With the extension of the Coronavirus lockdown, If you’ve always wanted to write a novel but never had the time, here’s your chance. Now, with the lockdown in place, you can get started.
Here are a few tips to make it easy:
1. You need that big compelling idea that has been lurking at the back of your mind for years. That idea wants to spill out of you into a heartfelt story. It has to be the kind of idea that even you will not get bored with.
2. Write a short, rough outline of what it is about the idea that excites you. Prepare bullet points, and keep it simple. In a few words, write a beginning, middle and end for the story. Then as you ask yourself questions about your story, you can add more structure and then divide it into chapters.
3. A story without solid characters bursting with attitude and energy is no story at all. Create complex characters, flesh them out, and write about them as if you know them personally. For me, a character pulls the story along and makes it exciting. For a novel to work, the characters have to stand out and impact the reader emotionally.
4. Any story idea requires a certain amount of research. The internet is both a boon and a bane for this. With so much information at our fingertips, it is easy to gather what we need, but just as easy to get trapped in an overload of material. You don’t need too much information. Just take notes on what is relevant to your story.
5. Establish a writing space. It doesn’t need to be a room, just an area where you can write in peace for half an hour or so. I have a corner in my bedroom, and sometimes I take my laptop to the dining table.
6. It is challenging to sit down to a blank screen, so have your notes and characters ready. Start with the first sentence of your first chapter. I normally start writing only when I have the character and my first paragraph in my head, ready to spill out onto the page.
7. Set small goals of around 300 words a day. Bear in mind that the writing process is not smooth. So try to keep to the goal, but don’t beat yourself up on days that you do not achieve it. Most importantly, don’t edit your work immediately after you have written it. While writing, let the words and story flow – don’t look back. If you rewrite the first sentence a million times, your book will never get finished. From my experience, some days the writing flows, and other days I cannot do more than a few words.
8. Staying motivated is the hardest part. You may have started writing, but to maintain the daily writing habit is a challenge. The mind is riddled with self-doubt. Be aware of your self-talk, and don’t let fear get you down. Keep to the habit of writing no matter what your state of mind is that day. Eventually, the fear and nervousness will dissipate. Have patience – some authors can finish their first draft in a few months, and others take a few years.
9. I call the first draft the ‘shitty first draft’. It needs editing. After you have completed your book, take a breather, don’t look at your work for a few days. Then return to your draft, armed with an editing axe. Slash away at the useless bits. Then edit and rewrite again, until your final draft shines with finesse. Only then will it be ready to submit to a publisher. Don’t fear the editing stage. Your readers will appreciate your work more if you keep your story streamlined and on track.
Shobha Nihalani has lived in Africa, Asia, USA, and Europe. She is the author of adventure and thriller novels: The Silent Monument, the NINE trilogy, Unresolved - A psychological thriller, Trikon – a medical sci-fi thriller, and The Blue Jade. Recently, she wrote two non-fiction books, a biography of a humanitarian and spiritual leader – Dada Vaswani – A Life in Spirituality. And a memoir, A Gift from Above – Haresh and Harini’s Journey in Adoption. Her debut novel, Karmic Blues, was translated and published in Denmark. She has been a writer for over two decades and has worked as a freelance journalist, copywriter, bookkeeper and is a homemaker.