Friday, December 22, 2006

How to Write & Sell Your First Novel

(Written by Oscar Collier with Frances Spatz Leighton)

A review (of sorts) and comments

I've just finished reading How to Write & Sell Your First Novel for the second time. I read it immediately after reading James N Frey's How to Write a Damned Good Novel (again for the second time).

I thoroughly enjoyed reading both books the first time, though I did not read one immediately after the other. The second time around, I have to admit to skimming some of the sections of Oscar Collier's book whilst James N Frey's book continued to educate and inspire me. Perhaps the two books are not quite aimed at the same market, and the format is different for sure.

The main benefit, for me anyway, of reading How to Write & Sell Your First Novel was the 'before they were famous' section on successful authors like Stephen King, John Grisham, John le Carré and others. The first time I read these accounts of how these writers overcame rejection after rejection but still succeeded in getting their first novel published (sometimes only after getting their 'second' novel published first) did truly inspire me.

So I've decided to post very small clips of this book, to share the wisdom. This book has definitely helped me believe that my writing a novel is possible.

  • Novelists are made, not born
  • Write what you feel strongly about, even if it goes against the accepted norm [according to David Cornwell aka John le Carré]
  • "What is a novel? A piece of yourself - but just a piece - not the whole picture. A novel is the tip of the iceberg. Never give it all away" [According to published novelist Steven Linakis.]
  • Never give up. If you feel strongly about your writing, someone will like it and publish it. take a chance. Get it all out. Don't talk about it too much - your idea can wear thin... Your novel must have conflict - man against nature, man against man. Your protagonist must survive conflict.
  • Learn by writing...
I read about the determination of so many authors, their inconvenient writing schedules and what it took for them to write that novel, I couldn't help but think I can do that, too. And, according to Oscar Collier's book you have a 95% improved chance of getting your novel published by starting (and finishing) the first draft of it! I can do that, too.

"Writing is a question of practicing and getting better. There are so many stories of writers who were rejected over and over again who clearly made themselves writers by being persistent. You never know what can happen."

What also comes across in the book is the importance many writers give to revision. In short, the writing begins when it's time to revise

Final book verdict: read James N Frey's book for a step-by-step 'how to' when it comes to writing a novel, and read Oscar Collier's book for a more rambling insight into writing but a fascinating look at how many successful authors overcame all obstacles to get their first novel published.

Friday, December 15, 2006

No more energy...

I have no more energy.

(Guess that's why I'm not a successfully published author at the moment.)

I will begin again in January, re-energised, revitalised, re... ionised?

I will be back! And - hopefully! - Arnold Scharwenegger will not be with me.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Not Much Happening, Today

I was going to post another book review, today, but I just don't have the time. Work interrupts play, as it were. I have to spend a few hours this afternoon tweaking my websites otherwise I will worry that I don't have enough money to take sufficient time off work next year.

(In case you don't know what I do, I'm what's known as an affiliate marketer. I sell advertising (very loosely speaking) on various websites. It can be quite a passive income. And if you get it right (which I haven't, alas) you really can put it on auto pilot. Well my autopilot needs some serious pumping up, but I'm not sure where the valve is (think Airplane, with the inflatable autopilot).

Anyway, the fact that I can only spend half a day today preparing to write --
  • Finishing off How To Write A Damn Good Novel
  • Reading another hour of London Fields (so far so excellent, but I think it's not going to inspire me to write my own novel - the opposite, if anything)
  • Going through some more magazines and newspapers looking for intriguing story-lines and looking at photos of potential characters
-- only serves to remind me what discipline is required to be a successful writer. Those people with much busier lives than me - parents or carers or people with time-consuming jobs - do very well indeed to still be able to write day in day out, or week in week out.

Yes, so not much is happening today. But at least I've written this blog explaining why.

Friday, December 01, 2006

My Novel Will Not Appear Here!

It might seem like a good idea to write a blog called Write A First Novel, and for the blogger to then include the words of that resultant novel in the blog itself. As if he were going to bake a cake, say, and then include the various stages of the process, with photos and even cake samples. It would indeed be educational to do so.

However informative this might be to (imagined) readers of this blog, it would not be a good idea to this particular blogger-cum-wannabee-author.

Let me explain why, by continuing with this food analogy a little longer.

Think of me as a cook happy to present the cooked meal to you, but of being most unwelcoming to having you (or anyone) in the kitchen beforehand. I would not want you to see how I prepared the meal, the cooking techniques I used, nor the many mistakes I made in preparing it.
Instead, I would welcome your judgements after seeing the meal, and tasting it.

The same goes for the words of my novel.

I shall not be posting any part of it, here. It is bad enough that you may actually read my novel when it's finished, let alone read it in any kind of rough draft form.

This is not perfectionism, just a writer's coping strategy.

The Importance of Premise

I've been reading about the importance of a novel having a premise today. As James N. Frey puts it in How To Write A Damn Good Novel: writing a story without a premise is like rowing a boat without oars.

So what is a premise?

Well, Mr Frey thinks it's
  • the love in a marriage
  • the point you have to prove
  • the reason you are writing what you are writing
  • the raison d'être of your novel
Basically, the premise holds the author to his/her subject, contends Mr Frey.

Example premises?
  • Premarital sex leads to disaster
  • Premarital sex leads to bliss
You will see that premises are clearly not universal truths; they must be true in the novel, though.

Not everyone agrees with the need for a premise, and I am in no position to argue one way or another about it.

However, having said that, if you think of a premise as the answer to the question "what if...?" or a statement as to what happens to the characters as a result of the core conflict in the story. If you can do that, then I think you will agree that the notion of a premise has its uses. This is especially so, actually, when you consider that knowing the premise helps the writer choose what to include in a novel, as well as what to omit.

