On December the 3rd 2017 I wrote this in my journal:
I’m excited to start writing something – but I have no clue where and how to actually start writing! I’m going to get some big bits of paper and do some planning so that I have a general direction, then pick bits I like and start. It’s going to be a learning process, but I’m determined to give it a shot and see what comes up. It’s just all about time, isn’t it? I know I’ll get there.
Seventeen months later I hit publish on my debut novel, Kathmandu.
It doesn’t really feel like that much has happened since I wrote that. I don’t feel any different. But it has been an incredibly informative process.
In that time I’ve learnt so much, obviously about writing – language, story structure, characterization and how to make something gripping. But I’ve also learnt lessons about the process of creativity and about myself on the way.
This is what I’ve learned about the process of writing a novel:
You can’t do it alone (or at least you shouldn’t)
One of the great myths about writers is that we do it all on our own. We don’t. Successful books are the work of a team of people, regardless of how they’re published.
I spent hours agonizing over the first draft of Kathmandu, often improving parts that didn’t make the final cut.
In the future, I’ll be writing the first draft, checking it through, then passing it on.
You need to invest both time and money
Following the above, it’s all very well slaving over a manuscript for hours, but the fresh eyes of an experienced editor will show you things you never thought about. They will not only improve your book but make you a better writer.
It’s an investment in you and your writing career.
Get to know how your creativity works
Some people plan things out and then write a whole novel in a couple of days. Others, like me, tap out a couple of thousand a day, slowly mounting up to a novel.
Get to know how you work best and embrace that. I, like many people, do my writing first thing in the morning. In that first hour, I get about 1000 words down, after that my productivity drops.
Currently, on a good day, I can write about 2000 words before I need to stop.
Make a habit of creativity
Creativity, like many things, is all about habit and practise. You don’t need to write for long, but make sure it’s frequent.
I wrote the (very rough) first draft of Kathmandu in three months of 45 minutes sprints before work last year. If you can get a few hundred words down each day, it quickly mounts up.
Everything new you take on has a cost
Many writers (myself included) have spoken about wanting to start writing, setting that alarm a bit earlier and putting in some time before work. While that is true and I would recommend it if you need to get started, do be aware that when you add something to your life, there is always going to be something else that suffers.
If I was to do this again, I’d make that choice consciously. Purposefully stopping something else to allow time to write. What that might be is up to you – an hour of TV, a commitment you keep, or an additional responsibility at work.
This saved time will allow you to get the rest you need to get up early and focus on your writing.
Give yourself the praise you deserve
I’m very hard on myself and have really high expectations for what I want to achieve.
I’m learning now, having written and published my book, that I need to take some time to stop and appreciate the distance I’ve travelled and the progress I’ve made.
I’ve loved writing my first novel, and now feel I’ve dozens more stories urging their way out. Creativity is fun, exciting and the point of the whole process… take time to enjoy it!