Five things to definitely NOT do if you want to finish that novel – Molly Flatt

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By Molly Flatt

The web is awash with advice about habits and tools that will help you finally ship your always-almost masterpiece. But often, in life, what you don’t do has greater impact than what you do. ♥

It took me nigh-on seven years to write my debut novel, The Charmed Life of Alex Moore, and I’m sure I could have shortened that timescale if I’d dropped a whole lot of excess baggage in my mind and on my laptop. Then again, maybe it just takes me seven years to write a novel (don’t tell my editor).  Either way, here are a few of my own hard-won truths about the thoughts and practices that definitely don’t lubricate the novel-nailing process.

  1. Be perfect

You can only write the novel you can write now. Breathe, and repeat. I am all too comfortable with ‘killing my darlings’ – I can delete whole laboured-over drafts with a single gleeful swipe. But although the novel I write tomorrow is almost certainly going to be better than the one I write today, it doesn’t exist. Yes, follow your instincts when something is wrong, and give yourself time for multiple edits. But also accept that at some point, good enough has to be good enough.

  1. Obsess about the market

There is absolutely no shame in wanting your book to be a commercial success, or to reach as wide a readership as possible. But trying to exploit zeitgeisty genres or second-guess trends will distract you from the real business of writing: to express your own unique truth. Write because you have something to say. Write because you want to get better at writing. Write because you love the process. Then your time will never be wasted, whether you publish or not.

  1. Have a special writing place

If you’re a Hampstead-dweller with a trust fund and no screaming toddlers, sure! Go ahead and enjoy your book-lined garden-view attic. The rest of us, with jobs and kids and IKEA desks shoved into a corner of our bedrooms, have to make do. I have written on trains, during meetings, on airport floors and while breastfeeding in bed. If you want to fit 100,000 words of fictional gold into real life, ditch the idea of one sacred, muse-luring space. Ditto for fancy writing software, lucky pens and inspirational pants. Just get the fuck on with it.

  1. Keep it to yourself

Yes, there is definitely a time to protect your nascent prize-winner from the world and let your subconscious rip. But after a while, you’re just scared. Ideas are cheap, execution is everything, and your book won’t get better until you learn how to take feedback. Find the right people though; other writers, not friends. Alex Moore would still be a weird YA Matrix-meets-Game of Thrones mess if it wasn’t for my monthly writing group. Heroes all.

  1. Read endless articles about how to finish your novel

Look, I get it. There cannot be a single writing-advice book out there I haven’t consumed, from Chuck Wendig’s brilliantly irreverent Confessions of a Freelance Penmonkey to DBC Pierre’s self-satisfied Release the Bats. I cannot pass up a tweet promising to hack my writing habits without clicking through. But at the end of the day, reading about writing is dangerously close to procrastination. No two authors write the same way. Just get your story down the page. There’ll be all the time in the world to read Aristotle once you’re drinking champagne with J.K. on your yacht.


Molly Flatt is a journalist who writes about the impact of technology on publishing, culture and identity. She is Associate Editor for FutureBook and Digital Editor for PHOENIX Magazine. Her debut novel, The Charmed Life of Alex Moore, is published by PanMacmillan in May.

www.mollyflatt.com

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