4 celebrated authors on how to write a novel
We went to the experts for advice
Who hasn’t wistfully stared out of a train window, engrossed in a deep, perfectly soundtracked moment, and thought to themselves, “I think I’ve got a book in me”? The trouble is, putting pen to paper is notoriously much harder than simply revelling in a cinematic moment during your daily commute. Whether it’s writer’s block, a serious problem with procrastination, or not knowing what to do with your finished manuscript, ELLE UK invited some of publishing’s most exciting names to discuss how to write a novel, and then get it published.
As Hearst launch the inaugural Big Book awards and event series, which will culminate with the winning book announced in the October issue of ELLE UK, we thought it would only be fitting that we share some expert advice on how you can become the next author celebrating your debut oeuvre.
Mining essential intelligence from the “Discover how to become a writer” panel talk in London earlier this month, ELLE UK hosted with Sharlene Teo, the author of Ponti, Zing Tsjeng, the UK Editor of Broadly and author of the Forgotten Women series, Emma Paterson, literary agent at Rogers, Coleridge & White, and Emmie Francis, editor at Faber & Faber, here’s a round up of the best tips and tricks for budding authors that were picked up from the discussion.
When it comes to actually getting the writing done, it turns out that there’s no one-size fits all method for meeting your deadlines.
Sharlene Teo’s approach to writing Ponti was a little more relaxed: “I work in a fluid way and don’t set daily goals like writing 500 words a day.” She also emphasised the importance of continuing to read other writer’s work during your creative process, “the ideas that you have are the consequence of your creative archive, so keep reading and being engaged with texts in a fun and spontaneous way.”
For an example of how to work well under pressure, look no further than Zing: “I actually wrote 1000 words a day, because of my deadlines.” And although she admits it was the hardest she’d ever worked in her life, she believes that “hard targets are doable if you put your mind to it.”
The writing process
Scared your aversion to planning ahead will hold you back from your writing goals? Well, it turns out very little planning went into Ponti, which is being hailed as one of the best debut books of the year. “I was just flailing around and I submitted it in fragments,” she confessed. “I was never happy with it during the process, because I’m very slow and very self critical.”
With a career in journalism behind her, Zing’s approach to writing the Forgotten Women series was much more methodical, a consequence, she believes, of her editorship at Broadly. “Because the research [for the books] was very academic, my editing background helped me find the interesting stuff for the book and categorise the data into primary and secondary details.”
“This systematic way of organising things helped me find the gold dust in the research and then secondary details could be used as interesting flourishes.”
While their writing approach differs in many ways, one thing they both have in common is a love for the Pomodoro Timer. Spurring them on to concentrate, this little app times you while you do 25 minutes of solid work, encouraging you to stay away from the temptations of social media.
For those of you that hit a wall when it comes to dreaming up the next Heathcliff or Harry Potter, Sharlene shared a great exercise with the panel audience that’s designed to get your creative juices flowing.
Start off by picturing the last memorable person that you saw in public – perhaps the elderly lady feeding the birds caught your eye, or maybe it was the stressed out dog walker juggling seven too many puppies. Next, grab your notebook and jot down a description of this person with as much detail as possible. From their age to their accent, if there’s something interesting that you noticed about your person, write it down.
Now direct your attention to the Proust Questionaire. A series of questions designed to reveal an individual’s true nature, these are the character building conundrums that will help you to develop a fully realised personality. Sharlene asked our audience to answer “On what occasion do you lie?”, “If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?” and “If you were a dish, what would it be?”, but if you’ve got time, answer all 35 questions as your character to uncover your next protagonist.
It feels like the past year has been a time when women are making their voices heard on various different platforms. Literary agent Emma Paterson came across Sharlene’s work after she won the Deborah Rogers Foundation Writers Award, but there are plenty of other ways to catch the attention of industry insiders.
During their free time, both Emma and Emmie can be found scouring social media and online journals for the next strong voice to bring into the spotlight. They also like to attend readings and have conversations with book lovers and critics, so make sure you try to attend events and get involved. “It’s all about community and conversations, that’s where creativity lies,” explained Emmy.
Replying to your favourite author’s tweets or attending events alone might feel awkward at first, but it’s vital for increasing your visibility within the community. You never know who you might end up chatting to in the long run — online or IRL.
Sending out pitch emails can be the most nerve wracking part of your mission to get published. Here’s how to make sure your emails won’t get lost in an inbox.
First and foremost, it’s important to make sure you’re pitching to the right people. Do thorough research online to find out which agents might be the best fit for you before you send out unconsidered mass emails. Social media stalk agents to find out their personal tastes, and if they seem like they might be interested in your work, then drop them an email.
Another tip from Emmie, is to read the acknowledgements in the books by debut authors you’ve enjoyed. More often than not, they will give their agents a big shout out in their acknowledgements, so you’ll always be likely to find an agent that’s interested in new talent there.
When it comes to writing the actual email, most agencies will have submission guidelines up on their website that should give you a good idea of what to include in your pitch, but if in doubt, a standard structure includes a covering email, 3 chapters of your work and a synopsis of the plot.
From: ELLE AUSTRALIA