Writerly advice

A reader emailed me:

Hello Geoff,

… I am looking at putting my idea of a story down on paper and really have no idea where to start. I am excited by my plot, however I wish to avoid simply telling it and would like to be able to bring my readers into my world. I am a fan of Jeffery Archer and Terry Pratchett and both authors take you to their story and you never seem to notice the messy business of reading words and listening to descriptions.

Any pointers would be very much appreciated.

Kind regards,


My reply:

Where to begin? That’s always a hard one, but at the risk of sounding like a sports shoe advert, I’d say just do it. Start tomorrow, (or even better, today), find somewhere quiet and distraction-free and just start writing. Spend half an hour at it –an hour if you can manage it –and see what comes. 200 words a day for five days a week will give you a 50,000 word novel in a year.

A few of pointers:

  • Do it regularly, preferably every day. Make it an unthinking habit, like brushing your teeth. No one sits around saying, “I don’t feel like brushing my teeth today. I’ll double-brush tomorrow …”
  • Half an hour every week day is better than two and half hours at the weekend. And a lot easier to fit in.
  • Make up a calendar of tick boxes and stick it on the door of your fridge. Every day you work at writing, put a big red tick in the box. It’s a visual reminder you’ll see a dozen times a day. It’ll keep your mind on it, even subconsciously, and once you’ve started building up a block of ticks you’ll find you won’t want to miss a day.
  • If nothing comes when you sit down to write, sit there anyway and just stare at the screen. You’ll have crap days. Every writer does. And then you’ll have days where it pours out and you don’t want to stop. But don’t give in to distractions! Sit there. Tell your brain, “You might as well help me with this because I’m not going to let you do anything else till the time’s up.” Slowly, the discipline will come.
  • When you write, just write. Don’t worry too much about the quality. Get it down. Every writer will tell you about the horrors of first drafts. Nobody should ever see them but the author. The real secret of writing is rewriting. But you need to have something to rewrite, so get it down!
  • Beware of finishing. Completing a novel after many months (or years) is a fantastic feeling, but it’s also the most dangerous time for a writer. Why? Because you think you’ve made it when in fact you’re only halfway there.
    Print it out, tuck it away in a drawer and start on your next book. Leave it for a month then go back to it and read it all the way through — if you can bear to! You’ll almost certainly find a thousand mistakes, a thousand things that need fixing or rephrasing, bits that need chopping, bits that need expanding … So get to work. The second draft is often where the magic starts.
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