My novel shall have a premise.

Friday, November 24, 2006

What do publishers want...

... and how can writers help?

Part of an interesting Writing Magazine article, written by Phillipa Pride, caught my attention today and I've rewritten it here:

"The fiction bestseller lists today are dominated by established names who continue to deliver first-rate books -- Stephen King, Kathy Reichs, Lee Child, James Patterson, Bernard Cornwell, Jilly Cooper... I advise all writers to read these authors to see just why the public engages with these undoubtedly popular writers book after book."

I shall do just that, Philippa. After my first draught is done, though - I have to start now, and stop reading about how.

Curious Incidents!

A while ago, as instructed by a writing course no doubt, I started writing (and keeping) reviews of books that I read. Books included Googlewhack Adventure by Dave Gorman, Life of Pi by Yann Martel, White Teeth by Zadie Smith etc.

Now understanding (by reviewing) how these books 'work' will help my own writing, in some cases and so I will copy my reviews to this blog from today. But reviewing books that a) are not novels or b) I did not finish will not assist me, I feel.

So there will be no review of Dave's or Zadie's book, alas. (Zadie is no doubt a writer of the highest order but I just couldn't read on, and I got half-way through, too.)

I will include my review of Mark Haddon's book, however. And here it is...

'Review' of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nightime written by Mark Haddon

This is a fabulous book about an autistic boy called Christopher and his view of the world as he tries to discover who killed his neighbour's dog. It's almost a guide into 'how to write a novel' as well as 'how to research', 'how to write from child's point of view' and 'how to understate things'.

For me, it's a great insight into how to deal with a difficult person (and maybe shows all of us that we're a little more difficult to deal with than we'd like to admit to). So, in Christopher's case one follows simple rules: try to see things from their perspective, completely. E.g. if she lies then why does she lie?

I could go on and on about why I love this book but I didn't when I wrote the review and I'm not going to make it up here. Instead, here's the last few paragraphs of the book.


(That's a smiley face emoticon, and it means I'm happy, Christopher. Okay?)

And then I will get a 1st class honours degree and I will become a scientist...

And I know I can do this because I went to London on my own, and because I solved the mystery of who killed Wellington? and I found my mother and I was brave and that means I can do anything.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Write a novel? Be a blogger!

Surprise yourself (and your readers!)

I visited another blog today; a very popular blog, actually. But before I have time to read any of it I notice that the author, Abby Lee, has had a book about her blog published. And it has sold 40,000 copies already.

Okay, it's non-fiction, but who's to say that you can't write a blog about the thoughts of a fictional character in the same way (like this)!

Who's to say that that blog won't garner the thousands of avid readers that Abby's blog did!

Who's to say that you too might win a coveted bloggers award and then find yourself inundated with book deals. (Yes, they sought her out - how novel!).

Who's to say you won't also have a ready audience eager to become buyers of your book, with little or no marketing involved on your part (40,000 is not shabby, is it!)

I know I'm a know nothing when it comes to writing and publishing a novel; still, I say 'blog away'. It's by far the easiest way to publish a website and, at the very least, it encourages the habit of writing (now that's never a bad thing, is it).

Some links to help

A not quite random collection of blogs

The blog in question

And some words you can read at Girl With A One Track Mind: "I laughed. 'Well, yes, spontaneity is always a bonus when it comes to sex, but that isn't quite what I meant. What I'm talking about is your technique: make him try to anticipate your next move, but then surprise him with something he didn't expect instead.'".

As an aside, how do you think you could use such sentiments to shape your plot, or even the behaviour of your characters, so that you leave your readers guessing, wanting more?

Arvon Postscript

This is a first draft of a message I was going to send to the Arvon director (she met us on the Thursday, and asked me (and others, I'm sure) the immortal question "why Arvon*?"), but she doesn't seem to have an email address.

So instead of sending it to her, I'll post it here, but I won't bother editing these first draft thoughts. (Would you notice if I did? ;-) )

Subject: Validation

[Dear Ms Director]

Stressful, especially on Friday

After I read my piece Jeremy said straightaway that what I had just read was known as postmodernist fiction (aka meta fiction). The fact that it was known as something made me feel 'validated'[He also said later, that it's about the writing not the type of writing. Of course. But writing something 'different' felt 'wrong' - now it doesn't.]

I've now bought London Fields by Martin Amis and will[...]

I've decided to develop my ideas, because of the course,

I even have a working title: Blocked

I had no idea what would happen going on an Arvon course, but I can now highly recommend it, simply for the hothousing effect it delivers.

I am very excited. Even though I am still a long way away from starting, let alone finishing my first novel. I now have a starting point, a first step, and it's thanks to Arvon, the tutors and the students. So, thanks.

Anyway, I just thought I'd share

And if you want to read my blogs


PS Believe it or not, this is a successful writer's website -

(*) Interestingly, for an organisation so interested in why, they don't seem to answer this question on their website.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Review of The Alchemist

Feel good about The Alchemist

Firstly, I'd like to say that I am not a fan of writing reviews. I'm a fan of reading them, but I never want to have to make a living from having to write them. "Too much like hard work." (Thus can the limits of my life's achievements be understood. Lol.)

No, I'm writing this review as it's an exercise in understanding writing. In fact, I have a sheet of paper with several questions on it that I meant to answer and maybe for the next novel I read (London Fields) I shall answer them.

