Laura Barnett's top tips for debut authors

Laura Barnett's brilliant debut novel The Versions of Us examines the various paths a life can follow, given the chance. Here, Laura offers budding novelists her advice on writing and how to get started.

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1. Work writing into your daily routine.

Pick a time of day - first thing in the morning, or after midnight, or on your lunch break - and carve out a tranche of it, however small, in which to write. Then use it, at least five days a week.

2. Protect that time zealously.

Turn off your mobile. Ignore the siren call of dirty dishes. You can load the dishwasher later, but you may not have another chance to write. 

3. Read widely.

Some authors say they never read other books while they're writing, but I don't understand that at all. Often, when I'm stuck on a paragraph or scene, I'll turn to one of my favourite novels to see how the writer handled a similar issue.

4. Give an idea time to take root.

Ideas are shy, fragile things: we need to take time to get to know them properly before introducing them to others.

5. Don't be afraid to attempt something different

Even if your idea falls on its face, you've still tried something original - and that's worth a lot in itself.

6. Approach agents who represent authors you truly admire

Also those whose writing you feel might be in the same ballpark as yours. Chances are that this agent will feel an emotional connection with your work.

7. Watch people

Observe the way they carry themselves. Listen not just to what they say, but to how they say it: you're creating a mental encyclopaedia of human behaviour that will prove invaluable when you sit down to write. But be discreet about it, or you may get some funny looks.

8. Research the book market

Know which books are selling well, and why, and which genreor category might best describe your writing. But don't write for the market - write what you love. Write the story that wakes you up in the morning, and won't let you get back to sleep.

9. Make sure you're absolutely happy with your book before approaching an agent.

Rejection - and we all experience rejection - is tough, so make sure you truly believe in what you've written before putting it out there. Show your work to trusted friends. Do several edits. You only really get one chance to show an agent what you can do.

10. Have fun.

Writing is hard, and exhausting, and a bad review can ruin your day. But we write because we love writing; because, for whatever reason, we feel the urge to shape our world into a form we can understand. And to be able to share that world with readers is both a privilege and a joy.

More about Laura Barnett

Laura Barnett is a writer, journalist and theatre critic. She has been on staff at the Guardian and the Daily Telegraph, and is now a freelance arts journalist writing for the Guardian, the Observer and Time Out. Her first non-fiction book, Advice from the Players - a compendium of advice for actors - is published by Nick Hern Books. Laura has previously published short stories, for which she has won several awards. 

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Last updated: over 1 year ago