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How To Write Your First Novel

14/08/2014 16:36 | Updated 22 May 2015

Do you ever feel like you've got an amazing, original, page-turner of a novel in your mind just waiting to be written? We bet the only thing that's stopping you from jotting it all down is well, jotting it all down. Where does a first-time novelist even start?

Colette McBeth's incredible debut Precious Thing came out this year and we quizzed her on how you get that story from your head to paper. Well, Word (you know what we mean).

How you do plan your book?

With Precious Thing, the character came to me first and I spent so long thinking about her – 15 years- that by the time I started writing the novel the plot came to me relatively quickly. I find I need to write about five thousand words to get a feel for it and then stop and plot a good chunk of it so I know where I'm going. Some writers start and have no idea where the story is going to take them, I'm definitely not one of those people.

How many drafts should you do?

I think there comes a point when you can't look at it anymore because you know you can't make it any better on your own. That's probably the right time to let go. With Precious Thing I did four main drafts but there were so many rewrites here and there it was probably more like 24.

How do you know if your idea and book is good?

If an idea sticks and it demands to be written and won't let you stop until it's done, then you probably know you're on to something. I don't think you ever know if your book is good when you're writing it, in fact it's probably the opposite; you're plagued by insecurity thinking no one is ever going to want to read it. But somehow you have to ignore that voice in your head and plough on.

Should you give yourself a deadline?

It's helpful to have one because it gives you a focus. After I had finished the first draft of Precious Thing and got an agent, I took redundancy from the BBC and gave myself three months to finish the novel. In the end I took four but I knew I couldn't afford to take much longer without getting a job so that definitely focused my mind. Having said that my agent and I had planned to get it finished in time for one of the large book fairs but we missed it because the novel just wasn't quite right. That was absolutely the best decision to make because the final draft was where it all seemed to come together.

What's the one thing about writing your first book that no-one tells you?

That it's really lonely. I went from a job that involved me sitting in a busy newsroom or going out and talking to people to sitting alone listening to my characters voices in my head. You also have no idea whether anyone is going to want to read it and on those dark days when nothing seems to be going right it's hard to keep going. On a positive note you hear so much about how hard the publishing industry is crack but debuts do get published. Who is to say yours won't be one of them?

What was your book writing survival kit?

Tea, biscuits and trainers. I must have drunk about 10 cups of tea a day in the final stages of Precious Thing and my biscuit consumption was off the scale. The trainers I need for running because I find a run in the morning clears my head. And at the risk of sounding like a granny I should add slippers to my list, I get really cold feet when I'm writing!

Precious Thing by Colette McBeth is out now. Buy it on Amazon here and follow the writer on Twitter @colettemcbeth.

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