how to get that novel written in 2017

Five quick tips to help you get your novel started and finished this year. 

Has the thought of pumping out the next best-selling novel been lingering in your head for a while? Former teacher and one of Australia’s most popular authors (28 books and counting) Jacqueline Harvey, shares some of her tips on how to get the job done.

On timing…
Time is always of the essence so think about planning the story before you begin – or at least the bones of the story or what I call the ‘big ideas’. A little secret: I like to start with the end in mind so I have a bit more direction straight up. Then snatch as much time as you can each day to write, write and write again.

On goal setting…
Try to set yourself goals like writing for an hour before the kids get up or aim for a specific number of words each day. If you can fit it into your schedule, join a writers’ group or attend some writing courses. The NSW Writers’ Centre has lots of creative writing courses. Most of all (and it sounds so simple), don’t give up. It’s difficult to get published for sure, but like anything, it takes tenacity and perseverance to get there!

On talking it out…
Talking through the plot and characters helps to crystallize the ideas. I read everything I write aloud (yes – to myself) to make sure that the characters are behaving the way I think they should and they sound like themselves.

Husbands and partners are great listeners – mine is particularly good at picking up on details.

One of my writing heroes, Roald Dahl, read everything aloud to his wife. Having been a teacher for a long time and reading aloud to the children for years, you tend to pick up on what makes a great read-aloud story, and to me Dahl was one of the best.

On beating writer’s block…
If I’m stuck, I might go for a wander outside or do some housework (the power of a good mopping strikes again), to give myself some distance but ultimately a chat with my husband or publisher tends to help me overcome any roadblocks. Funnily enough, deadlines are good for writer’s block too – the pressure of knowing you can’t mess around and having to deliver forces you to write. You can always improve it during the editing process.

On nurturing junior writers…
Encourage your kids to be observant by keeping diaries or journals and taking lots of photographs. It’s great to write longer stories but it’s also important to focus on skill development like learning the age-old ‘show and not tell’. Have fun creating characters by giving them biographies and dropping them into a situation to see how they react. Writing competitions give junior writers a focus for their work. Make sure that they finish things – kids so often start with great gusto then trickle out. For inspo, take them to meet authors so they see for themselves that writing can be a real job. From a writer’s perspective, it’s always a pleasure to meet children who want to write!

If you have a little author at home, we have a writing competition with a prize that’ll make you wish you were 12 again! To celebrate the launch of the fifteenth book in the Alice-Miranda series, Alice-Miranda Holds The Key, along with Penguin Random House Australia, we’re asking junior writers, 12 and under, to write their own Alice-Miranda scene. The prize? Jacqueline will write the winner as a character into the next Alice-Miranda book! Check out the details here.

Words: Lana Al Habl