Here’s a harsh fact for anyone who wants to write a novel: if you don’t do it, no one will care. No one but you. The world has not noticed that your book is missing from it.

Emily Barr

Emily Barr

Here’s another fact: it is incredibly easy not to write your novel, because not only is life already incredibly full of other pressing things to do, but when you do sit down to do it, it can take a lot of willpower and belief in your project to actually get on with it.

However, once you do get down to it, you’re potentially opening up all kinds of exciting new doors for yourself. There’s no better feeling than losing yourself in your book. It’s the best thing in the world.

I’ve written 14 novels, and have procrastinated more than you might imagine, so I’m sharing with you my ten hard-learned lessons:

  1. The only way to write something is just to write it. Write anything. Write nonsense. It doesn’t matter; just write, and try to do it every day. The more you write, the more experience you have of writing and the more easily it will flow.
  2. However, plan your novel so, once your writing habit is there, you can write according to a plan and not waste time having to go back and delete when it’s all gone wrong. I’ve lost many, many thousands of words through not planning properly, in my time.
  3. Take a notebook around with you and write things down. It’s all about details. You’ll hear snatches of conversation and want to use them, or notice little moments that you can steal. Little things can make a big difference.
  4. Switch off the internet. You can’t let yourself get lost ‘just checking something online’. Make a list if you need to, and look it all up afterwards. There are lots of different internet-blocking apps out there. I currently use one called Cold Turkey, that is ruthless.
  5. Set a word count goal, and stick to it. Seeing the number go up can be very motivating.
  6. This sounds odd, but picture your finished book, existing and published in a bookshop. This kind of visualisation is something I do all the time. Sometimes I picture the first page and ‘read’ it in my head. It sounds mad but it oddly works.
  7. Let your characters be themselves. Avoid cliché. If a character actually won’t do something you’ve planned for them, let them do something else instead.
  8. When it gets impossible, carry on anyway. Everyone hits a block at around 30,000 words, and the only way to get past that is to write through it, until one day you’ll find yourself out the other side.
  9.  Read! Never stop reading. Sometimes I’ll read something that inspires me to get writing. Sometimes I am full of admiration and ‘I couldn’t do that’. Time spent reading is never wasted.
  10. See number 1. 

Emily Barr’s latest novel The Truth and Lies of Ella Black (Penguin, £7.99) is out now.