So I had a brilliant time at the RWA convention in New York. I met a lot of great authors and heard lots of fantastic talks – it was such a good melting pot of shared ideas and information.
It was particularly interesting to hear Nora Roberts’ thoughts on productivity. Not only is Nora one of the most successful authors in the world – she is one of the most prolific, having written over 200 novels. How does she do it? Here’s how….
‘People often ask me how do I write so much. You know what? I just don’t make excuses. I just write. I don’t wait for the ‘muse’ – there is no f***ing muse. Plus, I have rules. My kids are grown up now, but when they were younger they knew not to interrupt me when I was working. I’d say, ‘you wouldn’t disturb me if I worked in an office.’
I don’t have a daily word count. I write on a Word Perfect document so I can’t tell. I write three drafts of a novel. I vomit out the first one, make changes in the second and polish the third. I write the things I want to read. You can’t write to please the reader, because reader A is different to reader B – and who is right? Maybe they both are. That’s why it’s so important to write for myself.
I write for 6- to 8 hours a day and that’s a lot of sitting around so I find it’s really important to work out. I work out for 60-90 minutes a day; yoga, pilates, cardio – that way I can treat myself to a glass of wine after writing!’
To see Nick Hornby last night in conversation, who was as smart and funny as you’d hope. He has the dream career as far as I’m concerned – a super successful novelist, an Oscar-nominated screen writer and the co-founder of a really brilliant place in Hoxton called The Ministry of Stories, which helps young people get fired up about creating writing.
I always love hearing about how other authors write and Nick had some great advice, which was a more articulate rift on the ‘write what you know.’
‘Be specific about your sense of place. That way, even people on the other side of the world can identify it as their place.
I mean, when John Cusack and his two screenwriter friends got in touch about making High Fidelity into a movie they said to me, “this is a book about us. A bit later, in a different location and with a different soundtrack, but this is us.”
You have to be authentic about your place, as that way, it will resonate with others.
If you are writing about ‘another place,’ you can lose your authenticity.’
For sale at the Ministry of Stories: Monster themed paraphernalia! Go check it out.
How do you write a novel? I get asked this a lot. Maybe once a week. Our local taxi driver, the window-cleaner, our baby-sitter, mums at the school gate, everyone seems to have a book in them, and why the hell not. Twenty years ago I was at law school and thought I’d one day be making a living writing briefs, not blockbusters.
Anyway – there is both a very simple answer to the question How do I write a novel and quite a long one. The short reply, to paraphrase PG Wodehouse, is to put you bum on a seat and start typing. For a more comprehensive outline there are one or two year creative writing courses up and down the land that will tell you what to do. To find some half way house I thought I’d run a regular blog post On Writing. It’s just my experience. The things I’ve learned and how I do it….
Starting a novel – my story
About fifteen years I started writing my first book. It wasn’t Daddy’s Girls that was published in 2006. It was bad stab at a chick-lit novel about a girl who couldn’t find a boyfriend and although I was aware my idea wasn’t exactly original, the book industry was still riding the Bridget Jones wave so I thought that was exactly what the market wanted. I took a week’s holiday from work, bunked down in a rural cottage and got stuck into it, but left seven days later with nothing but pages and pages of lifeless prose about bedsits, vodka cocktails and shoes.
Truth was, my heart wasn’t it. It wasn’t the book I wanted to write, but the book I thought I should be writing to increase my chances of selling the thing and becoming a professional author. Instead, I didn’t get beyond page forty.
I didn’t start another novel for a couple more years or so. I was at the airport, about to go on my honeymoon, and wanted something to read there. I was after something gloriously escapist, nothing too taxing, a perfect accessory for the beach. But browsing the shelves of Smith’s, I realized that I’d read everything by Jilly Cooper and Jackie Collins – authors that usually fit the sunlounger reading bill. And all those fabulous airport novels from the 1980’s – Shirley Conran, Arthur Hailey, Sidney Sheldon, seemed to have completely fallen from view.
Instead I bought a non-fiction book – a biography about the Mitford Sisters. It was fascinating and got me thinking about what would it be like if there was a group of beautiful, but controversial sisters today. The idea for Daddy’s Girls was formed and I couldn’t wait to start writing it. Within a year I had the first half of my manuscript with an agent, another year after that, the book had reached the Sunday Times Top Ten bestseller list.
So the first thing I’d say is that to start writing a novel you should find an idea that you fall head over heels in love with. I mean – writing a book takes a very long time indeed. You have to crank out the pages before or after work, or at weekends when frankly, there are lots of more relaxing things you could be doing like, watching Breaking Bad with a five pack of curly-wurlies. So, rule number one. Find a idea you love. Create characters you want to spend time with.
When I sit down to write my novels, I like to have a very clear picture in my head of what that person or place I am writing about looks like, (it’s why I usually ‘cast’ them with famous actors and actresses!)
When I was writing Perfect Strangers I knew that the final scenes were to take place in a beautiful and remote Scottish castle. I trawled the internet, visited a few, and finally settled on Eilean Dornan castle as my inspiration. It’s one of the most photographed places in Scotland but it was the perfect place to think about when I was writing those scenes. Here’s some photos from our trip up there. If you’re in the area, I also recommend visiting Eilean Ban – home of Gavin Maxwell, author of the lovely otter story The Ring of Bright Water.