The questions are:
  • What did I like most [about the book]?
  • What did I like least?
  • What about the author's style & characters?
  • How did the author achieve tension?
  • To what extent did the author force you to use your own imagination?
  • Did the chapter move me, make me laugh, bore me, excite me?
  • Would I read it again? [Note: YES, absolutely.]
  • What about typos, grammar, etc.?
To answer these questions with respect to Paulo Coelho's The Alchemist would be like trying to explain why the early morning sunset looks magnificent and life-affirming, or why the sound of your favourite piece of music (think of Mozart, The Beatles, Robbie Williams or whoever can be relied upon to 'float your boat') moves you so much. Quite simply, to do so would break the spell.

The Alchemist is a little piece of magic, of making believe that you can have control over your life if you look for, and act on, the signs.

To quote Santiago, the hero of the story, "It's true; life really is generous to those who pursue their destiny". Santiago, probably like all of us at some point in our lives, goes on a journey to seek out the 'treasure' only to find that it was [spoiler warning!] located at the start of his journey all along.

Coelho's language is simple -- it was translated (from Spanish, presumably) by Alan R. Clarke -- and everything that happens in the story has a purpose. For me, it was a classic page-turner and I do not use that term lightly.

I guess the novel appeals to my 'feel good about the world' nature (a little like Amelie, the film, does too).

I will always enjoy stories like this. I do think it's a 'proper novel' too, and not just a collection of words loosely arranged to chime with the current zeitgeist. (I'm thinking about The Celestine Prophecy, here which, whilst I enjoyed reading it, jarred with me on several occasions from a writer's perspective. I thought it was quite badly written, actually, whereas The Alchemist is written well enough to charm so that you almost don't notice the words.)

I know that not everyone is as enthralled with Coelho's world and Coelho's words. Perhaps because they think it's all 'new age tosh'; who knows.

Anyway, I'm rambling. I'm not, and never will be, a writer of book reviews.

What I took from this novel was the notion of searching, of seeking truth and of finding it in the last place you looked. I know. That last statement will always be true - no one looks for something once they have found it! But still it reminds me that sometimes people look for joy, for happiness, for love etc. everywhere but in the one place they will find it: in themselves.

I can use this notion in my next (first) novel, for sure.

To finish this non-review with, here's a short passage from the book I particularly liked:

'The alchemist said, "No matter what he does, every person on earth plays a central role in the history of the world. And normally he doesn't know it."'

(Just imagine what it would be like if he (or she) did know it.)

Friday, November 03, 2006

Write A First Novel Blog (Updated!)

Well Blogger (beta) now lets you add labels to your posts, and so I have just spent the best part of the morning 'tarting up' the ol' blog, and adding labels to (or categorising) previous posts.

Yes, it's a great way to not-write today, but -- and I never like to do things the easy way (as you'll find out when you read my first novel) -- blogging about writing is part of my writer's experience right now and as such is as valid an activity as any other. Actually, I have always had a habit of writing about what I learn as I learn it, so I can then explain it to others (or myself), later. This blog is just the latest example.

By the way, should that be single dash or double dash, above, and should it be writer's or writers'?

212 Degrees

I came across this 'inspiring movie' via my email recently, and it reminded me of what's at stake when you try and do something new; i.e. write a first novel.

Friday, October 27, 2006

The Long Tail (of book publishing)

The Long Tail is Chris Anderson's impression of 'the new economics of culture and commerce', or 'how endless choice is creating unlimited demand'.

It's a very interesting read, but the reason I'm writing about it here is Chris* talks about self-publishing in the book or Self Publishing Without Shame. He mentions, "a new breed of DIY publisher. For less than two hundred dollars, Lulu can not only turn your book into a paperback or hardcover and give it an ISBN number, but also ensure that it gets listed with online retailers. Once it's listed, the book will be available to an audience of millions and potentially side by side with Harry Potter, if the winds of the recommendation engine blow that way."

Heard it all before, you think.

Well consider that Chris states "In 2004, 950, 000 books out of the 1.2 million tracked by Nielsen BookScan [(i.e. proper books)] sold fewer than ninety-nine copies. Another 200,000 sold fewer than 1,000 copies [and only] 25,000 sold more than 5,000 copies." Then consider that the top five self-published books on Lulu have all sold between 5,000 and 50,000 copies. Then consider that authors earn eighty percent of profits, compared to 15 percent for "standard publishers".

Content creation is changing, and not just for writers. This affects film production, music production etc. It's all explained in The Long Tail.

So I highly recommend that all writers do the following:
  1. Read Chris Anderson's book, The Long Tail (do a search on Amazon)
  2. Learn more about
Personally, it staggers me that published authors use the internet so poorly as a marketing vehicle. They often don't have websites and if they do, they're not interested in collecting email addresses offering sample chapters etc. is a great example of how the long tail is being exploited by some writers.

(*) Chris actually wrote The Long Tail based on corrections made to his writing, his thoughts, that were made on his blog over the period of a few months.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Arvon Objectives

I don't yet have a passion for writing, or reading, but I do like to order my thoughts and ideas and I do like to try and help others understand (helping myself in the process).

I write everyday, but not necessarily fiction. So here's a poem for you to read! (Yes, it's one I made earlier!) :-)


With or without
Do or not do
When or when not
You or not you


I will still be.


I have no manuscript for the tutors to proof, and I don't think I am that interested in learning more about how to write. I can write, that's not what I need to know (I feel).

Instead, I guess I am:
  • seeking inspiration from fellow writers
  • seeking motivation to write
  • looking for a way to filter out the ideas; to decide which idea to go with now
Okay, maybe I am interested to learn a little bit more about writing dialogue. (Ironically, Kate Long gave a dialogue workshop on Friday afternoon but I couldn't attend it as I was busy panicking over my Friday night piece that I had to read out.)

