You know you've got a book in you. You've been scribbling away ever since you were handed your first crayon. But you've just never managed to get the damn thing out into the real world.
Most wannabe writers struggle to actually get their masterpiece out of their brain and onto paper. So we spoke to Laura Powell - who's debut novel The Unforgotten, has hit the shelves a few months shy of her 30th birthday - to get her top tips for budding writers.
1 Find time
…to write. Some writers set aside an hour each day but I prefer a haphazard approach, swinging between all-consuming, obsessive episodes of writing, followed by weeks of ‘normal life’. Either way, be prepared to forgo sleep and sacrifice your social life. If you resent that, stop now. The old saying is true: Only write a novel because you’ll go mad if you don’t. Otherwise, you’ll go mad trying.
2 Be obsessed
…with the world you're writing about. Treat your characters like imaginary friends and carry them with you when you’re in the supermarket, the cinema, even when you're out jogging. What would they do, say, eat, wear and smell of? How would they walk? Then burrow away and write your first draft quickly. At this stage your book world should feel more real than your flesh-and-blood world.
3 Find a support group
...who are willing to be honest and critical and whose opinions you respect. They will be there when you hit a wall, when you lose your way and when you need a proofreader. Just don't use your mum, gran or anyone who will shower you in compliments. Sometimes you need tough love. Look for a fellow budding novelist or creative writing group who understand the importance of constructive criticism.
4 Power on
… with your first draft, even when you hit 30,000 words. The first few chapters are often the easiest to write, particularly if you’ve brooded over them for months. Things get tougher when you get to the meat of the book. This is when many would-be novelists give up. The trick is to never look back – don’t be tempted to edit earlier chapters. First drafts are meant to be flabby. That gives you something to work with later on.
5 Hide it in a drawer
... when you’ve finished your first draft. And leave it there for at least one month – four months if you have the willpower. The fresher your eye when you return to your manuscript, the better your editing will be. Put the down-time to good use and read widely or edit novels by your writer friends. This will sharpen your editing skills and make it easier to spot mistakes when you come to edit your own writing.
6 Edit, edit edit
Begin with a ‘bird’s eye’ edit to check over your novel as a whole: Do the plot threads join up? Are your characters consistent? Essentially, does it work? When you’re happy with the bigger picture, hone in and do a line edit: Consider your syntax, look out for woolly phrases, cut back on adverbs, check the dialogue balance is right.
7 Get a literary agent
(…who will probably make you edit it again). They will find you a publisher to launch your book into the world. There are so many rules here but the important ones are:
a) approach agents who represent books like yours
b) contact them in the manner they prefer (they’ll specify this on their website)
c) keep your approach brief with your professional credentials and a short synopsis
and d) only approach them when your manuscript is edited and ready.
Then cross your fingers and wait - sometimes as long as three months – for an answer.
And when you do... well that's when the hard work really starts!
Laura Powell's first novel, The Unforgotten, was released on 17 March 2016 (£8.99, Freight Books). She was named as one of Amazon’s Rising Stars for 2016. Buy it here now.