How to write a novel, according to 10 great novelists

A long, long time ago, during the first lockdown, you probably thought to yourself that now – right now, in the midst of a pandemic – was the perfect time to design, plot, write, revise, rewrite, complete and publish a novel that completely transformed what we thought we could express in English.

This was not the case. Obviously this was not the case. You know it now. But even though it turned out that a year of isolation and anxiety was actually not very good for your inner David Foster Wallace, there’s no bad time to start. to write. It doesn’t really matter if it’s going somewhere. Just write something down and see where you are going.

To help you out, we asked 10 established and emerging writers about the ground rules they use to come up with ideas, put words on the page, and turn an interesting first draft into something more substantial.

Let yourself be lost

“A big part of my writing process is not writing. I spend a lot of time following my interests, browsing the burrows of Google and YouTube, or delving into photography books. headphones and find myself jotting down song lyrics in notebooks. I’m more concerned with feelings and always trying to find ways to map and express those feelings. And what better way than to follow your curiosities, to continue your loves? Writing, to some extent, is an act of love and should be treated accordingly.

– Caleb Azumah Nelson, author of Open Water

“A collection of blends can turn out to be very interesting and stimulating some time later”

Take notes, everywhere

“Always keep a small notebook and pen handy. Whenever you hear something interesting, or have a fleeting thought, or even come across a new word in a book that you don’t know, write it down. A collection of mixes can prove to be very interesting and stimulating some time later. “

– Yiyun Li, author of books including Must I Go, Where Reasons End and A Thousand Years of Good Prayers

Don’t complicate it too much

“Keep it simple: complexity is the enemy. Try to narrative, for example ‘Tomorrow I have to write a particular scene’, rather than ‘Tomorrow I have to write 800 words’. The plot can be structured like follows: situation, complication, new equilibrium. And this applies to scenes as well as to whole books: the new equilibrium is the hook for the next scene. Verbs are very important, this is where the action is. . Metaphor them if possible. Write: ‘The red haired man made his way through the door’; not: ‘The man with the red hair and the big shoulders pushed open the door.’ “

– Giles Foden, author of books including Turbulence and The Last King of Scotland

Launch Wikipedia

“My advice is to use the ‘special random’ button on Wikipedia as a way to generate unusual ideas for fiction. be a page on a grunge group from Vancouver or the World Alliance of Baptist Churches or maybe Raimo Manninen, a Finnish alpine skier. these pages. For example, it could be the story of a depressed skier who finds God in the mountains and decides to baptize himself in a hole in the ice of an alpine lake. Or, hopefully, something better than that. “

– Joe Dunthorne, author of Submarine, Wild Abandonment and Adultery

Read aloud

“My writing advice would be: read your work aloud, even if you think it is finished; there will always be something that can be said more simply or in a clearer voice, especially if you write dialogue. “

– Paul Mendez, poet and author of Rainbow milk

Look beyond your first idea

1. Your first thought is never your best thought. It’s just your first.

2. Most of your ideas are trivial. Dig deeper.

3. Go get things. Make a research fetish. Most of the things worth hearing aren’t already in your head.

4. Stop bothering people with your first drafts. Don’t bother with your first drafts.

5. Work every day. This is not an amateur game.

– Andrew O’Hagan, editor-in-chief of Esquire and author of books including Mayflies, The Illuminations and Our Fathers

“The trick to writing is pretending there isn’t any tricks”

There are no tips

The trick to writing is to pretend there are no tricks. I refuse to romanticize the process. If I did, insecurity would set in. I would be too preoccupied with thinking, but can I do it? Am I a writer? No time for that. The more dramatic the process seems – Oh I can only write if I’m wearing my red beret! Oh, I can only write before sunrise! – the more you slow down. It is important, for me at least, to be able to write anywhere, under any circumstances. In your phone notes, during a lunch break, while walking down the street. I never said these writing tips would be good. (Although sometimes they are.) But you flex the muscle, build it, you learn that writing is just an action. In other words: stop messing around and keep going.

– Rebecca Watson, author of Lsmall scratch

“Epiphanies don’t politely line up in waiting rooms behind Word documents; they are in the world ”

Distract yourself

“If in doubt, move on. Take the writing off the page and let life work on it for a while. Walk, cook, vacuum, call your mom, draw a picture, and you) be solving the problem, taking the cliché apart, refining the turn of phrase, finding the right word, and then you get back to work, armed with that thinking you made, and progress is made. the Language, time, experience page.

“The most important creative breakthrough I have ever had with my writing was standing in Nando’s bathroom in Bromley changing my baby’s pants after a diaper explosion. Epiphanies don’t politely line up in waiting rooms behind Word documents, they are in the world. “

– Max Porter, author of The Death of Francis Bacon, Lanny and Grief is the Thing with Feathers

Get into your groove by getting into your groove

“My advice would be: 1) establish a routine in which you write at least two hours a day; 2) continue even when you don’t feel inspired; 3) when you are halfway, don’t think about how your work will be received; 4) when you have finished a draft, think it over or, better yet, find someone who will give you honest feedback; 5) be prepared to revise, revise and revise. “

– Blake Morrison, poet and author of The Executor, The Last Weekend and And When Did You Last See Your Father?

Don’t feel guilty

“Unfortunately, this is not the right time to ask my opinion specifically because everything is going pretty well at the moment. I don’t have to force myself to write; I just want to do it. How did it happen? I really have no idea, but this rare and happy state of affairs is consistent with what Victor Hugo said on this subject (I don’t know where): when you know how to write it’s easy, when you don’t know , it’s impossible.”

– Geoff Dyer, author of books including White Sands: Experiences from the Outside World, Another Great Day at Sea and Jeff in Venice

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