Ultimately, writing is a great example of learning by doing.

Yes I want to learn more about how to write a novel but I think I am more interested in hearing about other writers' motivations, other writers' strengths and weaknesses.

My Arvon Diary

(Journal, if you must.)


"Welcome to Arvon". Agenda. "You will be nearer to your writing goals at the end of the week." First meal. Then introductions in the evening session, followed by beer and wine. Beer and wine important!


Enjoyed free-writing exercise (hello Gary Lineker), but didn't enjoy describing a character as I couldn't imagine one that wasn't real. My 'scene' was better. Went for run in afternoon, and listened to readings by Jeremy and Kate.


I still can't imagine characters. (Is there something wrong with me? Lol) Decide to brainstorm several sections of my Friday piece in 5 minute 11 second bursts. Listened to drum n bass CD in the process. Claire Sambrook's guest reading was inspiring more because of her journey as a writer than her writing (which was good). Very honest about her work.


All I wrote in today's entry is... "Early up - 7am - and the hack hack continues. The shape is improving. And now its POV-time - point of view. (I'd rather be writing.)


Early morning walk inspires the final ideas. Shame I wasn't writing about fog in the valley. Writing goes well until I get stuck with a few expressions that just aren't coming. At 6pm I still haven't written the full first draft. Panic. I'll be the only one not reading tonight. Work out a punch line, and print it off, double-spaced. Will just have to correct it in pen as I read it, beforehand.

Reading goes well (for everyone) and then it's time for more beer and wine. Sucked of energy, I crash at 1.30am and only properly wake up on the following Monday.

  1. I felt I failed with the characterisation exercise as I wasn't making it up. I quote. "I've failed in this writing exercise. I can only write about myself and the key characters in my life."

    Perhaps I should stop thinking that this isn't normal for a writer.
  2. I want to write about fantastical characters and fantastical stories, but only slightly fantastical.
  3. A fictional character I admire (that I forgot to mention at the time) is Eva Luna. I can't remember why, but it's a wonderful book and she's a wonderful character.
  4. An expression I heard that I have never heard of before...
    "commercial sex"
  5. It was a fantastic, transforming week. And I met an Everton fan.

Arvon Creative Writing Exercises

(Limbering up exercise)

Start with the words "I remember" and don't stop writing until the tutor says so.


I remember not liking a certain flavour of crisps. Banana flavour! Hah, just joking. No it was Smokey Bacon. But I really liked Seabrook Salt 'n' Vinegar crisps, but they don't seem to sell Seabrook anymore, so I guess it has to be Walkers, with good ol' big ears Gary Lineker. (70% less rubbish in them than before, apparently - which is nice to know.)

I think Gary should be on TV more, actually. Why can't he read the news in the morning, tell me what the weather's going to be like at lunchtime, introduce Blue Peter and finish off with Match of the Day. Yes, Match of the Day (MOTD as we like to call it) should be on every day. Sod the professional footballers' sensibilities, they get paid enough they can play every day.

They should even make a special character for him, with big ears or distinguished grey head or inane grin, in The Simpsons. He would have to have bad teeth, natch, so verifying the US stereotype of us brits, but at least that's better than being thought of as cheese-eating surrender monkey a la the French.



Describe the characters and events that come to mind when you see this picture. See if people can guess which photograph you're writing about.


It was a long, lazy-lounge kind of day. The mices would just have to wait to be ripped into pieces. It's my dreamtime. Plump the pillows and, slowly, tuck my head down, slowly, pull my tail in. Sleep.

I want to hide from the grey and predictable. I want to ride on the back of a beast. A beast that feasts on brilliant blues and shocking orange. Dog-devouring demons that I can control with my mind. Where dolphins do their dolphin thing. I'm on the back off their fins.

Now go away. I want to play some more, on my own. Don't worry,I'll let you know when you're required once more.



Write up 2 pages of fifteen nouns. Do it quickly. Then give your neighbour (to the left of you) one of the pages. Now try to makeup interesting similies and metaphors.


(my list)

glasses, paper, pen, map, car, lights, road, sign, shop, blanket,tie, top, tap, grass, zoo

(neighbour's list)

bucket, ring, flower, goat*, socks, broach, hunger(?), snake,book, nose, bed, photograph, pen, purse, lamp

And what I came up with (not easy exercise)

- glasses like lamps
- The snake mapped its way across the floor

Arvon Inspirations


In no particular order, these would (now) be:

Mill Millington

Someone writing about the stuff I want to write about, using this new thing they've invented called t'Internet. You never know, it might take off!

Martin Amis

This fellah can write, apparently, but I'm only interested in him (for now) because he wrote some (I keep on forgetting the expression, which is annoying) postmodernism fiction. You know the type of thing where the author is one of the characters in the novel, and he's writing about writing the novel (or something).

I need to see how he breaks the rules. (Funny. I've *never* thought of myself as a rule-breaker.)

Richard Ford

A man who likes writing monologues. Like me.

Stephen King

He is also called Stephen. Oh, and he wrote a book called On Writing. His writing philosophy: when he's not writing, he's reading (as much as he can, anyway!)

Listening to published writers talking about their craft

Being able to talk to Jeremy Sheldon, Kate Long and the guest author Claire Sambrook was also inspirational. Claire's struggle in particular - she also attended Arvon a few years ago - to revise and revise and revise her manuscript year after year was illuminating, as was her honesty and openness.

Arvon: What I Learnt

What I Learnt At Arvon

The most important thing I learnt was that writing is a craft and like any craft you get better at it by studying, by writing, by crafting.

There are no rules to writing is now my cliché about writing.This rule empowers me, though, as I now think of words simply as vehicles of expression to be shaped as I see fit.

