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.
In A Novel in a Year, I encourage new writers to spend the first half of the year producing material in quite a loose, haphazard way, even if they are not sure it will even be included in their book. The important thing is to keep writing. One scene leads to another, and you may end up cutting the original scene, but it will have led on to something really important.
Most of all, I think my philosophy of writing is to do it because you love doing it. Yes, it is fantastic to be a published author and I can't believe I am lucky enough to have pulled it off, but the important thing is the writing itself. Creating a novel is like making a whole universe all of your own, something that wouldn't have even existed if you hadn't conjured it into being. It's a great feeling, and I would recommend it to anyone. If I were to give anyone a wish for 2009, it would be that they should discover the fun and the challenge of doing it themselves. Good luck if you're going to give it a crack, and happy writing.
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Louise Doughty is the author of five novels, including the internationally acclaimed Fires in the Dark, which won awards from the Arts Council of Great Britain and the K Blundell Trust. She has also written five plays for radio and is a well-known columnist and radio presenter in the United Kingdom. Her most recent book is A Novel in a Year. She lives in London.
Books mentioned in this post
Louise Doughty is the author of A Novel in a Year: From First Page to Last in 52 Weeks