November marks National Novel Writing Month, so we’ve asked Jacqueline O’Mahony, author of the stunning A River In The Trees, to tell us about her experiences and advice for getting started as an author.
The most important thing I’ve learned about writing is that if you want to be a writer, you have to write. Don’t wait for inspiration to hit, or for circumstances to be perfect: just write. Make yourself sit down and commit to writing for ten minutes. The ten minutes will grow to twenty, to thirty, and look, you’re writing!
Don’t spend too long on your opening sentence. Write anything to work your way into the piece. You can always go back and change your beginning: in fact, you probably will, anyway, so the faster you can get going, the better.
Half of writing is rewriting. Think of a sentence as a kind of scaffold that you create to get your ideas out. Once the scaffold is up, once you’ve given expression to the idea, you can refine and rework the sentence. The form and content should be working together, and feed into each other.
If you really want to write, you’ll do it. If you don’t, you won’t. People have done all kinds of impossible things, under extraordinary circumstances. You might be tired from being up all night with a baby, or poor, or driven half mad by sadness – don’t let anything stop you from writing. Write your way out of your life. Think of it as a tool to make your life better. If you want to write, don’t be the person who gets to the end of their life and thinks, I wanted to be a writer, but I never did it, I let it get away from me. This is the best chance you will ever have. Just write.
Read! When you’re not writing, read, and learn from what you read. If you don’t love reading, you probably shouldn’t be a writer.
Tell people you’re a writer. See it happening. People with less talent than you are writers. Be ambitious, and a little bit ruthless. Demand the time to write. Make it happen, every day.
Writing is hard work – expect it to be the most difficult thing you’ve ever done. At a certain point in the process you realise that it’s more important to be tenacious, to persist, than to be ferociously talented. Writing a book can feel like building a wall, or digging a hole. Just keep at it.
Writers are selfish, and prepared to make sacrifices. When you write, you’re observing life, not participating in it. It’s a lonely business. Steel your heart.