16 Things I learnt from Writing My Novel

Here are sixteen quick things I learnt from writing my novel. I learnt so much I’ll expand over the next few months – if not years! – but here are sixteen things which fell off my pen quite spontaneously.


A room with a view on writing retreat (other sparkling waters are available)

1. Big words aren’t always best. I spent a lot of times in the later drafts simplifying expressions.

2. It’s okay to take a moment and consider the size of the task before you, maybe even scrawl your next steps down. After that, take a breath and get on with it. 

3. The sooner you get on with it, the less you have left to do.

4, Finishing a novel is easier when you’ve got a bit of life experience behind you. I couldn’t have done it in any less time – which turned out to be years. (I think my father had to die before I could really approach the final overhaul – though there’s a lot to unpack in that statement, I won’t get into here.)

5. If your writing is good (and please feel free to think ‘poem’ or ‘short story’ or ‘article’ here), few people will understand the sheer hard work it takes to get it up to that state. To be honest, I might not have started my novel if I’d guessed the sheer magnitude. I love redrafting and redrafting obsessively unto you get that nearly-finished feeling, but there were times I thought the whole would never be done.

6. Steps only reveal themselves as you go along, and for reasons given in 5 it’s better that way. 

7. It’s better to take ten years and bring a novel to full realisation than write five books at two-year intervals because it feels more prolific. 

8. Keep pressing on. If you have love in your heart and commitment to creating something great, the universe will provide. It’ll all come together in the end – I swear.

9. Learn, practise, whilst you’re waiting for it to come together. The more tools you have at your disposal, the easier it is to pick solutions from the air, and turn them into actual words on paper. 

10. At seminars or watching videos, take notes. Even if you don’t think you’re remembering much, your subconscious will. And whilst you’re flicking through a notebook to find something else, you might chance across a bulletpoint which triggers an idea.

11. Great writing is usually a product of immersing myself completely in that fictional world, and transferring its rhythms, its cadences, its emotions onto the page. I’m so grateful for friends who sent enquiring  or encouraging texts – hang on in, there will be more sociable days!

12. Do you. Write the things only you can write. These are the things angels and muses bring you as gifts – and sometimes life has brought you as challenges.  A challenge can deepen a piece of writing, if you can bear the pain enough to sit and examine it. Turn it into gold, and write it on paper for others to learn from/identify with.

13. Just before it finally comes together the task seems almost impossible to complete. Stick with it – sometimes things fall apart so they can fall back together in a much better way.

14. You will need to get away from it all. Sometimes this means away from your everyday-life to just write. Sometimes away from the writing to just relax. Sometimes it means away from all the drama – the only drama you need is the one on the page. These are the stay-at-home-switch-off-the-phone-and-lock-yourself-away-days.

15. If necessary find yourself a grounding practice like prayer or meditation, or even yoga. I couldn’t have made it through without all of these, and though some days they came close, I list them here in descending order of necessity for me.

16. Oh, and gratitude. Whatever I hadn’t managed to complete or wasn’t working yet, spending a few moments each morning saying thank you for all the things going well, worked wonders. I used to keep a gratitude journal, but saying it aloud takes much less time, and more importantly left my writing hand fresh – for the novel!


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Special thanks to Arts Council England who supported the writing of this novel with an award.

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