At a recent online book event, someone asked which of my three novels I thought was the best.
It wasn’t easy to answer; the truth is I love them all for different reasons, but in theory, my third novel, The Perfect Lie, should be my best work, because I’ve (hopefully!) learnt from any mistakes I made with my first two novels, The Good Mother and The Home. So, for this week’s blog post, I thought it might be useful to share my top five book-writing mistakes and how you can avoid them.
1) I DIDN'T OUTLINE
First of all, not every author outlines their book, but for me, an almost obsessive planner in pretty much every area of my life, I really struggled to write The Good Mother without an online. To this day, I’m not sure why I didn’t do that. It could be that I was still on a high from winning a writing prize but more than likely, I had the notion that my creativity would be diminished by something as academic as planning. Note to self: writing realms of pages with no idea where I was going stressed me out. And it’s hard to be creative when you’re stressed.
I had written over half the book before I finally gave in to my natural instincts and started mapping out the chapters. And while I had to get rid of some of my original work, needless to say, I wrote the second half much more quickly (and actually enjoyed it!).
TAKEAWAY: Outlining might not suit everyone, but I would urge all new writers to at least try planning before dismissing it – it will save you a lot of time, if nothing else!
2) I WROTE AND EDITED AT THE SAME TIME
During the writing of The Home, I set a writing goal of 1,000 words a day. I had easily managed that in the past, so I was surprised when at the end of the week, I had fallen short - not just by a few hundred words - but a couple of thousand. I couldn’t understand it – I was spending the same number of hours as usual each day but unable to reach the goal and the words just weren’t flowing. The following week, I aimed for the same goal but again fell short. This time, I understood what had happened. I was spending my valuable (and carefully guarded) writing time editing. Later, I discovered that the skills of editing and writing use two different sides of the brain and therefore it takes time to ‘switch’ between the two tasks.
TAKEAWAY: Write a first draft and then edit it. If that is too daunting, then try and edit your book in three or four big chunks rather than every page.
3) I DIDN'T TRUST MY INSTINCTS
Confession time: I’ve actually written a whole book that’s never seen the light of day. If I think about it too much, it makes me want to cry – 80,000 words down the pan.
What made it worse was that I only had myself to blame. I knew pretty much right from the beginning that the idea for the book wasn’t lighting me up. You know what I’m talking about - that little spark you feel when something just ‘clicks.’
But I went ahead and wrote it anyway.
In fact, not only did I write it, but I actually rewrote it. There was no way I was letting all that work go to waste. It was only after my third rewrite and I was snapping at anyone who came near me, that my husband gently suggested that perhaps this book wasn’t meant to be.
TAKEAWAY: If you have an inkling that something isn’t working, trust your instincts or at least get a second opinion. Ultimately though, it’s you investing your time and energy (and most likely making sacrifices) so make sure you’re passionate about your idea from the start.
4) I UNDERESTIMATED THE TIME NEEDED FOR RESEARCH
I would always urge new authors to write about what they know simply because it makes everything so much easier. With my first two novels, I followed my own rule, but with my third, The Perfect Lie, I wanted to branch out a little into a legal drama. The opening scene is set in a courtroom, the protagonist, Claire, owns her own law firm, so it’s fair to say that law was a significant element of the book of which I have no experience whatsoever and underestimated how much research I would need to do. Not something you want to discover when you’re on a tight deadline with a publisher! Luckily, I had more law contacts than I realized but it was a stressful couple of weeks wondering if I would get all the clarifications in time.
TAKEAWAY: If you’re a new writer, write what you know or if you do enjoy the research element, over-estimate the amount of time you need to conduct visits, interviews, and fact-checking.
5) I LET IMPOSTER SYNDROME TAKE OVER
Writing a book is so much more than just a way with words. It’s about self-mastery, discipline, determination, and an unwavering belief in yourself. In a nutshell, it’s a mental game. When I won the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature Prize, it gave me a huge confidence boost - a literary agent had recognised talent in my work and was interested in representing me. My confidence solidified when my agent sold my debut novel for a three-book deal. For the next three years, I would write a book a year. The first year, I was giddy with success and seeing my novel in bookshops was the of the most thrilling moments of my life.
And then I started writing my second book.
Slowly, the self-doubt began to creep in and I began to question my ability. Had I just got lucky? Yes, I’d published one book, but could I pull it off again? And then a third time? The more I allowed the negative self-talk, the harder it was to write.
TAKEAWAY: Every thought in the brain causes a chemical reaction so pay attention to what you’re telling yourself about writing a book – work on replacing negative language with positive and inspiring affirmations.
Related posts: 5 Writing Tips I Learnt From My Editor
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