It doesn’t matter if you’re sitting down to write your very first novel, or your tenth. Here are a few things I always tell myself — purely my opinion, so I’ll let you decide if they are relevant or not. Who knows, maybe they will come in handy for you:
1) If you think there are no real rules for writing novels and forming structure, you’re wrong: there are hundreds of right ways and wrong ways to do things, but you don’t need to know them all — all you need to know is what works for you. Read a lot, read as much as you can, because if you’re not reading what’s been created before you, you’re not going to increase your knowledge to the level at which you can explode that knowledge, expand on it and produce something genuinely worthwhile that the world really needs.
2) Words are organic. They are just words. Stop getting attached to words, it’s ridiculous. Losing 100 pages of your debut novel may be the best thing that can ever happen to you. You’ll fight to get it back, and if you make it past that then you can do anything. N-E-THING.
3) Write novels, spend months slaving, then never, ever look at them again. It’s not a waste. Not every single book you write, at least in the very beginning, will be worthwhile. Just because you wrote something doesn’t mean that you should publish it. Publish a novel that you know in your heart isn’t good enough, and you’re only making the already tough journey harder than it needs to be. Above all, trust yourself.
4) Don’t just read what you love to write. Reading different genres allows you to understand the methods and madness intrinsic to every type of writing. Romance books will teach you how to tackle emotion, while thrillers will teach you speed, pacing and tight sentences. Read literary fiction and you’ll soon learn what you can and cannot get away with, experimentally speaking. Read non-fiction: it is essential, and once you’ve absorbed enough of it you’ll be able to merge the boundaries between what’s real and what’s not in a way that would have been impossible before. Your words won’t just jump off the page, they’ll grab your reader round the throat and make their heart bloody race.
5) Stop reading over your first draft over and over again. It is nothing less than a waste and, worse, mental torture that will dog you of inspiration and threaten to destroy the entire process. Once you have written your novel, leave it and don’t touch it, don’t even look at it for at least 2 months. Maybe more. Zadie Smith — author of the wildly successful White Teeth and absolutely stunning On Beauty — once said that you should leave your novel years before you look at it again. I tend to agree, although I may get run over tomorrow, so I prefer to leave it a minimum of 2 months.
6) Be prepared for people to despise your work. Be prepared for reason-less hate and constant criticism about everything you’re trying to convey. Polarizing opinion can be great. Fuck it, it doesn’t matter anyway. Every single new idea that was ever produced began life as something which someone, somewhere, despised. New ideas are always hated: they are the uncomfortable notions of progress and should be championed. Without them, you’re just following others. Think about it: what’s more disgusting, refusing to move your bag so someone else can sit next to you on the train, or writing a novel which makes people really think and consider?
7) People will tell you You can’t write a novel in a few weeks, it takes years. That’s nonsense born out of total ignorance, pure and simple. Providing you have a concept, or the seed of an idea, you can write a book as fast as you can put words down. Even if you don’t: remember, there are no rules.
8) It’s OK to keep changing your mind and going from one idea to the other and back again. This IS healthy. It may not feel like it, and your creative writing teacher may find it unnatural, but your mind is turning the idea over and over, round and round, and that is natural. Waiting and considering many ideas allows the most important ones to rise to the top. Don’t fight this process, and if you’re too set on an idea then maybe it’s too easy. If you’re not challenged when writing, what will your readership think?
9) Swearing is OK, as long as the words hold purpose. Swear words have been part of literature since whenever that start was. A good writer will use them correctly, lending each one the attribute the power it deserves. A good writer will also use them incorrectly and somehow make it work.
10) Tense, rules about grammar, and everything you read in some generic internet article can be ignored — if you know why you are ignoring them.
11) If you want to write a book, you must begin sometime. If you enjoy writing, do it. If you don’t, then go and do something else instead.
12) Tackle big, scary, frightening ideas. Don’t ever not write something because you think that someone might be offended.
13) You must allow others to read your work.
14) Keep calm. The words will come, just get the ideas in your head straight first: what are you trying to say?