Writing a First Novel

This time a few thoughts about the process of writing a first novel, as it has been one of the primary projects of my sabbatical.

I have wanted to do this for quite a while – all I needed was quality time and a little inspiration. The sabbatical gave me the time but what about the inspiration?

I got this by attending a Creative Writing class in 2015 at York University’s Life Long Learning Centre. This really helped me think not just about the ideas but about the structure and process of writing the novel and I learned some great tips.

A key tip was to totally separate the creative writing aspect from the careful editing part. Doing this has been essential and a great way to make fast progress on the writing – followed some time later by the much more objective quality control.

ibm word processor

The class taught me the value of developing a structured plan. I created this before getting into the writing, even though I was itching to get started and it has really helped.

I used the exercises and homework from the class to come up with and start developing the key idea and themes of the book. We had an exercise on creating a compelling six word sentence – this is now the title of the novel. We had an exercise on writing a first page – a morphed version of this now opens my novel. We had an exercise on creating a short story. I did this and thought “hold on – there’s something really interesting and novel size in this” –  and it has now developed into an 80,000 plus word long book.

The hardest thing about writing this blog is I can’t give the game away of the subject matter. Please accept my apologies (with a smile). All I can say is there is an altered history involved. The story is based around a well-known historical event and a subtly altered version of the modern day. The parallels between the historical element and contemporary themes are very real and hopefully make for a very good read. From my research I think there is a real market for this (okay I added that in case any agents I submit the book to find this blog – no really I mean it…!)

I’m now into the nth edit of the book and it has just gone out for a proof read, critical appraisal and feedback from the Tadcaster Claret Book Club (the name comes from the wine rather than a football team).

A few more reviews and edits to go, with time in between to let things settle. I remember what Gary Player the golfer once said when accused of being lucky – “its funny, the more I practice, the luckier I get”. If Gary was writing a novel I am sure he would have done quite a few edits to get it as good as it could be before submitting it.

Unrelated to the class, I think my previous writing and presentation experience has been useful too – letters, blogs, articles, work proposals, song lyrics and even emails – it all helps.

Writers Yearbook

So what now? My head is currently buried in the Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook 2016 – a must read for any aspiring novelist – and I am researching a plethora (nice word) of websites on how to get get published.

The next step, once I am satisfied the book is really ready, is to get an agent to represent me in the world of publishing. You can go direct but for first timers having an agent is highly recommended – quite rightly too from what I can see. Then it is about getting a publisher, having the best seller and the follow on long term book deal plus TV and film adaptations and so on.

Perhaps I am getting a little ahead of myself? There has been a lot of talk too about self publishing and if, at the end of the day, I can’t get an agent and publisher, I will definitely go down that route – as I know you will want to read the finished article – and it will be an interesting experience in itself.

Anyway I must dash, as I already have two ideas for the next novel – one being an indirect sequel to this one. If you’re thinking of writing a novel yourself, my advice is do a course and/or read up on doing it a bit first – and then go for it. Even (in the extremely unlikely) scenario my novel is not published, I have loved every second of creating it.


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