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How to Write a Novel and Not Die Inside

From inception to publication, I’d say actually writing a novel is about one quarter of the work. The other three quarters are roughly equal in size, and are (in order): finding a publisher, editing the manuscript, and then promoting your book. I’m sure there are amazing writers who stumble across a publishing deal through sheer luck, or authors who can produce final copy first time, but for me this rule of four has proven pretty accurate. I’ll admit I haven’t completed the “promotion” component yet (my debut novel comes out early next year), but I don’t expect it will be less work than any of the other three. I suppose it might even be more work… There’s a thought!

This is why writers can sometimes be a bit dismissive when our friends tell us about the book they intend to write one day. I’m sure they think writing the book is the hard part; that’s what I thought too! For writers though, the “writing” part is often a distant, pleasant memory. I remember writing the book as an incredibly exciting experience, while the other components were… well, quite a bit less fun. When my friends now talk about “getting started” with their big idea for a book, it’s a bit like they’re saying they’re going to run a marathon, but they haven’t signed up, haven’t practiced, don’t own running shoes, don’t know how to run and are not entirely sure what a marathon is.

That’s not to say you shouldn’t write the book though. You should go for it! Here, let me try to help.

Throughout the whole process, if you do manage to write the novel and get a publisher and edit it to a publishable state, there will be plenty of tough times along the way. Writing is mostly rejection, and the victories can seem small and bittersweet. Nonetheless, the very best advice I can give another writer is to celebrate and enjoy those victories. There are three techniques I use to keep my morale up, and without them I’m not sure I could kept going.

Firstly, I have a little folder on my computer called “achievements”. It’s in my Dropbox, so I can look at it on any device. And I keep everything in there. Emails from people I respect, kind comments or compliments about my work, short list and long list notifications for stories I wrote, awards, kind notes from the good editor couple we’ve got, and messages from publishers (even if they were rejections). If there’s any positives in those messages, I hold onto them. Everyone in the publishing industry is busy, and they all read brilliant work every day. If someone took the time to compliment any aspect of your work, you can be sure you earned that compliment, and they mean it. If it’s more than “thank you for your time”, it’s worth holding on to.

This folder is pretty modest for me. One hundred and fifty screenshots, emails, photographs and eBooks, each with some little nugget of hope. It’s not much, but last year there were only fifty things in there. The year before, three.

My second morale-saver is in my book case. I picked one shelf, cleared everything off, and put my work on it… along with a wee orchid to make it look nicer. I’m almost embarrassed to show you, but fuck it! Here it is:

Pretty lame right? But last year I had published nothing at all and the shelf was purely botanical. Then this year the shelf slowly started to fill up. A paragraph in You Died Book. A short story in Leicester Writes, then another in the 404 Ink Collection, followed by my first prize story in The Elbow Room Short Story Competition. I know it’s very small, but seeing it every day, I get incredibly excited by the prospect of adding to this shelf. My upcoming trilogy should certainly help! And when that shelf is full can I fill a second shelf? A book case? If that movies gets optioned, will I put the Blu Ray there (if Blu Rays are still a thing?). Perhaps my best bet is to get my work printed in large type… or Braille!

It’s all pie in the sky obviously. But I have one more photo to share. My last morale booster: my name on a book in a bookshop. I still can’t believe it.

I know I look like a dork – I am a dork! But this is my dream right here. It’s just one wee story, but still, I can’t look at this photo and think about quitting. It’s not possible. This feels too good.

And that’s my final tip. Take photos and make it real. In the video below, I’ve made a wee space for myself. Right between Django Wexler and Jaye Wells. (*Your space will be a different space.)

If you’re writing a book too, I recommend you do the same. Find a local bookshop, identify where your book will be one day, and make a wee gap. You can do it. I believe you can do it. And so can I.

Tom’s debut novel Anna Undreaming is now available to pre-order. If you buy it, let him know and he will support you on social media and post a customized thank you message!


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