Finding the way to the heart of your story – Katie Marsh

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By Katie Marsh

I had always wanted to be a writer, but it wasn’t until I was thirty that I found the courage. I went on a romantic round-the-world trip, only to come home single and full of angry optimism: I was going to be published within a year; I was going to be the next Sophie Kinsella; I was going to earn a great living and be the envy of all my friends.♥

As you can probably tell, I had a bit of growing up to do.

Two novels and five years later I had received so many rejection letters I had filled an entire box file. All the agent feedback was similar: you can write, you’re funny, but your books lack momentum and heart.

I needed to change. I needed to connect with the heart of my story. And, luckily, it was then that I thought of the premise of my first published novel, My Everything, about a woman whose husband had a stroke on the day she was going to leave him.

I knew I had to write this story differently, and so I totally changed my writing approach, trying to avoid the mistakes I had made in my first two novels. I am still using it now, as I finish my fourth book under contract. Here are five tips I learned along the way.

Don’t try and write in anybody else’s style – find your own

For some unknown reason my first two novels were (very light and very bad) romantic comedies. I love the genre, but my plotting and writing style just didn’t fit within it. The books I loved reading were darker in tone – Sister by Rosamund Lupton or Gold by Chris Cleave. It was only when I was brave enough to tackle darker themes and experiment with my style that my writing started to take flight.

Feel your story with your characters

If you’re not feeling what your characters are meant to be feeling, then the reader won’t either. I frequently cackle like a maniac and weep like the world is ending while I’m writing and I know that the day I don’t do these things is the day I will put my laptop away and go and find my fifth career, or my sixth (I had a LOT of jobs before I became a writer).

Write from emotional moment to emotional moment

This was what really transformed my writing and it was a key factor in getting me my publishing deal. I learnt this approach at a Q&A with the amazing Patrick Ness, and it really rang true for me. The attic I write in is full of Post-Its that flag key emotional moments for my characters: the conversations, realisations, arguments and reconciliations that make up their emotional lives. I write from one to the next and the beating heart of the story always emerges that way, however much I fear it won’t.

Finish it

It is truly amazing how often I get a really exciting new idea just when I am in the mid-section of my current novel. But not matter how shiny it might be, always finish the one you’re working on as it’s only then that you see the whole story and can dive back in to edit and see how you can make it even better. Your next idea will wait. Promise.

Set everything to music

I make a playlist for each of my novels, and they always inspire me in those 6 a.m writing moments when there are no words and it’s dark and cold outside. You can make them for the emotions behind the book, or for major characters – the music always helps to keep the word count ticking upwards and frequently gives me new ideas that enrich the story.

Katie Marsh lives in south-west London with her family. Before being published she worked in healthcare, and her novels are inspired by the bravery of the people she met in hospitals and clinics across the country. Her first novel, My Everything, was picked by the Evening Standard as one of the hottest summer debuts of 2015, and her second A Life Without You was an e-book bestseller. Her new novel, This Beautiful Life, is out now.


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