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Welcome to the first edition of the Writing Tips newsletter. As an opening topic I thought it would be a good idea to look at the most difficult, but also most crucial aspect of novel writing – starting off.

For every 100 people who reckon they would love to write a novel, there is probably less than one actively trying to do so. That is because however hard it is to finish your story, it is twice as difficult to start it in the first place.

I hope you find the following ten tips of some use, or at least some amusement, but if not feel free to e-mail me and tell me why!

Anyway, enough rambling, I’d better just get on with it.

Until next time,



The hardest part of fiction writing is the first bit. Once you have started it is easy to keep going, the difficulty is making the initial jump.

So how do you get into the groove? Here are the top ten tips for those who find it impossible to get going:

1. Don’t be scared of writing crap
Some people are so bogged down with being good that they never write anything at all. The trouble is, if there’s nothing on the page or the computer screen, you’ve got nothing to work with. After all, Michelangelo didn’t go around looking for rocks shaped like an Adonis, he had to make them that way. Likewise, even the best writers cannot expect every sentence they write to be word perfect. Perfection (or, at least, the desire for it) comes later. At the start, you need to concentrate on getting the process underway – crap or not crap. Of course, some writing stays crap and never improves, but most people can end up producing something worthy so long as they know how to edit (or ‘cut the crap’, to use the technical term). Francoise Sagan put it best when she said ‘I have to start to write to have ideas.’

2. Ignore words of discouragement
If you tell people you are about to start writing a novel, prepare to be discouraged. All of a sudden people who seemed to be your supportive friends turn out to be nasty and jealous people with no desire to treat your ambition to write a novel as anything other than a joke (because deep down they are very, very scared that they have thrown their life away while you still persisted to hold onto the stupid, infantile belief that you can do what you want in life). So, if you can possibly avoid telling people, I would suggest you do. If you can’t, because you happen to live with said nasty, jealous people, then you will just have to ignore their patronising jokes at your expense. Or you could file for divorce/move out. Or if you live in a student house, you could squat down in the shower and pee in their shower gel. This way things balance themselves out. They can make you look silly for foolishly believing that you can get a novel published, but hey, they wash themselves with your urine. So who’s the clown now, huh? . . . Actually, on second thoughts, it’s probably better to opt for the ignoring strategy and feed off all their negative energy.

3. Read books
‘If you want to be a writer, you must do two things,’ reckons Stephen King. ‘Read a lot and write a lot.’ And it’s true. Writing is ultimately about the production of words, and the more words you consume, the more you’ll be able to produce.

4. Write about sex
Sex scenes are good starting material because they are fun and it is unlikely you will become bored or distracted. Also, it’s the most intimate way to get to know your characters so whenever you write about the character elsewhere you will be able to think to yourself ‘I’ve written about him naked!’ Well, it works for me . . .

5. Clear a space
Okay, you may not need much elbow room but it’s a good idea to set aside a specific area of your home to your writing activity. You don’t have to get too feng shui about it, just make sure it’s not cluttered or distracting or that it doesn’t remind you of all the washing up you’ve got to do.

6. Put a CD on
Music can help channel your thoughts. For me, Ian Brown’s Music of the Spheres always seems to do the job. Or anything soft and mellow, St Etienne, Dusty Springfield, Marvin Gaye, Air . . .

7. Drink green tea
So what does Jackie Collins, one of the world’s best-selling novelists, reckon the key is to getting in the writing mood? Green tea. ‘The moment I wake up I drink a mug of green tea – no milk, no sugar – very energising,’ she says. ‘Then I sit down at my desk and stare at a blank pad of paper until I can get myself going? It’s good for your cholesterol levels too, apparently.

8. Put the phone off the hook . . .
. . . and get the jealous nasties you live with to answer the door.

9. Write sentences
Before you concentrate on the task of putting whole paragraphs or chapters together – hell, even before you start structuring the story – just focus on individual sentences. Play about with different styles and decide what you like best. This is what creative writing tutors call ‘finding your voice.’

10. Forget about your grandma
As well as clearing your desk clutter, you need to clear your mind. Most of all, you need to FORGET ABOUT EVERY SINGLE MEMBER OF YOUR FAMILY who may one day get to read your novel. If you don’t, you will avoid reality altogether and start writing like Enid Blyton. There’s an important difference between editing and self-censorship. If you want to write the f word, write ‘fuck’. If you want to write ‘she wanted him to spank her harder’, write ‘she wanted him to spank her harder’ – if indeed that is what she wanted. Just be prepared to get some strange looks during Christmas dinner!

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