1. Wait for inspiration.
This is the same as waiting for ‘the one’. They don’t exist. Tellingly you’re more likely to meet inspiration than your carefully constructed fantasy partner. It can happen when a paragraph falls out of the sky so complete that it’s hard to even take responsibility for it, but unless you’re Moses, it’s best to forget the mountain and just keep climbing. Like a good tennis return, if inspiration happens you need to be in the right place at the right time, but you can’t sit down in perpetual readiness, just ensure you’re always within reach of a pen.
While it’s thrilling to write without having any idea where you’re going, like some idealised country walk in which you follow your nose to discover abandoned Oast houses, badger sets and rusting farm machinery before a quaint pub that takes at least 4 pints to leave, it does have its pitfalls. Like the country walk, you’re likely to find after a couple of hours that you’ve walked into a dead end and can’t find your way back to the car before realising you’ve lost your keys and it starts raining.
I never plot and you can tell. I have at least one furrow in my brow you could run a river through when I’m lying down. But lying down is something plotting doesn’t allow you to do; it’s like a soduko or crossword, but one that follows you around prodding you in the side demanding attention. It’s like an internal video game in which you have endless lives, with which to knock yourself out against a wall.
3. Look over your shoulder.
Unless you’re a fighter pilot it’s best to ignore what’s behind you. The wonderful thing about writing is what comes out from the forgotten places of your past. It will happen. Writing taps into a reflective space it’s otherwise difficult to contact. As to literature, the past is littered with great writers, unfinished manuscripts and ash-filled hearths. Light your own fire. See what happens.
4. Ignore the craft.
Solar Bones by Mike McCormack is a recent book that breaks the rules. It’s novel in a single sentence, which presumably only free divers are able to read for long enough without taking breath. It’s supposed to be excellent. However, if you want to be published it’s best to respect the rules an techniques of writing, at least so you know you’re breaking them.
5. Take Rejections Personally
Writing is such a fast track to rejections that it feels masochistic . Honest friends and family will tell you first attempts are good, but you can can tell they’ve glazed over and silently praying that you never ask them to read your stuff ever again.
Like anything it takes time to get good, so don’t send your manuscript out too soon. Or at least accept that the best way to notice you’ve not done a spellcheck is by sending it to 40 literary agents.
6. Give up the Day Job.
It’ hard to know when to announce/admit you are a writer, but it’s best to keep it in the Hobbies and Interests of your CV until it’s at least in the shops. Even then most published writers are barely earning enough to pay the milkman and are hiding behind curtains until he rattles off flicking V-signs at the front door.
Even once you’ve written it you need to promote it, and it’s hard to sell something 8 months old – not that it’s flogging babies or anything.
7. Naming Yourself.
Use initials if you think it sounds important, but hoping you might be googled by idiots unable to spell JK Rowling by naming yourself JK Rolwing is inadvisable – they’re probably illiterate. Names are important, but be careful, Kirkcudbrightshire is an excellent name for a solicitors, but less good for a novelist.
8. Stop Writing
The hardest thing to accept is that the first novel you write – yes, the one that cost 4 years, a marriage and a short spell on antidepressants – is only for you. It’s unlikely to ever be published. It serves to learn the craft. They advise shutting your finished novel in a drawer for 2 months so you can then read it objectively. The first one should probably stay there.
9. Don’t change anything.
Like traffic lights that remain long after the road works have finished there’s still plenty to pack away after you’ve written The End. Even if you like it, there’s now the balancing act between ripping the soul out of it to achieve publication, and maintaining your artistic integrity (or something). Throwing a hissy fit at suggestions with the charm of being paid in 5pence coins will not make you any friends.
10. Don’t expect to get Published.
This is the tough one. Unless you’re serving a life sentence in a high security prison then everyone writes with some eye on publication. Mind you, with the current appetite for misery memoirs, then you might be more likely to be published with stories of gym visits and staring at the wall without punctuaton or a happy ending. Not that I’m encouraging serious criminality to achieve publication, but we all need a USP.
My novel, The Life Assistance Agency – selected by WHSmith Fresh Talent 2017 – is available here – – http://myBook.to/lifeassistance
A farcical road trip around Europe. ‘This is what would happen if the Blues Brothers went on a search for the Holy Grail.’
and on ebook here –