It’s a moment for New Year’s resolutions. Lose weight, stop smoking, make lunch rather than buy it, buy The Big Issue . . . there are so many to choose from and, of course, we tend to pick resolutions that require us to change a habit.
But what about resolutions to change our working habits? Well here are five suggested New Year resolutions for aspiring writers . . . and five is only the beginning! If you have a better one, add it to the comments and maybe we can rummage up a prize for the best suggestion!
1) Write every day. Yes it’s obvious – and yes, as anyone who has attempted NaNoWRiMo knows, it’s genuinely not easy. But letting a great idea slide, deciding to write tomorrow instead of today, and putting it off is the first step to not being a writer. Wherever you are, whatever else you have on: write every day. Even if it’s just a few sentences in a notebook, those sentences can add up before you know it.
2) Once you’ve had a great idea, and you’re writing something every day, plan, plan, plan! There’s nothing worse than finding you don’t know what to do next with your amazing idea, world and character because you’ve accidentally written yourself into a plot hole. So plan until you like your plan – it really works to reduce the amount of rewriting you have to do, and it can avoid that feeling that what you’ve written is no good. Avoiding that feeling is really important, because if you don’t it might make you stop! So plan!
3) Get the first draft down on paper. Until you have your first draft there’s nothing to hone and polish. And you never really know, however good your plan is, where your book is going until you’ve written it. So resist the desire to go back and rewrite before you get to the end! Keep notes of your thoughts about revision, of course, but resist, resist, resist that rewriting until the first draft is done!
4) When you’re at the rewriting stage – enjoy it! This is the moment when you have all the pieces to your jigsaw puzzle of a novel, all in more or less the right places. So now you can play with them! As you do, my top tips to avoid some common and deadly traps are: keep it simple; do you need that extra layer of complication to your magical system, or to the language, or to another aspect . . . or, much as you love it, will it confuse other people? Then: put yourself in your character’s shoes: do we know why they’re behaving the way they do, do their reasons make sense at each step, and if they make a decision that we wouldn’t will readers understand why – even as they shout ‘nooooo!’ at page? And finally: there are some things that should be surprises (like plot twists, or characters coming back from the dead) and there are some things readers should see coming (like characters falling in love with each other) – know which your surprises are and make sure they work. Just because you know character X will return doesn’t mean their (first) death scene can be brief . . . and if your surprise is that character Y has telekinesis, make sure there’s a strange psychic crackle or two before Y discovers they can levitate an entire bus . . .
5) When you have something which is as good as you think you are going to make it – when you are just fiddling with it but not changing anything – have faith in what you’ve done. Show it to someone whose taste in books you trust, or take your nerve in both hands and send it to an agent or a publisher . . . It’s a scary step! But if you’ve written it, if you’ve revised it, and if you think it’s good (and, if we’re all honest, the first draft probably wasn’t) then don’t put it aside in a drawer – SHARE IT. I don’t mean make being published your goal, make good writing that you enjoy creating your goal . . . But share your work. If you enjoy it, after all, someone else will too. Spread the joy!
So make the resolutions, and stick to them! Write every day! Plan! Finish your first draft! Revise! Share! And maybe one day we at Gollancz, or someone with another publishing house, will see a manuscript from you as a result.
Happy writing, and Happy New Year.