Having just released her debut novel Reparation, Gaby Koppel wants to inspire other budding authors. She’s poured her heart and soul into this emotional tale, and is now here with ten essential pieces of advice for when it comes to her fellow writers publishing their first novel.
1. Read some debut novels – Like many other people, I tend to pick my reading list from the Booker and Costa shortlist winners and the review sections of the weekend newspapers, but if you only read the very best books published in English, it’s very easy to become discouraged. Take a look at some recent debut novels to see what you are up against, the good and the not so good. Find them on book blogs like Lovereading.co.uk, Katevane.com, London Review of Books. If there’s one that is really close to the type of book you want to write, deconstruct it to find out exactly how it was put together.
2. Do a course. You wouldn’t try to teach yourself to drive so why should you be able to teach yourself to write? Because I was a journalist, I was arrogant enough to believe I’d be able to write fiction as easily as I can turn out a feature. How wrong I was. There’s much to learn, and contact with other students facing the same challenge is invaluable, as is the feedback you’ll get from tutors. There are hundreds of courses to choose from now. The cost can be daunting – because I’d just taken redundancy I was lucky enough to be in a position to sign up for a Masters in Creative Writing (novels) at City University near to my home, but there are many other really good more affordable courses run by local authorities, adult education centres, and clubs.
3. Join a writers’ group, whether it’s online or in real life – though personally I think nothing beats being in the room with the people you are in touch with, I know that’s not feasible for everybody. Writing is lonely, so meeting other people facing the same challenge can provide vital encouragement and inspiration. The support of a group can motivate you to carry on just when you feel like giving up.
4. Go to book festivals and select talks by debut writers, to get some insight into how they approached the task. Feel the love of books and try to believe it could be you one day. It doesn’t have to be Hay, there are dozens of book festivals all over the country, find out where the ones near to you are and put their dates in your diary. Go along and ask questions.
5. Choose something to write that only you can write. Plunder your own life story, your family dynamics, your interests, your obsessions. Don’t be put off by people who are dismissive of fiction which is heavily autobiographical. It was good enough for Dickens.
6. Make the time to do it, preferably when you aren’t exhausted from all the other things you need to do in your busy life. Don’t try to multi-task, set aside time when all you’ve got to do is write. Ask friends and family to help, and sometimes – yep – make sacrifices. If you have to, turn down invitations, because writing is your priority and must sometimes come before social events – but not to the point where it’s making you feel glum. And make space too. As Virginia Woolf said a woman needs a room of her own to write fiction. In these gender neutral times that means men and non binary people too – if you haven’t got, can’t have a room, go to the library.
7. Don’t just sit by the desk if it’s not coming to you. Go for a walk or a run, and use the time as an opportunity to think. When I don’t know what to write next, I close the laptop and sit on my bed or the sofa with a large notepad and, armed with some pens in different colours, make a thought-map or write a stream of consciousness onto the paper – jotting down different ideas and looking for ways they could link together. It can help to get me out of a jam.
8. Switch off your browser, tell people you are not available. Switch off your mobile. Make sure there are as few distractions as possible.
9. Keep going even if you think it’s crap, because you will. Think it is crap, that is. Keep on pushing through in the hope that you will turn the corner. Ignore the siren voices saying you are wasting your time. You won’t know when you are writing it whether it is good or bad, but sometimes you have to plough through the rubbish to hit a purple patch and that’s why the next point is absolutely crucial.
10. Edit, edit and edit. It was Mark Haddon who said he was ‘not a terribly good’ writer but a ‘persistent and bloody minded’ editor. Coming from the author of the Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, I’m taking the first part of that with a large pinch of salt, but the second part is invaluable. Good editing will transform your book.
Gaby Koppel’s debut novel Reparation was published by Honno the Welsh women’s press on February 21.
By Gaby Koppel
Tagged in Books
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