Friday, 4 September 2015

Advice for New Writers Part 1: I have a great idea for a book - what should I do next?


I must be getting old, because I am often asked for advice about writing by young (and not so young) authors, who are just starting out, and wondering what they should do to get a book out and published.

Last week, I was speaking to yet another one. She had an idea for a book, which she was visibly excited about, and a great urge to write. She told me that she wrote each night after work - she even had a particular time of the night when she'd sit down and write. It was a pleasure to give her tips on how to proceed, and our discussion inspired me to share some of the things I told her about the industry, and about writing in general.

These are my own personal pieces of advice, learned through being part of this rapidly changing book world for the past ten or so years.

For those who wish to know if I have any credentials to pass on such advice, I can tell you that I've got a MA in Creative Writing; I've had various run-ins with literary agents in the traditional publishing area; I've been a book-seller and now I'm a proud self-published author and an active member of the Alliance of Independent Authors, as well as reviewer of Awesome Indies. I've published three novels, two of which are AIA accredited. I'm Chief Editor of the Finn-Guild magazine, Horisontti, and have articles published in various magazines.

This will be a series of blog posts about what I've learned so far. I am mainly talking here about fiction - I've yet to venture into the world of non-fiction (i.e. factual books)

Here is the first one of these blog posts, in which I'll try to answer the question:

'I have a really good book idea, what should I do next?'


Someone said that every person has a novel inside them, and this may be true, but what separates a writer from an aspiring writer is that the former has completed a manuscript in their (virtual) desk drawer.

A manuscript is what an unpublished novel is called, and for a full length novel this should be a minimum of 70,000 words. Opinions differ on the maximum, but I think if a novel is twice this, i.e. 150,0000, you should seriously consider cutting some words.

But, let's not jump ahead. How do you write 70,000 coherent words that make up a novel?

Practise makes perfect


I am a strong advocate for hard work. The more you read, and write, and read again, and write again, the more skilful you become. Of course you'll have to have talent for writing, a nose for a good story, and an aptitude for being able sit down and work at your manuscript, but the majority of the 'luck' any author has, comes in the form of hard work.

Read books in your own genre


Many people on my MA course were sceptical of genre as a concept. I think it was popular then (10 years ago) amongst English students to think that they didn't fit into any box, that their writing was unique.  I myself fell into this trap, only realising when I eventually decided to become an indy author, how important it is to present the world with a unified picture of yourself and your writing. (Author branding is a complicated subject which I'll come to at a later post).

If your writing is unique (which is very rare), then you'll have invented a new genre. That's how simple it is. But for the most of us, who write in a specific genre, in order to sell your novel, you need to know what kind of book it is, what kind of people will want to read it and so on. I cannot emphasise it enough: you need to know the genre your novel fits into.

Once you have decided what kind of book you want to write, find authors who write in that genre and look at how they've constructed the story; what's the style; how do the plots work. It's often the case that a new writer wants to write the kind of books that they enjoy, but many established romance writers, for example, enjoy detective stories and vice versa. Sometimes they've even tried to write in this other genre, but it just doesn't suit their style.

Write and write again... 


The more you write the better your writing will become. Writing is like any other art form, or craft. You wouldn't expect a baker to turn out perfect loaf on his first try, would you? Or a painter to be born with the perfect strokes? Both need to practise their craft, and/or be taught how to bake and paint. And then they need to practise this craft. For some reason writing is considered by some (especially in the traditional publishing industry) a craft that cannot be taught, or practised, but I strongly disagree. Why would this art form - or craft - be any different from any other?

So, the first task of any budding writer - before he or she even considers how to publish, is to sit down and write the best manuscript you possibly can.

If you really want to write, and enjoy telling tall or not so tall tales, just write. For me personally, it's as important as breathing  - and I wouldn't be the person I am if I didn't write. It's a compulsion, a drug that I just cannot be without.

Happy writing!

Next month I'll post about what to do when you've written the manuscript - how to find an editor and who to send your manuscript to.

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4 comments:

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Helena - well done setting down some good tips from your own experiences ... writing a book is like the chicken or the egg ... which should come first the plans and route to publication, or the actual book ... but it's getting on with the project in the first place ...

Good luck with your new projects - I'm sure all will work out wonderfully for you .. and now you're helping us - cheers Hilary

Helena Halme said...

I'm glad you like the post - the idea came for this young lady who's so passionate about writing and I thought why not share what I told her on the blog. Hx

Unknown said...

Hi Helena,
I just read your advice on 10 tips to turn your true life story into a novel. It was exactly what I needed to hear. Just subscribed and look forward to your future posts. Thank you!

Helena Halme said...

I'm glad you found the post on the ALLi blog. And good luck with your writing!