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Author Archive: "Louise Doughty"

Keeping Going

Once you have got your novel started, then how do you proceed?

As well as writing novels, I teach a fair amount of creative writing in the UK and the one subject that always fills a classroom to the brim is plotting and structure. I think a lot of new writers get stuck on this because, in comparison with other writing topics, it's so nebulous, so hard to pin down. One of my favourite quotes about writing is from the novelist Susan Hill: "Each time I look at an idea for a novel, it is like a mountain, and I say to myself, 'Oh no, this time you have gone too far.'" In the early stages, I always think, Oh no, this time I've gone too far. I really can't pull this one off. One mistake that writers make often is to trying planning too thoroughly too early. It's a bit like being a sculptor — you need a block of wood or lump of bronze or some other material to craft.


Starting at the Beginning

So your New Year's resolution is to write a novel — where do you start? Well, you can try starting at the beginning, but if that doesn't work, how about the middle, or even the end? The starting point for a novel is very rarely the first paragraph. Sometimes it's a visual image, sometimes it's a character or a story — I love staring at strangers in the street and trying to work out their stories. Ursula Le Guin once said that she created the whole strange hermaphrodite world of The Left Hand of Darkness because she wanted to use the line "The king is pregnant." The novel I am working on at the moment had a common starting point for me: fear. (Fear and passion and yearning are often where stories lie.) I heard a horrible story from a friend about an acquaintance whose child had been killed in a road accident, and I started to think about my own children having an accident, and I couldn't get my fears ...

New Year’s Resolutions

When I was child, I used to write down my New Year's resolutions each year on the 1st of January. They were always variations on the same themes: to keep my room tidy, to be nicer to my annoying little sister... When I became an adult, I kept up the habit for a few years, then I gave up. The main reason I gave up was that, for year after year, I found myself making the same resolution: to finish my novel. It got to the point where there wasn't really any point in writing it down. I could just unfold the same scrappy piece of paper from the previous year. Starting a novel was never the problem — I have loads of beginnings that will never, and should never, see the light of day. It's often easy to write the first quarter of a book in a rush of enthusiasm, then you reach the point where it starts to get tricky... I am told that "to write a novel" is the second most common New Year's resolution (the first ...

Reading and Writing

As I have spent the whole year reading, a lot of people have said, "I suppose you haven't had time for your own writing at all." In actual fact, even during the really heavy period of judging the Man Booker Prize, I set aside one day a week to work on my own novel. I knew that if I didn't, I would go stark raving mad. A lot of my fellow novelists say they don't like reading other people's novels when they are working on their own, but that's always struck me as a rather odd attitude. It's a bit like someone who is learning French avoiding speaking the language, or a surgeon not keeping up on new medical developments. I would urge any new writer to read as many new novels as he or she can get hold of — steep yourself in the language of fiction. Lots of people worry that their own writing will become derivative as a result, but it won't if you read widely enough. All good writers are good readers. Quite often, ...

Busy Year?

As the year draws to a close, do you find yourself looking back over what you have achieved? I do, although I am not sure it's a good idea when you are a writer. Any writer is bound to feel they haven't written as much as they should have. This year, I had a good excuse. I have been a judge for the Man Booker Prize, the UK's leading fiction award. During the most intense reading period, I was reading a novel a day, seven days a week, for around three months. If I took a weekend off to, say, talk to my family, then that meant there were three books to get through on the Monday.

How is it possible?

Well, it's surprising how good you get at speed reading and quick judgment — and with some of the books it was obvious very quickly that they weren't serious contenders. I also had the great advantage of being completely freelance, so I could stop all other work to do the reading. Although it was ...

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