Paula Daly's top tips for debut authors

Fans of psychological thrillers will love Paula Daly's superb debut novel Just What Kind of Mother Are You?, described as 'the very definition of a page-turner', in which she combines a gripping plot with a thought-provoking examination of family life and the struggles of being a mother who goes out to work.

Here, Paula offers her advice on getting started and top tips for writing.

Ten tips for debut novelists

Just What Kind of Mother Are You?

1) Read a lot, write a lot and persevere. I've heard that the only difference between a published writer and an unpublished writer is perseverance. 

2) If you write short stories to begin with, don't be disheartened if you can't get them published. It doesn't mean you are without talent. At the moment, there is no market for short stories - be honest, how many do you read? My advice would be to write short stories to develop your skills, but if it's novels you want to write, get on with that. You learn how to write a novel by actually writing a novel. 
3) You will be rejected. It hurts, it's not nice, but it will not kill you. I deal with it by allowing myself one day. I have a big sulk and say "yes this is horrible, but tomorrow I will pull myself together and get back to work". Think: "okay, so I'm not good enough YET." It doesn't mean you will never be good enough. You are training for a new job, and most skilled labour takes three to four years of full-time study to complete. 
4) Understand what a story is. For a story to work it needs a main character with a goal and obstacles. That's it. Give you main character a really tough goal, with high stakes, who is risking a lot, and you have a thriller. But don't underestimate how important a goal is. If your main character doesn't really want something (to escape, to find love, to rescue the missing child, to win the dance contest) the reader will get bored. 
5) Get real about what stops you from writing. There is lots of advice about how to be more productive, how to avoid procrastination etc, but it boils down to this: you have to want to do it. Just like giving up smoking or losing weight, it really is down to you. You can go to a support group, or wear nicotine patches, but at the end of the day, you'll either do it or you won't. 
6) If you get stuck when writing your novel try writing down three things that must to go in the next scene for the story to move forward. 
7) Okay, this next part is a little 'if you build it, they will come' - but if your writing is good enough, and you have a good hook for a story, you WILL find an agent. Don't get fixated on how to find an agent. Even if you can trick your way in somehow, they won't sell your book unless it is a good story, well told. So focus on that. 
8) You will face lots of days when you are paralysed by your own self doubt. Instead of looking in the mirror thinking you're not good enough, try to say instead, "Why not me?" Someone has to have those publishing deals so why shouldn't it be you?  
9) Read Stephen King's On Writing (even if you don't like Stephen King's books). Read some books on plot – James Scott Bell's Plot and Structure is a good place to start. Attend workshops or do a course if you want to, but it's not always necessary. I didn't do a creative writing course because I like to learn alone – I'm faster and I enjoy it more. But if you think you need support, by all means give it a go. 
10) People say you need luck to succeed. I would say yes and no to that. There's no luck involved in slogging through novel after novel to try to improve your writing. That's hard graft. Where you need a bit of luck is when you're dreaming up your premise (or your hook). If you can come up with a great story idea that resonates, that makes the reader/agent/publisher sit up and become excited, then you've cracked it. 
11) Try not to complain too much. Remember, no one is making you do this.

paula dalyMore about Paula Daly

Paula Daly lives in Cumbria with her husband, three children and whippet Skippy. She is a freelance physiotherapist and lived for a short while in France, but returned to the UK after missing the hustle and bustle.

Just What Kind of Mother are You? is her first novel, and she is currently working on her next.



Last updated: about 3 years ago