A special piece of advice

Here’s one of the many awesome five-star reviews I’ve had for my book How To Write a Novel in 6 Months:

It intrigued me; I wondered what the special piece of advice that helped this writer was. I like to think my little guide contains lots of useful information. Those who’ve read it tell me it has certainly helped them get going with their novels. And the reviews suggest it’s got some handy tips, too.

Of course, I couldn’t guess what spoke to this writer, above.

But I know what my Eureka! moment was when I was struggling with my novels. I was trying to follow what I regard as the most impractical bit of advice hurled at would-be authors:

Write every day.

I found this to be demoralising. At the beginning of the week, I would be full of enthusiasm, determined to get to my desk every day and produce a certain number of words. Like I say in the book, Monday went brilliantly: I’d hit my target, whatever it was; 1,000 or 2,000, perhaps.

I was raring to go on Tuesday.

Then Tuesday came. Life got in the way. I got busy at work (yes, I, like the vast majority of would-be writers had a full-time job). Family matters needed attending to (don’t many of us have kids, pets, husbands, wives, mums, dads?). And Tuesday went: 0 words. I had already failed.

This appeared to be the cycle. I got writing, then I got busy. I soon realised that most “gurus”, many of those who give advice on “how to write a novel”, “how to be a writer”, often haven’t finished a novel themselves; they’ve not lived in the real world of writing.

I had to get real if I wanted to be a writer.

And that’s when the Eureka! moment struck me:

Don’t write every day.

That’s right: ignore that unrealistic piece of advice.

But I still needed a target, a goal. I think this is very important if you want to finish your novel. But daily word-targets just didn’t work in the real world. However, weekly ones just might…

And that was it. I set myself a weekly word target, for my first draft, especially. I aimed for around 8,000 words a week. I found that it didn’t matter if I missed a day due to LIFE; as long as I worked hard on the days i had available to write, I could hit my goal. And I did.

And this is how I wrote two novels a year.

So that was my “special piece of advice”, if you like; the revelation.

I still don’t know what bit of advice helped the writer above. I am only glad that they found something of value in my book. That’s the whole point, after all: to help others write their novels in the real world.

If you’ve read my book, I’d be delighted to hear if you found a “special piece of advice” in it, just one thing that made you think: A-ha!

If you’ve not read it, please let me know a piece of advice that really inspired you.

Get in touch with my on Twitter, @thomasemson and share your thoughts.

The Rules of Writing (there are two)

I have been teaching some creative writing sessions recently. The writers in the group are great; they have some wonderful ideas. Their WIPs (works-in-progress) are varied, from reality-based domestic dramas to high fantasy. It’s great to see.

The majority of what I’m teaching comes from my book, How To Write a Novel in 6 Months. But of course, I’ve learned some new things about writing since I published the book. I think about writing a lot, because that’s what I do.

One of the things I’ve become more convinced about is that there are no RULES to writing—but there are PRINCIPLES.

However, I have U-turned slightly…

I have come to the conclusion, now, that there are TWO rules. They are axioms, I think; fixed and never-changing. Everyone who sits down to write a novel or story, play or screenplay, must stick to them.

The 2 rules are:

1. Finish it: your book, your play; get to THE END.
2. Don’t bore the reader: make them WANT to turn the page or stay in their seats.

That’s it.  Your starting points when you begin writing: these 2 rules.

Do you agree? Anyone have other rules? Or maybe you don’t think these are important. Let me know. I look forward to hearing from you.

So with Christmas coming, and New Year goals looming, maybe some of you intend to write a novel. If that’s the plan, the above two rules are really the only things you need to be thinking about.

Have lots of festive fun, I hope 2022 is creative and bountiful for you all.

Four weeks to your first draft

It’s NaNoWriMo. You start on November 1, and by the end of the month the aim is to write a novel – or at least a 50,000-word first draft of a novel.

It’s a great idea. It really gets you writing if you’ve struggled in the past. You have a goal, and you drive towards it, relentlessly, hopefully.

I know some professional authors who’ve taken part, and benefitted, and I think anyone who wants to write a novel, but don’t know where or how to start, should have a crack.

There’s a great website full of tips and advice, and you can find forums and blogs all over the internet. You won’t lack support as you set out to finish your book. And I hope that all of you who started on November 1 are still in the game – you’re nearly half way through.

Fifty thousand words in a month sounds like a big challenge, and it is – but it is do-able.

You might think you have to write every day, but as I show in my book How To Write A Novel In 6 Months, you don’t have to.

Daily targets, in my opinion, can be the death of writing. You set yourself up for failure if you decide to write a novel and tell yourself: I have to write 2,000 words a day. It’s unlikely that will happen. Life will get in the way. Count on it.

So my strategy – and it has been since I wrote my second novel Skarlet – has been to give myself weekly targets.

During the first draft process, I aim to write between 8,000 and 10,000 words a week. That is not a big ask. The top end is a little over 1,400 words a day.

Yes, I know, I said don’t set yourself daily word targets – but that is an average daily count. You won’t be writing every day. Some days you’ll be doing “life”. So maybe you’ll write 700 words one day, but on another day – when you’re flying and you have more time – you will churn out 3,000.

And that’s what you should do with NaNoWriMo, too.

Break down that 50,000 into weekly targets and you get 12,500 words a week, or just under 1,800 a day.

It’s still a tough ask, but my suggestion is you use the weekly target, not the daily one. Hey, if you can and do write every day, great. But if for some reason you miss a day, with a weekly word target, you will not have to abandon your project. And you won’t feel bad about having a life, just like everyone else.

So if you’re into NaNoWriMo, and you’re starting to find it tough finding the time daily, look at a weekly target.

One day you might do 5,000. But the next it’s only 300, the following day you don’t get the time to work at all, but day four and you managed a 1,000, and the next it’s 3,000. Day six, you can’t get to your desk, so on the seventh day you can’t rest – you know you’ve got 3,200 words to write to hit your weekly 12,500 target.

You got there, but you still managed to deal with two non-writing days when life got in the way.

All the best with your NaNoWriMo project. Don’t give up. You’ll have a first draft by the time you finish. And writing a novel in a month is quite an achievement. And you didn;t even have to write on each of the 30 days.