In short: I believe I can write a novel, now, maybe even a damned good one.

Here are a few other things I learnt in particular (Should it be learnt or learned? I did not learn this!):

  • Notebooks encourage attention to detail. (Paying attention has benefits in many other aspects of life, too.)
  • It's useful for writers to answer such questions like: "what kind of a man would write about a writer writing about himself in his first novel, whilst trying to write his first novel?"
  • Plot or character - which comes first? Or are they two sides of the same coin? (What happens if the coin has three sides?)
  • A professional critique can save you a lot of time, so says Claire Sambrook
  • Outlines, timelines, family trees, character profiles (what's in the bag?) - all are structures used by writers. (Gabriel Garcia Marquez even included his family tree in his novel 100 Years of Solitude.)
  • Adjectives and adverbs. An adjective qualifies a noun and an adverb qualifies a verb. (I put this here, because I always forget.)
  • The understanding that writers (and other artistes for that matter) get consumed with their creation. I felt that consumption during the week, where I only wanted to write and sod the classes.
But, above all, I learnt that:

  • I can be a writer, a published author
So in conclusion dear reader, I didn't marry him (or her) but I haven't given up believing I can be a published writer of fiction. I've taken one step nearer...

Writing is a journey, not a destination. (A bit like life.)

Life is about doing, not reading about. (A bit like writing.)

Or, as Chris another student put it, "fiction is another way of discovering truth". However, I do feel there is a place for the odd meta character to contemplate his navel, as well as hers, along the way.

It's goodnight from me, and it's goodnight from him (Ronnie Corbett)

Monday, October 16, 2006

Arvon Creative Writing Course

I started (and finished) my first ever Arvon residential writing course last week. And it had quite a profound effect on me, as a writer. I shall be including the journal I kept for the week, as well as some of the pieces of writing I wrote. More importantly, I shall be explaining why I think such residential courses -- tutored by published authors, and attended by writers at various stages of development (some published) -- are invaluable.

Come back soon...

Monday, October 09, 2006

Writing Course Starts Today...

My writing course starts today.

More details will follow, but the main question I have right now is this: will attending this course take me nearer to or further away from reaching my goal of successfully writing a novel.

Friday, September 29, 2006

Writing Resources: A Biographical Dictionary

At first glance, this biographical dictionary had no importance to me as a budding writer of fiction. I don't enjoy reading biographies -- don't ask me why -- and I certainly would not want to write someone's biography.

But then I thought a little bit more about the information presented; e.g. for David Beckham

These snapshots of people's lives make an excellent starting point for the following, in my opinion:
  • A character profile (obviously)
  • A story-line
Even David Beckham who, by most measures, is a very successful man, had his fair share of conflict and obstacles to overcome, some of which can be gleaned from his brief bio.

I suggest (and I'm talking to myself here) doing a random search and seeing what you find.

Friday, September 22, 2006

'How To' Reading List

In no particular order, and books found doing whilst searching on Amazon UK:
  • How To Write A Damn Good Novel, by James N. Frey
  • How To Write & Sell Your First Novel, by Oscar Collier with Frances Spatz Leighton
  • The 38 Most Common Fiction Writing Mistakes (And How To Avoid Them) by Jack M. Bickham
I also read an ebook called: How To Write A Book, Quickly by Nick Daws.

And I read The Internet: A Writer's Guide, by Jane Dorner. But I know about the internet, and I know that writing books about the internet usually doesn't work, as they get out of date far too quickly. So I don't recommend this book.

When it comes to the 'how to write a novel' books listed above, now that's a different story (apologies).

Strangely, even though they were all written by different authors with very different styles, and different emphases on the art of writing, all the books above were useful. I recommend them all, particularly if you don't want your novel to be a masterpiece. (I also recommend Nick Daws ebook, simply because I only need to commit 28 days to the process, and it contained lots and lots of smart short-cuts to the process of writing and generating ideas.)

Agreed, I haven't written a novel yet. But when I do, I will base my efforts on what I learned from these books, especially Nick Daws ebook.

As for the benefits of reading 'how to' books, again you can learn by doing, or you can learn by 'reading about doing'. I usually choose the latter option every time, but can see the value in the 'learn by doing' method too. Because, ultimately, writing is doing.


Whilst I appreciate that planning isn't writing, it's the nature of this particular non-writing beast that not-planning guarantees my not writing (alas). So, looking at my notes (my plan in paper form as it were), I see that I actually had wanted to Have a BIG Story Idea (see below) in Feb. 2006 - and it's now nearly October.

That is disappointing. Still, I'm very pleased to announce to both you and me...

My Writing Plan: Start writing novel in January 2007

Now, the do-ers and engineers amongst you might ask: why not write today?

The thinkers and reflectors amongst you would understand.

And the procrastinators would cheer (eventually).

I know, I know. But small steps - allow me to take small steps, please.

If I'm being honest, I am slightly terrified (oops, yet another wrong word combination!) of starting to write my first novel. That's why I've put off looking at my writing plan for several months, because it would mean that, yes, I could get started!

