Is there a ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ way to write a novel? Some people say there is. Well, a lot of people say there is. And one of the things we are told is that we should write the whole first draft without stopping to edit. At all. The received wisdom here is that you need to ‘tell yourself the story’ – that pausing to edit as you go along is fruitless, since you may have to change the beginning of the tale anyway. I can perfectly see the logic of this approach. It adds a helpful elasticity to the writing process, which, goodness knows, is difficult enough however you go about it. Write the whole story, then go back and attend to the tidying and titivating of plot and prose. Makes perfect sense. It just doesn’t work for me.

The voice of duty says, “Do as you’re told. Everybody else can’t be wrong. Do it the ‘right’ way.”

The voice of recalcitrance says, “If your way works for you, stick with it. If it ain’t broke don’t fix it.”

“So what is this revolutionary method of yours?” asks the voice of interested enquiry.

Well, my way of writing goes like this: I get the beginning of the novel right, and then move on. The first ten thousand words, the ones that set the pace and feel of the book are the most important, I reckon. If you can get those right the rest of the book falls into place. I don’t expect to have them polished to perfection. But I don’t expect to make radical changes, either. I take my time over it. That firmly founded beginning provides me with a solid platform to explore the possibilities for the rest of the story. So that’s the way I do it.

I don’t expect this method to work for everybody (or anybody) else. It just works for me. I always say, and no doubt my friends are sick of hearing it, that there are as many ways of writing a book as there are writers to write them. So if the voice of duty tells you to do it the ‘right’ way, by all means give it a try. But if it doesn’t work for you, feel free to indulge in a little rebellion. Happy writing!


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