Would you like to write a book?
Over the next 12 weeks we’ll be getting the help of successful authors to explain everything would-be writers need to know. This is the first step to your debut novel
Illustration: Clare Brennan
When he wasn’t writing very short stories or novels about war, Ernest Hemingway also came up with pithy remarks about being an author. “There is nothing to writing,” he once said. “All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”
The idea of simply opening a vein as a fast track to completing a 90,000-word manuscript might sound almost tempting to anyone who has harboured an urge to write. Beginning on Monday, in our new series How to Write a Book, we’ll explain how to get writing, by asking authors for their thoughts on what’s required.
Perhaps you’ve never written a word but have been telling friends and family for years that there’s a story you want to write for posterity. You may have completed a first draft that’s a behemoth you can’t seem to shape into anything. Or maybe half a short story on a dusty hard drive is begging to be finished.
This series is about the scaffolding of writing, about the structural elements that every would-be writer should learn to master. Anyone who has written something – anything – has already overcome the terror-inducing fear of sitting down with a notebook or of listening to the computer’s whirring fan as they stare at a blank Word document.
The writer June Caldwell, formerly of the Irish Writers’ Centre, saw many aspiring writers come through the door. She says that, from the off, you need to think yourself into the mindset of a writer.
“Make it real, and not just the writing bit – which involves sitting down regularly to do it – but identify yourself as a writer. It is such a lonely, obscure, strange thing to do, so meeting other writers and peer-grouping work in the early stages instills self-belief and gets a writer used to criticism, rewriting and thinking about their story more deeply.”
If fear or indiscipline adds to your procrastination, there is safety in numbers. Join a course, which brings not only deadlines for getting down to writing but also a supportive hub of people to share your work with and gain feedback from.
Dave Lordan, author, writing teacher and editor of the New Planet Cabaret anthology, says creative-writing courses are excellent for personal development as well as facilitating an urge to write.
“No one can inject you with the talent, intelligence and determination to become a writer – these must come from within – but a good teacher, who must also be a good writer, can help to improve your writing and expression skills,” he says. “They can motivate you enough to get up and running at that crucial starting stage. They can also instruct you on the practicalities of writing and clarify the structure and aims of your writing project.”