So, here's the plan(*). I'm going to commit to it. You have my word.
  1. "You could get started"
    For me this translates to start writing this (and other) blogs.
  2. Write!
    Update my blogs, and my various diaries (online journals)
  3. Learn how to write better
    - Read novels on subjects similar to what I want to write about
    - Read about other writers (their experience and motivations)
    - Attend writing classes and workshops
    - Talk to other writers
    - Read 'how to write a novel' - see my 'How To' Reading List
    - Read about writing via online websites, ezines etc.
    - Read magazines, newspapers etc. with a particular eye for writing ideas be it character photos, situations, character types etc.
  4. Have a BIG STORY idea
    Develop it in terms of point of view, setting and no. of characters
  5. Find a good place to write
  6. Make time to write - get organised
  7. Write, write, write! Right?
    - Do the necessary research, and prepare an outline
    - Write my 1st draft - 1000 words a day
    - Rewrite, revise and polish the manuscript
  8. Get the book published!
    Research into and identify two or more literary agents or publishers I believe will want to publish my novel (identify individuals)
  9. Create a personalised submission package
  10. Send my novel to a publisher/agent and get it accepted
  11. Go to the bookstore and pick up my book
    (Try not to look too smug. Remember, JK Rowling.)
I can't tell you how motivating it is just to publish this plan on this blog.

Writing my novel, or rather starting to write my novel feels much more likely, because of it.

Now published writers and those struggling to get their novel published will probably be amused at the emphasis I've made on some of the above activities. A lot of detail existing for straight-forward tasks, perhaps, and hardly any detail existing where it really matters.

Well, this is my world view of writing. My attempt to write my first novel. My thoughts about the process as experienced at the time.

I'm sure if it doesn't quite work like that, I will be sure to find out sooner or later.

Here's to planning, to writing plans, and to writing!

Note: the plan above is based on backward-planning some of the key activities involved in writing a novel, gleaned from the books mentioned above. I'm sure every writer has a different way. Mine might change too. But I have to start somewhere. And, yes, it beats writing (today)! :-)

Friday, September 15, 2006

Not Writing

I really do have to be more disciplined with myself about writing. I have spent all of the Fridays since my last post working rather than writing.

I nearly managed to persuade myself to do the same again, today.

I guess the trick is to convince myself that I like writing (I do, don't I?), and that spending a whole day 'writing' is actually fun. I wonder why I don't think like that. I wonder why most of what I do on my 'writing' day is not writing.

Perhaps I don't really want to write a novel after all.

(We shall see.)

Friday, August 04, 2006


I did write a little today, on my other blog, but I spent most of this 'writing day' reading newsletters or other people's blogs.

There really is a lot of online writing going on.

And quite a lot of it is good.

I still maintain a written journal (or what I call a diary), however, and that is where my next words are destined.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006


It's been a while that I have written an entry in this blog.

That means it's been a while since I have considered writing my novel.

I have been working hard, but I can sense that the fear to actually begin this particular project is quite strong, at least in my subsconscious.

And whilst 'forming a plan of action' is the clarion call to all procrastinators, I do feel in this case that it will serve me well. I've been drifting too long, and I need to set targets for me to reach, targets that get me closer to writing.

Of course I could just start writing -- and, right now work-wise, would be as good an opportunity as any -- but I don't feel ready; I don't even know what I want to write about.

I do realise, however, that Procrastination likes to hide itself behind the most plausible of excuses.

I am aware of my slow progress; yes.

Friday, June 30, 2006

Not about writing per se...

This tip is not actually about writing, or 'how to write a novel' or my attempts to write a novel, but it will help *if* you can see the benefits of having a blog to write about / promote your novel (like I do).

Okay, I don't know that much about blogging and that's why I recently subscribed to Copyblogger: to learn how to get the most from my blog.

And Brian of CopyBlogger did not disappoint with his excellent Do You Make These Mistakes With Your Blog posting today, which led me to read the also useful Four Simple Steps To Get More Subscribers

What's this got to do with writing?

Well, everything, if you want people to read what you've written!

Blogging is a form of marketing (see my post Writing and Internet Marketing ); a form of cheap marketing that you can do yourself; a form of marketing that can bring you in direct contact with your readers (or potential readers).

But if that argument doesn't penetrate, it's also writing.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Writing and Internet Marketing

My recent background is internet marketing; i.e. my business revolves around building promoting and profiting from websites. (So much so I built a website all about building, promoting and profiting from your website!)

This means that I have a good understanding of what a website should look like to sell, whether it's selling to site visitors or it's selling to search engines like Google.

But I'm new to book-writing. (I'm definitely not an author; I don't even write that often.) It is still clear to me that writing is not being sold very well via the medium of the internet. I don't see sample chapters, I don't see mailings lists, I don't see compelling websites that let you get to know your favourite author.

I see amateur websites, produced by professional writers!

I see opportunity.

As with all opportunities, some have recognised it already.

And that's the purpose of this posting to highlight a particular mailing list that looks like it covers writing and marketing. It's written by Randy Ingermanson of Advanced Fiction Writing

I say 'looks like' as I've only just read my first issue, but I can already tell that Randy "gets the web".

Don't worry, Randy "gets writing" even more.

If you take a look at Randy's website, you will also learn a lot about creating a professional-looking website that is easy to use, and has a few set objectives (I think he might want you to subscribe to his mailing list, for example. Why would that be, do you think?).

The site avoids making many amateur mistakes. It's a site I'd be proud to have created, actually, and I don't say that too often especially regarding writers' websites.

I have emailed Randy about this post, and hopefully -- hint, hint, Randy! -- he might make a comment if I've misrepresented what Advanced Fiction Writing is all about.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Today's Post Script

Apart from ploughing through my E-Z Writer's (ezines published by The Writers Bureau) I'm also busily subscribing to newsletters/ezines at the writing sites recommended in E-Z Writer. It will, after all, always be 'better' for me to have to read something than write something!

Writers' Blog

What a great idea!
- Writers' Blog

I wish I'd thought of it.

I shall return to read about Amy, Charlie and Nicki's writing experiences soon.

Until then, let me plough through more Writers Bureau emails (how I discovered the Writers' Blog in the first place)...

