Five tips for getting started

Crime writing workshop Writing tips

If you’re thinking of writing a novel but you’re not sure where to start, these five tips might be just what you need.

One: switch off your internal editor

Too often, our internal editor can act as a block to getting that all important first draft done. If you are constantly worrying about the structure of every sentence, find yourself going back and re-writing what you’ve already done instead of moving forward with your story, the chances are your book will never get written. Giving yourself permission to write badly isn’t easy, but it’s crucially important.

You will have to write several drafts of your novel before it’s finished (I usually write between five and ten drafts). The focus of your first draft is about being creative and letting the story unfold as you write it. You need to give yourself the space and the artistic freedom to let this happen.

Once you’ve got your first draft done, you then have something to work with. The subsequent drafts are where you focus on the quality of the writing and fine-tuning your plot.

So, if you want to write a novel here’s what you do. Open up a new Word document, or a new notebook, start writing and see where it takes you without worrying about anything else.

Two: schedule set times in your week for writing

This is key. If your life is already busy, you may wonder how on earth you’re going to find the time to squeeze in something else. You may, in fact, use your lack of time as a reason not to start writing. I can promise you now that finding time to write is easier than you think. You simply need to be realistic and disciplined.

Here’s what you need to do. Set yourself specific times each week for writing. If you’re a morning person, think about getting up an hour earlier than you normally do and use that hour to write. You don’t have to do this every morning, but I’d suggest you aim for three mornings each week. If you’re more of an evening person, then set aside some time in the evenings instead.

Whatever times you choose as your writing slots, try to stick with them but don’t beat yourself up if you miss a session (and chances are, you will miss more than one session!). Just get back it in your next session and keep going.

Three: set yourself a daily and weekly word count target

Setting yourself a word count target can be hugely helpful for two reasons. First, a target gives you something realistic to aim for each time you sit down to write. Secondly, watching your word count increase over time can be hugely rewarding.

The amount of words you aim to write each day is up to you and will depend on how fast you can type (or write). I would suggest you set your target somewhere between 500 and 1000 words per writing session.

Four: don’t use research as an excuse not to write

Over the years, I’ve met a lot of aspiring authors who never start their novel because they’re too busy with research. I’m not saying research isn’t important; it is. However, you don’t need to do lots of it before you start to write.

Remember, your first draft is supposed to be messy and imperfect. Once you’ve got your story down, you’ll have plenty of time after that to work out what research you need to do.

Writing is difficult. Sitting down and starting at a blank screen (or page) is incredibly daunting. The only way it becomes less daunting is when you’ve got some words written down. So, no matter how tempting it is, stop researching your novel and start writing it.

Five: focus on character first, not plot

I do realise this last tip might seem counter-intuitive, especially if you’re thinking about writing crime fiction. However, I cannot stress this final point enough. More than anything, readers care about characters. It doesn’t matter how fiendishly clever and complex your plot is if it’s about two-dimensional characters that no one is going to care about.

Spend time thinking about your characters. What sort of people are they? What are their likes and dislikes? What makes them special and why would a reader care about them? If you can understand your characters – who they are and what makes them tick – and trust them to guide you as you write about them, I promise you that your story will sort itself out in the writing!

Black Valley Farm Sheila Bugler     Out on 22 June, and available to pre-order now!


  • Elmas
    April 27, 2023 - 8:30 am · Reply

    I have never seriously thought of writing a novel. Because I think that if I did write one, no one would read it, let alone enjoy reading it. I used to write ‘imaginary encounters’ with a woman to whom I write emails, with no hope of us meeting one day. We are both happily married, and our pre-marital relationship was a strong but stormy one that ended in despair when each went their way. She enjoyed what I wrote, and embellished the ‘story’ with her responses.

    • Admin
      April 27, 2023 - 11:45 am · Reply

      It’s not a test but sites like this get a lot of spam comments so there needs to be a process to stop those getting posted. I’m sure you understand.

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