

Dear *Insert your name, you brave and crazy adventurer*,

I just wanted to write you a quick note to express my love for you and everything you’re doing at the moment.
You know when you’re stuck in a waiting room for hours and all there is to read is a copy of last week’s Daily Mirror? Well, that would be what my whole life would be like without you and your kind, plunging headfirst into your wondrous and mangled minds and bringing back the bounty.

You may think me insincere, and I apologise for being forward (I hardly know you). It’s just that for every book by Kurt Vonnegut, Donna Tartt, Charles Dickens, Stephen King, Jane Austen and *insert your favourite author* there are hundreds of thousands of half-finished, abandoned, unloved manuscripts sitting, embarrassed and cold, in boxes in attics around the world, and I don’t want this to happen to yours. Imagine just how much great fiction has been swallowed up by the great self-doubt epidemic of our times. It may be brash and forward of me to write to you in this way, but I don’t want you to give up. The world needs to hear your voice, taste your truths and play with the stickle bricks of your creation.

If you’re flying high, writing lots and pushing forward then I hope that you will still appreciate my message of love (I salute you), but if you're struggling to make it to the page on yet another cold November morning, when there are bills to be paid and a hundred nothings out of the window to distract you, there may be a few ideas I can offer to help.

First of all, get in first; kick your doubts in the balls before they can drag you into the dark alley. You can meditate, try some self-hypnosis or write a letter to yourself to be opened at times of ‘Why am I doing this? I’m crap’. Don’t be alone; join a group or take a course. And then of course there’s the internet, keeper of a relentless haul of porn, skateboarding kittens and writing forums, groups, Twitter, etc. Just make sure that your doubt doesn’t become procrastination in the hands of social-media addiction.

Sometimes it’s not just doubt though; it could be that personal pressure is causing you to freeze at the sight of a biro. It could also be that your idea isn’t quite developed enough to plunge into the writing stages and more planning or research is needed. Try some writing exercises. No amount of staring at a blank piece of paper is going to turn a creative void into a bestselling masterpiece. Another problem could be the strength of your idea. Writing a mega slab of fiction could take years and is daunting even to the most experienced practitioner, but if you’ve chosen to write something that you only have lukewarm feeling for, you’re going to struggle.

And then there’s comfort. Take regular screen breaks, stretch, go for a walk, go and find inspiration. If you find that none of the above is affecting you, it could simply be that you've been overdoing it, or that you’re not comfortable in your environment. Setting up a writing space that is just for you – maybe even the kitchen table when the kids are at school – is essential to the wellbeing of you and your work.

Remember that there is no right or wrong way to be a writer. If writing at night works for you, then great. If starting at the end of your novel and working backwards is for you then do it. Maybe you find that working on more than one project and alternating your attention between the two will keep you interested. Writing is one of the few professions where you can suit yourself and that is something to be celebrated. If you have personal problems in your life that you think may be clashing with your ability to immerse yourself in the creative process then it may be that some life evaluation is necessary before you begin. I don’t want to pry into your life, but if there's an elephant in the room that you’ve been trying to pretend is not there, it’s not going to be any less visible when you're trying to get down to some writing.

Finally, if all else fails, it's discipline that will see you through. Plan working times and deadlines and stick to them. You chose to write for a reason; remember that reason as often as you can and just write.

I hope that this letter has helped.
Lots of Love

Hayley xx



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