Friday, May 26, 2006

"Useful Sites For Writers"

I just read the snippet below from E-Zee Writer - see I'm still ploughing through un-read writing-related material, both electronic and hard-copy - and thought it would make a quick blog entry!

"You may find this site incredibly useful for re-directing you out of a writer's dead-end. Or you may just find it an entertaining way to pass an hour when you really should be getting some serious writing done! Either way, it's a good site to bookmark.
On a similar note, Phrase Thesaurus is an, 'online phrase thesaurus. Enter a word and it will generate a list of phrases and sayings related to that word – often including interesting selections that you may not have anticipated.' This is a paid-for service but there is an online demo to give you an idea of what you can expect from the service."

- Taken from November 2005 edition of E-Zee Writer (I am an inactive student of The Writers Bureau)

Friday, May 19, 2006

Writing To Dos

Oh dear, I'm still at the stage of writing my to do list.

Here goes:
  1. Read writing ezines
  2. Read newspapers and magazines looking for potential writing ideas, images of characters etc.
  3. Write entries in my various blogs
  4. "Next" item in my plan to write a novel (e.g. book myself on a writing course)
  5. Write 1000 words
All in a day's work, in theory.

But it hasn't happened today, and I will instead have to do the above tomorrow, Saturday.


Friday, May 12, 2006

Writing Blogs...

As I read my E-zee Writer ezines I come across some excellent online writing resources. I've subscribed to a few new ezines (I prefer the word newsletter to ezine, actually) and will consider adding this blog to the mixed bag of random ramblings found at this writers' blogging forum

More links to come soon, I'm sure.

First Day...

Today is the first day, or rather first full week-day, dedicated to writing my novel.

It's started a little late, my first day - I should be typing this at 9am, rather than 10.40am - as I'm not quite as rid of the shackles of work, as I'd like to be. (Reminder: I work at home, for myself, and make money from my websites. This is also known as affiliate marketing, and if it appeals to you then I can highly recommend - you see how the affiliate marketer has taken over me, here - I can highly recommend learning more, on this make money online page.)

But this is what I intend to do today:

  1. Read my writing notes (Yes, I scribble down ideas on pieces of paper, in notebooks (more than one, unhelpfully so)
  2. Read the backlog ezines/newsletters I've subscribed to related to writing
  3. Read one of my magazines or newspapers (from the pile shown below) and maybe update my list of clippings
  4. Remind myself what my writing targets are for the months of May and June, and write down a Friday Target sheet (or something)
  5. Write 1000 words. (Hmm, probably won't do this one - don't laugh! But I will at least plan to do it next week!)
  6. Update all of my diaries (journals, to you) and blogs So even though I haven't started writing yet, I do feel I have got started.
And I've already written this blog entry.

I just wish it weren't so sunny outside...

Newspapers and Magazines still to read:

Sunday, May 07, 2006

A Novel in a Year

Has someone got the same idea as me?


I don't think so.

But I like this idea by writer Louise Doughty, and I shall keep on returning to her website to check on her progress. (She has written a novel, several novels, so can talk with some authority, I guess, on the process of writing a novel!)

Reading List

This is my current reading list (see below).

It changed, recently, when I realised that the novels I was reading were not the types of novels I wanted to write. So, out goes Mike Gayle (His n Hers, My Perfect Girlfriend, Mr Commitment) and in comes this far more literate and impressive list of novels:

  • Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Márquez
  • Slaughter House Five by Kurt Vonnegut
  • The Time Travellers Wife by Audrey Niffenegger (I haven't read this yet, but I know it will be what I call a good book.)
  • The History of Love by Nicole Krauss (reading this right now)
Other novels that I've bought but may well consign to the Mike Gayle Slush Pile include:

  • A Long Way Down by Nick Hornby
  • Inconceivable by Ben Elton
  • Whatever Love Means by David Baddiel (I've met David once. Well, I didn't meet him but he used to hang out in a pokey 'night-club' in Bristol called The Tropic, at the same time I did.)
By the way, I hope you realise that to be a writer you should be a reader, an avid reader.

And this is where I am tempted to veer into 'how to write a novel' mode, but when I have not written a novel and so am therefore not an expert on writing a novel, I feel it would be, to say the least, in appropriate.

I shall include excerpts from the various 'how to' books that I think are relevant and helpful to me.

The above is the first excerpt, that everyone advocates: want to write, then read!

So why the above reading list?

I'm interested in the themes of communication, commitment, fear so you can see why Mike Gayle appealed to me. I must say, however, that whilst I enjoyed Mike's books and think he is an able writer, I also found them to be lacking depth. As was the case with Bridget Jones' Diary (Mike is meant to be the male Bridget Jones, which realy doesn't make sense!)

But more than those themes, I prefer to read books that challenge my mind or provoke me in some way, or books that are written from a clever perspective, or books that are just damn good!

Hence the new list, above.

If I'm going to write one novel I might as well model my efforts on the best rather than just the saleable! No?

I was also going to read Man and Boy by Tony Parsons, but I just couldn't face it (don't know why! Maybe it's because I love the barbed words of his ex- too much).

I tried Andrew Collins' Where Did It All Go Right?, and whilst I appreciate his attempt at revisiting his own happy 70s and 80s from a happy perspective, I found it at best smug and at worst very very put-downabble. (Add it to the list of did not finish books that include Nelson Mandela's autobiography, Zadie Smith's White Teeth, and Umberto Eco's turgid Foucault's Pendulum. Yes, I plead guilty.)

The reasons I started this blog...

(1) To get myself going with this. To 'get started'.

