A lot of us probably have New Years’ resolutions, or at least, hurried lists of things that we’d like to do in 2021. Do more exercise. Learn a new skill. Write a novel…
I’m not one to create organised goals for the year – we all know, probably from experience that a lot of these so called ‘resolutions’ dwindle and die as time passes because… well, because what seems to be a brilliant idea on January 1st does not always seem so ideal when we’ve battled through normal life for a while, without idealistic glasses on.
Nonetheless, I do have one goal this year and that’s one that hopefully shouldn’t be too taxing but rather something that I enjoy.
I’m hoping that I can write the first draft of my new book.
I’m still sifting through ideas, trying to figure out that tricky backstory, wondering why on earth a novel is so difficult to piece together – if you’ve ever written a book, this probably resonates with you.
The internet, I’ve seen, is packed with articles from all sorts of people about every step of the novel writing process. Want to know how to find an agent? Sorted. Want to figure out a six-step guide on how to create a complex, nuanced character? I can point you to a couple of websites. What’s difficult, ironically, is what sets off the whole process.
Trying to figure out what to write about is a process that, of course, is not easy to put into a formula. Writers tend to have preconceived notions of what they are writing a novel on and they’re usually good at thinking and piecing together inspirations that they’ve had.
Yet, often, after the first sparks of an idea come to you, seeming brilliant, it can be hard to build up the rest of your world. Yes, you know you’re writing a superhero action novel and you know that your main character is called Jane Witney and is afraid of dogs, but who is the villain going to be? What should her family be like? Does she have any friends?
Today, I’ll be giving a few steps to help you when you run out of ideas, when you know that there is a story that you really want to share with the world but which is still impossible to get onto the page.
I hope they’re helpful.
Here we go…
- Paper may just be your best friend.
This of course, could be entirely subjective to me, but I can testify from my own experience that ideas flow so much better for me on paper than typed up on a laptop. There’s something freeing about having the power just to scribble. It doesn’t feel formal. You’re not signing your life away to a book. You’re just having some fun.
- Picture collages aren’t a waste of time.
Something that I’ve really come to believe is that having visual aids to plan your novel is really helpful. I’ve had my brother walk in on me ‘writing’ recently, asking why I was just googling obscure things like ‘blue earrings’ or ‘snow in Afghanistan.’ But these pictures, these snapshots are essential for my novel. When ideas aren’t flowing, I’ve found myself coming back to the pictures, trying to imagine what could happen with these ingredients.
- Don’t throw things away.
You’re going to write some stupid things when you’re planning a novel. You’ll look back at them once a whole draft is finished and wonder why on earth you ever thought that particular character would ever say that particular thing. In spite of this, those not so great ideas are still ideas. They may prompt you to figure something else out.
Don’t throw them away.
- You’re not an actor, you’re a writer, but trying behaving like both…
I recently watched The Man Who Invented Christmas, which follows Dickens trying to piece together A Christmas Carol. I was struck by how he would walk around his office and stare into his mirror trying out lines as if he were an actor.
I’m not a particularly theatrical person, but just imagining conversations is a helpful tool. Try to visualise particular conversations, put yourself in them. It can even be quite entertaining…
- A notebook (or a phone) by your bedside could be handy…
The other day, I decided to put a notebook by the side of my bed so that I could write down any ideas that came to me during the night. After a few moments of trying to sleep, I was bombarded with a few and writing them down meant that they didn’t fly by unpinned down. The next morning, I had a new idea about how the novel was going to be put together.
Now, using a notebook is a good idea (and a well understood one) but, if you don’t fancy turning on the lights and blinding yourself, a notes app on your phone works equally well.
And finally, inspiration is everywhere. Just keep your eyes open and the ideas should flow. It might be a film that you really love or an amusing conversation with your family, but soon your novel will begin to take off.
So, if like me you want to spend 2021 writing a new book, I hope these tips will serve you well. Embrace being an eccentric writer who listens to conversations to write them down or who stops in the middle of a hike to document a strange conversation between a servant and a wealthy magistrate. It’s worth it.
Happy 2021 and, I hope, happy writing.
Do you like New Years’ Resolutions? Are you going to write a book this year? Have you tried any of these tips?