‘I could write a book…’

– you could, and you should!

Everyone has a story to tell; a memoir from childhood, an account of a life-changing event or a plot for the next best-selling thriller. I’d love to have collected a pound from every person who has told me they could write a novel. Sometimes a friend may share an idea and ask what I think, and I always pass on the same advice – ‘just do it.’

Yet most authors will admit that getting started is the hardest part. You sit there with a blank page or a winking cursor, all your great ideas frozen. A phone beeps, you get up to make a coffee, remember you have to ring your mother and never get beyond the first paragraph. 

The romantic view of authors unleashing their imagination in a perfectly written flow of words and phrases is rarely true. Writing is tough. A sentence can take hours to craft, that exact word or phrase you’re searching for may need working and re-working and when your editor suggests cutting whole chapters, especially the ones you were most proud of, it’s hard not to throw down the pen or shut the laptop in disgust. 

Yet if the initial hurdles can be overcome and you find yourself with a chapter or a short story or even just page of writing, you’ve done the hardest part. The rest won’t be easy, but you’re off the blocks, even if the finish line seems way off in the distance.

Writing fiction is inherently creative, but even the most free-spirited writers tend to follow a pattern to aid the process. Here are my suggestions for writing a chapter or short story

  1. Write. Let it flow. Don’t worry about the correctness of the grammar or the punctuation at this stage. Get your thoughts into words. Be open to whatever comes into your head.
  2. Leave it alone. Go back an hour, a day, a week later and re-read. Edit. Improve. Read again.
  3. Share with a friend, a writing buddy or a writing group. Listen. Take honest feedback but remember, it’s your writing in the end. You make the final decisions.
  4. Revise and edit again. Iron out spelling mistakes, glitches in the grammar, inconsistencies. Give it to a friend who is good at this kind of thing or pay a professional editor.
  5. Publish. Send your work to a magazine or a competition – there are plenty out there – and start again!

Although a solitary activity, the craft of writing is enhanced when it’s shared. One way to do this is to join a writing group. Critiquing the work of others and taking feedback about your own work is crucial to ensuring you improve. In my writing group, we have poets and storytellers and two published novelists, but more importantly, we have become critical friends over the last eight years. I trust them to respond with integrity and to accept criticism with grace.

If writing was merely a solitary activity, it would be much easier. If it only mattered how the author felt about their writing, then everything would be brilliant, all the time. If connecting to an audience didn’t matter, we could all scribble down a bunch of words and call it a day. My guess is that’s not what you want. So, make sure you take some critical friends along with you on your writing journey and don’t try to do it alone.