(2) To get myself organised with this. To 'get started'

(3) To promote what I write (when I write it). To 'get started'

So, I've decided to just write, to just get started with this, but it will mean that my entries will be somewhat 'all over the place', as I try and organise all of the scraps of paper, the 'to do' lists, the wrting ideas etc. into one an actionable whole (if actionable whole is a valid expression).

This blog will not get reorganised, however.

But I will use it as an aide-memoire, and as the basis for a website I'm going to create called... Write Your 1st Novel


'Procrastination is practicing to die' or 'there is no such thing as procrastination, just wrong actions'.

The above are misquoted interprations on what procrastination is.

Sometimes I get 'lots done' in a day, but other days I actively do anything but the task I should be doing.

My main worry concerning procrastination, however, is when I'm procrastinating but not realising that I'm procrastinating.


Well, I've been meaning to write a novel for nearly twenty years now, but for some reason or other I just never got round to writing it. I did finish a home-study writing course but that did not result in writing a novel (I did get some writing confidence, however. And I did write a journal when I lived in Africa for two years, which gave me some practice and more confidence!)

Even when I decided to 'get serious' and take another writing course - The Writer's Bureau - I only managed to complete one assignment. (I think that this is probably quite common, however.)

It was only in 2004 when my NLP-practicing friend confronted me with questions about why I had not written a novel (and why I had not started to learn Spanish), that I decided to face up to the fact that I had better start to write this novel soon, otherwise it just won't happen.

Time was not a problem

I didn't have the excuse of not having enough time. I work for myself as an affiliate marketer, and could easily have worked four days a week rather than five days a week for several years (that is what I have now started doing, in May 2006).

You will always find excuses not to do something.

I guess published writers belong to the same group of people that include successful business owners or successful athletes: those that take focussed action, over and over until they achieve their goal; those that have excuses but still find a way.

I have my own excuses, but they're not important.

All of the 'how to write a novel' books make much about the simple fact that 'to be a writer, you must write'.

I think you'll find that your life is much less complicated than you realise. (And I do not talk as one who has no problems to overcome, or situations to improve, or words still to write. I talk as one who knows that anyone can make excuses, that procrastination is the easiest hobby to take up, that life would be a lot easier, if... )

If you want to write, write! Let others come up with excuses.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006


I refiled my 'clippings', yesterday. Those scraps of information, photographs, etc. that are supposed to be the source of every writer's inspiration.

Now if that isn't a classic "do anything but write" activity, I don't know what is!

Actually, I found some of my clippings quite interesting. And I am hoping that they'll play a more active role in my growth as a writer.

Friday, April 28, 2006

No sooner do I commit myself to writing...

than I start to feel anxious that it will all go horribly wrong, the novel-writing that is, and I will look foolish and people will laugh at me!

And that's if I manage to even write a novel.

What happens if nothing happens?

That is much worse, to me!

Anyway, I read a newsletter today that highlighted the very same anxiety I felt after publishing the first blog entry yesterday. And, with permission of the publisher Paul Myers of Talkbiz News, here is the corresponding excerpt that gave words to yesterday's anxiousness. (He's talking about a semi-famous internet marketer, Armand Morin. Now Armand is more than able to sell his internet marketing skills, but far less experienced when it comes to his completely new career of being a Country singer...)

Begin quote:
First, it shows you that action is a better habit than you might have thought.

Armand is famous for getting it done. Love him or hate him, he's constantly creating. And I'd bet that without that habit, and the resources it brought him, the album would never have
been made. It doesn't matter if you like it or not. It's Armand's dream, and he's going after it.
Will it work out? No-one knows. The only guarantee you get in life is what happens if you *don't* try. That's the meaning of the quote that's been at the bottom of every issue for pushing
10 years now: "100% of the shots you don't take don't go in."

Have you got a goal you haven't gone after?

Go look at that again.

If you've got a dream you haven't chased, get a copy. Listen to it and think about what it takes to make it happen. Making an album is putting yourself on the line, asking to be judged. What that takes is guts. Think about that. Then take your shot.
End quote

Thank you, Paul

Thursday, April 27, 2006

PS I'm writing a blog, too

This will also be about writing a blog about writing a novel, too.

But it will not get any more introverted / incestuous / 'up itself' than that.

I promise

Begin Here!

I'm going to write my first novel.


I have no idea what it's about yet. I am not a published author. And I don't really think I have a book in me.

It's just...

I am going to write my first novel. Soon.

And this is all about my journey from unpublished wannabee to published author in, say, 8 months time!

8 months?

Well, okay, I'm going to start writing my novel in 8 months time.

The truth is, I've started writing my novel today. I'm going to use this blog as an aide-memoire, as a prompt to action, as a reason to write... something, anything!

(I know, I can hear the groans already! Don't worry your little (or big) heads, i'm not interested in writing rubbish, not even if it means I become a millionaire and heavyweight American, and French actors star in the movie version of the book. Ahem!

I have little chance of achieving this, but my sights are set at books like Love in the Time of Cholera or The History of Love. Now those with big or small heads are not going to be offended if I knock out summat to read like that, are they?

Fat chance, I know.

But, aim high etc.)

So, back to the script, or the the scribbles on my scrap of paper! Where was I? Ah, yes...

I'm going to write my first novel. Soon.

So what are the first things to do then?
1) Start a blog. (Check.)
2) Buy a Site Build It! website. (Will do soon.)
3) Begin logging my progress as a budding wannabee of thousands of budding wannabees. (Check.)

By the way, call it bad or sloppy writing style but I happen to be a fan of the open and close bracket. (Don't worry. They won't bite. I'm sure they get a good write-up in Eats, Shoots & Leaves.)