Galahad Porter has recently published her new novel At Reception and to celebrate she offers her top tips for writing. 

At Reception

At Reception

Write on regardless and let it evolve naturally

My number one tip to anybody who has dreamed of writing fiction is to do just that. Write. Write down whatever comes into your head. Keep a notebook handy, you may need it at 1am. Don't even think of spelling, grammar, the reader, anyone else. Whatever you start writing will have changed considerably by the end, so let it evolve, don't start trying to straightjacket it from day one. Word processing software means you don't have to worry about fine details - there is plenty of time for that later, the important thing is to keep the momentum going.

Set a time and place to write

Set a time and place every day when you will write something. Say to yourself, if I type 1000 words a day my novel will be done in 100 days. It might not look like a novel, but it will be a base to work on. But be realistic, reworking and editing will probably take longer than writing the first draft. It's important you don't get disturbed when writing. Lock yourself away and drift off to where your novel is set. Writing is tiring on the eyes, so I prefer to 'write with a view'. I like to have something to look at in the distance - a bird feeder does for me!

Draw up a time-line... but stay free of it

Inspiration comes from all directions: don't start with page one and type to page 300. Draw up a spreadsheet with characters names listed down the left hand column, and dates/chapter numbers across the top. Fill the boxes with events as your story evolves. This helps make sure everything happens in the correct sequence, and gives you a visual feel for the balance of the book. Best of all, it sets you free to write different storylines as they take your fancy, to be woven into a novel later. Your characters had a life before you brought them into your novel, so make sure you make historical notes too, which is also useful if you end up writing a prequel! Warning: don't let the spreadsheet control your novel, nothing is set in stone and overwrite and move the boxes if that works better!

Know your subject

Only write what you know about. If you don't know about something then research it, and it's especially important to speak to people who have experience of it. What I call 'synthetic fiction', where the writer only has a superficial knowledge of the subject, can lack the insight that makes the story come alive. My latest novel is about a female hotel receptionist and her issues. How did I write that? As a child I was brought up with two sisters and regular reading of women's magazines 'problem' pages. That only led me to a series of failed relationships, all-in-all a good grounding for writing! Although I have stayed in many hotels, and some for months at a time, to make the world of reception realistic I needed help from a highly experienced hotel receptionist.

Select character names and places carefully

Choosing character names is my single biggest headache. Think of a name and search it on your web browser and somebody will have that name, and chances are a similar profile to your character. You certainly cannot use names of well-known personalities or trademarked names. Fiction is often controversial, and your characters may have traits someone of the same name would get upset about. To avoid libel and trade mark infringement take advice, you don't want to blow it all accidentally!


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