“Where do you get your ideas from, Thomas?”

I get asked that all the time. I guess most writers would say the same. So what’s the answer? Well, ideas come from all over the place.

My first novel Maneater is about a werewolf called Laura Greenacre who wants to avenge the death of her clan.

So there’s an idea: a revenge novel. About a werewolf.

Newspapers are a useful source of ideas. Local newspapers used to be great. They had all kinds of stories. Keep your eye on the shorts, those two-paragraph stories that run down the side of a page.

I read something once about a guy stealing a JCB; you know, one of those big yellow diggers. He went on the rampage with it along his street because his neighbors, apparently, had made complaints about him; called the cops or something. Now that’s a scene. Build a story from there. Why did he get that crazy? What caused his neighbors to complain in the first place? What’s going to be the consequence of his actions?

I once wrote a short story called The Librarian. It was about a lonely old man who stole library books to build his own library in a spare room in his house. This story came from two sources.

One was a two-paragraph court story I read in a local newspaper about a man fined for pinching books from his library.

The other idea came from one of my own obsessions — putting books back in their proper places in bookshops.

When I browse bookshelves it bothers me when I see a Michael Connolly novel mixed up with James Ellroy’s books. I will return the Connolly where it belongs, either with the rest of the author’s books or in the “Cs”.

In my story, the character tidied up the shelves in his library in this way, putting books back where they belonged — or so it seemed. He was also tucking them into his coat and walking out with them. He loved books. He was passionate about them. He hated how people disrespected them. He thought people didn’t deserve libraries. So he built his own with books he stole. Eventually he burns his library and himself because the philistines are coming to arrest him and take his books away. He does the worst thing you could do to books — he burns them. But only because he loves them. A twisted kind of love, maybe, but he did not know that.

Another source of ideas is combining genres. Throw in romance with vampires, see what you get. Oh, that’s right: Twilight. Toss some Vikings into a bowl and mix with aliens. That will get you Outlander, a 2008 production starring Jim Caviezel and John Hurt. How about space invaders in the Old West? That’s Cowboys & Aliens.

The new sub-genre of pastiche is becoming popular now, thanks mainly to its inventor the writer Seth Grahame-Smith, creator of Pride And Prejudice And Zombies and Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter.

Why not update a real, historical crime and transplant it to the modern day? I did that with Pariah, inventing a mythology for Jack the Ripper and transplanting him into 21st century London.

So just a few ideas there about… ideas! I’ll talk more about how to develop snippets and scenes into stories over the next few weeks. But the best advice I can give you is: Let your imagination soar.

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.

How I write a novel and how you can write one, too

I start writing when I start. There’s no specific time. But we are up early because of the dogs. And my wife is very disciplined and gets to her desk by 8 a.m.

The office is a summer house at the bottom of the garden. Books and papers are piled everywhere. There’s a chair each for the dogs, and it’s got heating, too. Very cosy in winter.

After drinking a second cup of coffee, I meander to my desk.

Deadlines are vital for me. This is stems from my days as a journalist. Like Duke Ellington said, “I don’t need time, I need a deadline.” That’s me. Just like Duke.

I write a novel in six months, from start to finish. For the first draft, which is quite messy, I have a weekly word target – 8,000-10,000 a week.

Continue reading “How I write a novel and how you can write one, too”

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.

Free book today

HTWABI6M_New_Twitter_CoverMy guide book HOW TO WRITE A NOVEL IN 6 MONTHS  is available for FREE on Amazon for Kindle today and tomorrow, so if you’re in the UK, here’s the link, and it’s here if you’re in the States; here in Canada; here in Australia… and it’s free everywhere else on Amazon, too. If you do download it for free, all I ask is, Would you consider revewing it? It’s great to know what you think. I am not asking for a five-star review, only your honest, fair opinion. Anyway, if you download it, I hope it helps you in your quest to write a novel, or, if you already are a novelist, you may find some of the content interesting.

The Writing Process Blog Tour

So Danny Rhodes, author of the excellent Fan, asked me to contribute to the Writing Process Blog Tour. I don’t know much about it, but writer after writer answer the same four questions. Here are the questions. Here are my answers…

What am I currently working on?
I’ve just finished, and dispatched to my agent, a fantasy/sci-fi/dystopian thriller for the so-called YA audience. I’m about to start writing a detective novel.

How does my work differ from others of its genre?
I’ve mostly written horror, but they’re fast-moving and action-packed. Horror appears to me to be traditionally quite sluggish. Some horror writers spend an age piling on the adjectives and adverbs, thinking up different words for ‘dark’. I try to keep the story moving, very, very quickly. I don’t waste time on long, descriptive passages telling the reader how menacing a house looks. I get the characters inside the house and show them how menacing it is.

Why do I write what I do?
I wrote horror initially because I loved the genre as a youngster. But I also like action thrillers and fast-paced stories. I combined horror stories and the thriller framework. Really pacy stories. Gory, full of violence, very grown-up. I really enjoyed TV serials when I was growing up. They used to show stuff like Flash Gordon with Buster Crabbe. It was old, very old, but I loved the cliff-hangers at the end of each episode. I attempt that with my stories. I want to be on the edge of my seat when I read a book. I try to do that when I write my own, too. I think, to be succinct, I write what I write because I like reading it.

How does my writing process work?
I had an eight-book contract, and tied myself to writing two books a year. In order to do that, I had to be disciplined. So I developed this specific routine, which I use to this day. I set myself targets. I work out how long I have to write a book. Say six months. It’ll be an 80,000 word book, at least. I set myself a target of 8,000 words a week. Weekly targets are more achievable than daily ones. If I write 8,000 words a week, and working from a vague outline, I’ll have the first draft finished in 10 weeks. When I’m writing the first draft, I don’t stop to correct anything, I just write and write. After that’s done, I take a week off. Then I go back and do a pass of the first draft, cleaning things up. And I keep doing this until I have a decent manuscript. I’ve written about my routine in a book called How To Write A Novel In 6 Months.

… so there it is; hope you enjoyed.