When I was a kid, I loved Beatrix Potter. I always imagined that she wrote her books in a quaint little summerhouse in her country cottage garden, with the flowers blooming and birds tweeting — and I decided that’s what I wanted to do too.
I also wanted to be a vet until I discovered I was too squeamish, so off I went to Law School instead. Note: I’m not a lawyer now either.
But something clicked a couple of months ago (probably the impending lockdown) and I decided I finally wanted to sit down and write my book. I had a very vague idea — certainly not one that had much of a plot line yet — but I was determined to give it a go. What was there to lose?
I did the usual — Googling countless blog articles about how to go about writing your first book — and there was plenty of advice out there that I tried to order in my head, but my top advice would be to just start writing.
And that’s exactly what I did.
“There is something delicious about writing the first words of a story. You never quite know where they’ll take you.”
~ Beatrix Potter
I opened my laptop and just started typing. Those first few sentences were the hardest. I typed, deleted and re-typed a few times and I’m sure when I go back to edit at the end, they’ll be re-typed again. But, it’s important to just get those first words down on paper. That’s where the magic begins.
And it’s not the type of magic I imagined.
It’s not glamorous
I’m not sat in a pretty little summerhouse in the countryside with views of rolling hills, and most of the time the birds aren’t tweeting as I type. Sometimes I’m sat at my desk, between work, with a view of a hundred houses and my neighbour’s washing hanging out on the line. Other times (like now) I’m sat in bed with my pyjamas on, eating a chocolate biscuit and getting crumbs in-between the keys. It’s not how I imagined I’d be writing my first book but I’m doing it.
It helps to set a daily word count
And keep it small and manageable. I started with 300 words a day. That should take you no more than 30-minutes as long as you have zero distractions. I’ve upped it slightly now to challenge myself more — and because some days I might not want to write, and that’s okay. There are no rules here.
I prefer writing dialogue to descriptions
I thought this would be the hardest part, but aside from toying with whether I should keep using the word ‘said’ or not, I’m finding it the easiest. I pretend I’m the character who’s speaking and sometimes I really get into it and start doing actions and all sorts. I’m glad I’m usually on my own when I’m writing.
I have no idea what I’m doing
If you asked me right now how my book’s going to end, I honestly couldn’t tell you. I’ve just finished Chapter Two and a main character has appeared who was not in Chapter One and was not in my initial brainstorming. I’m making it up as I go and just hoping for the best. I do love a bit of spontaneity and there’s not much going these days. You gotta grab it where you can.
“There are no laws for the novel. There never have been, nor can there ever be.”
~ Doris Lessing
And so, these are my few words of questionable wisdom. Do with it what you will but if you’re thinking of writing your first novel, just go for it. Dive in head first and don’t think about the consequences. By the end of the year, you might just have a bestseller.