Writing advice

Is there something I've learnt from all this writing? I think I've learnt a few things. Here's a list, using Copper Book as a reference work:

Write a lot: If you haven't written a lot of prose before, you'll need to write a hundred thousand words of prose and get that prose regularly assessed before you even start writing the prose for the novel! I know that sounds terrible, but that's what I effectively did in the end - write 100k of text and then write the whole thing again.

Don't abandon the heart of your novel: Copper Book is fast paced and thick with ideas. That's its style. I know many people have had problems with that and I've tried to take those issues on board at regular intervals over the last few years. I have definitely needed to improve the story's readability but I've also made the mistake of trying to make it into a different book - slower, more measured. All that's done is kill off what made it what it was. I do want to write something slower and more measured but I'm going to do that with a completely different story. Addendum: Actually, what I've done recently is vary the pace so that the reader gets a rest now and then, which is probably a good idea.

Think commercially: In some ways, it makes no sense saying this after the last point, but it's true. The trick is to look at your book and think 'Who will an agent or publisher think this book is for?' If they don't automatically know who it's for, you're stuffed as an unknown author. You have to look at that question and make sure your book makes it obvious who it's for. In recent months, I've thought hard about my audience. I think Copper Book can be sold to boys from eleven upwards, the same boys that read 'Artemis Fowl' and Terry Pratchett. It can also be enjoyed by adults, but that's a bonus. To make sure it's appealing to those ten year old boys, I need to make sure of certain things. Its main character is an adventurer, or smuggler, someone who breaks some rules, but is good at heart. There's gadgets, there's chases, there's humour. There isn't any romantic entanglements, relationship talk or sexual thoughts. A ten year old boy won't be interested in that. By keeping to those rules, I think the story doesn't lose anything important, but it gains the appropriate readership.

Find somewhere where you can ONLY write. This is crucially important. I don't think I'd have got anything written if I hadn't been able to go to the study room at the Richmond reference library. A place like that gives you the ideal environment. It's quiet, used by other people studying and there's no distractions. You sit there and write or you stare out the window. Those are the two choices. Usually, after ten minute of staring out the window, you come up with something to write, simply because it's a less boring thing to do. Not exactly an ideal or romantic approach but it works!

Discipline yourself. Finding a good place to write is one thing. Staying there is another. My standard writing day is five hours at the desk. Lunch doesn't count, breaks don't count. I can't shorten it due to lack of inspiration or something more interesting to do or the terrible, crushing belief that everything I'm writing is codswallop. I have to do five hours. This works because you get the writing done. If you force yourself to stay there, it is amazing what new ideas pop out after twenty minutes of nail chewing frustration. I've spent the first two hours of a day writing virtually nothing and then spent the last hour writing pages of prose, desperately trying to finish what's in my head before I have to head back home.

Keep submitting and plan your submissions. The best feedback I've had all year on Copper Book was from the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award. The submission period for that is in February and it only lasts about two weeks. If I hadn't put it in my diary, I'd have missed it completely. I did get a submission in and the critical review I got was extremely useful. Not only was it positive, but it showed the reviewer had read the work and spotted valid flaws in the prose. Although I didn't win, the feedback is something I'm still referring to and feeling good about even now.

Write lots of different stuff. Agents only read the first three chapters, at the most. No one is really interested in the rest of your novel (at least until they've decided to sign you up). You may feel pleased finishing your book, but it will not be read by any professional until those first three chapters are picked up by someone. Although Copper Book was finished a long time ago, I wonder if I was better off writing the first three chapters of three more novels, rather than finish the first one. I don't know. I do think it is a very good idea to write a variety of work. It widens your skills and increases the chance of something you do getting published.

I hope that's useful!