If you spend any time on Instagram, you have probably come across the term 'romanticize the life' on more than one occasion. I've heard it so many times, that now the very idea of it grates me on such a deep level that even writing the phrase here elicits a low grade fight or flight response. And yet is there anything more romantic than the idea of writing a novel?
For most people who embark on it, writing has been a long held dream. Something you have planned to do, and put off, and perhaps even started once or twice to no avail. It's easy to think of famous writers in their favoured spots, isolated sheds at the bottom of the garden, remote cabins buried in the woods. Then there are writer such as Victor Hugo who famously locked away his clothes so that he might finish The Hunchback of Notre Dame. But I promise you that no such place is really necessary, and there is no requirement to put some bizarre practice in place so that you might get your book written.
So, while writing is, and should remain, a bit of a romantic idea, what do you really need in order to write your first book? The truth is, not a lot. And certainly not any number of items that cost a lot of money.
Here are my top five of things you need in order to get your first manuscript written.
Oh, how we'd all like a little bit more of that, right? And of all that you need to write a book, perhaps the most important (and elusive) thing of all you should put on your list, is time. Even as a fairly quick writer, to get 1000 words on the page, you need the best part of an hour. And many of us don't have hours of spare time in the day, especially when we are maintaining fulltime jobs elsewhere. When I wrote my first book I was working as a physiologist in the National Health Service. That coupled with weekly on-call duties that sometimes required me to be watching electrocardiograms for the best part of a whole night, I sometimes found myself working in excess of fifty hours a week. Finding the time to dedicate to writing wasn't simple. So, I began with using what I had. I found that I could spare an hour each evening, straight after the washing up, and so I used that. And putting that time aside for writing had a cumulative effect. The less TV I watched, the less I wanted to watch . The more I gave to the book, the more I wanted to give.
Some of you are probably thinking, well that's great Michelle, but I don't have an hour. Okay, what about 15 minutes? Most people can find that, I think. And if you can write 250 words each day, by the end of the first week you'd have 1500 words, even after scheduling in a day off. Twelve months at that rate will give you 78,000 words by the end of the year. With fifteen minutes a day, you could go from a lofty dream, to a fully formed first draft.
This point really rides the coattails of my first point, but I think it's worth a place on the list all of its own merit. You need a routine. Let's say you have only fifteen minutes. If you don't make those fifteen minutes a priority, then they will get lost to any number of other things that demand your attention. Even now, as a full time writer, a person who is home alone every day, I have to tell myself to stick to the routine of being at my desk. It's so easy to get distracted by family/household chores/TV/responsibilities in any other area of life you can think of. You have to protect your writing time, and the best way of doing that is by making it a routine.
Many experts talk about habit formation as being easier if you can 1) maintain it for a period of time, and 2) stack a new habit onto the back of something else. If you do manage to maintain a routine for a period of time, it does get easier, but I have found the best way of maintaining that routine in the first place is to make it dependent on something I already do. So now, as soon as I make my second cup of tea in the morning, I head to my desk. There's a long list of things that need doing before that, like dog walking, school run, etc etc, but I know as soon as I complete them and make that second drink, I am at work. Just like having a start time for the office.
If you are using a smaller window of time, maybe you arrange it so it piggybacks something else, like straight after putting the kids to bed. Maybe it comes once you make your first coffee before everybody else is awake. I don't know what works for you. But if you can make writing dependent on something you have no choice but to do, i.e, when I finish X, I sit down to write, it stands a lot more chance of happening.
Who knew there were so many essential things to work as a writer. A standing desk, a pomodoro timer, a mechanical keyboard, and whatever else you come across on social media. I have either bought or considered all of these and many more at one point or another. There are so many things you can buy, or subscribe too, but you need very little of it to actually write. The only thing you really need in terms of equipment is a method of recording what you write. For most people, this will be a PC or laptop, and some writing software. For others, it could be a pen and a notepad. You could use a phone. It doesn't matter how the words are recorded, only that they are.
A dedicated space
Perhaps this is a bit of a luxury, but I include it because I think it helps. Knowing when you are going to write is one thing, but where is just as important. A place that you associate with writing, and that reduces barriers to doing it. If you have a desk you can use, laptop already there and ready to go, that's great. Just as good is a kitchen counter, or a dining room table. If you can leave out your notes or laptop, even better still. But a spot where you will not be disturbed or pulled away is ideal. Dan Brown wrote the entire outline for his international bestseller The DaVinci Code in his parent's storeroom. I think I read that his laptop was balanced either on a couple of crates or the ironing board. Hardly what you'd call luxurious. But it was his space, and his habit to go there meant he knew when he was working. Maybe your place is your spot on the train, the loo while your kids are in the bath. The car while you wait between appointments. Just know that your space needs to tell you one thing; when you are here, you are writing.
When I first announced that I was going to write a book, I was lucky that the people in my life didn't try to dissuade me. I was supported, and encouraged. But that won't be the case for everybody. But if you are somebody who does not have the support of your immediate family or friends, that doesn't mean you shouldn't go ahead and make a start. But what it does mean is that you should seek the support you will need elsewhere. If the people in your life can't find their inner cheerleader, find others who will be that for you. A writing group, either local or online, where you can join a community of other writers will do wonders for your inspiration and commitment. Follow other writers and interact with them via social media. The writing community is by its very nature a very supportive place. You will find friends who will cheer you on, even if the people closer to home do not.
There are other things you might find essential as you move through the process. Personally, silence is essential, and I have at times found voice to text software an invaluable way of getting through a period of carpel tunnel. But these five things will get you going. Next time, I'm going to list my top five things that a new writer does not need.
Until then, happy writing...