How to Write a Novel – Lessons Learned from the Cardiff Book Festival

how to write a novelI’ve always wanted to be an author, ever since I was very young and discovered what the word meant, but for some reason, I’ve never thought of it as anything more than an unattainable dream. The Cardiff Book Festival has changed that. There were two workshops, one which focused on how to write a novel, and another on how to get published, which inspired me to see it as something that could be done – a genuine possibility.   

Dan Tyte, whose debut novel Half Plus Seven was published in 2014, led an hour-long workshop on how to write a novel. There was a real mix of people in the group, from A level and University students to older folk who’d already made some progress in the world of publication. I tend to prefer poetry, but I have attempted to write a novel a couple of times in the past, I just never really knew where it was heading, and always gave up at the first hurdle. Here are three of the lessons I learned from Dan’s workshop:

1) Start by writing about something you enjoy.

This sounds incredibly obvious, but until I actually started the brainstorming exercise that Dan gave us, I’d never really thought about it before. His point was that novels take a long time to write – possibly five years or so, so you need to write about something you’re passionate about. Perhaps this was partly why my previous novel attempts came to a fizzly end…

2) Your novel might be inspired by a character.

Again, on first sight, this one looks obvious. But as I tried to imagine a character, any character, so I could actually take part in the task and not be shown up by the others, I realised that, in all my previous novel attempts, I have always written about someone very similar to myself. In fact, the character I came across, right there in that workshop (a succesful male artist in his 60s), is still standing inside my head, musing on where his story might lead him….

3) See your novel as a series of mini chunks.

novel gridThis has always been the thing that daunted me – the need to keep the writing going for what seems like forever. In fact, simple mathematics shows that a 75,000 word novel can be split into 25 x 3,000 word sections, which could become chapters. I’ve written 3,000 word essays before. I know it’s possible. Perhaps I needed to see it as just 25 essays, or 100 blog posts. I have a visual brain, and seeing the grid on Dan’s handout (a whole novel boiled down to one A4 page) made me realise just how achievable this could be…

Dan also spoke about how important it is to make writing a part of your routine, to write regularly and reward yourself for reaching milestones. The workshop was really encouraging and full of practical advice, despite the fact that it was only an hour long and poor Dan was suffering from toothache!

November is NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) – a fabulous excuse to sit down and begin. Or perhaps a New Years resolution and a new writing routine might be in order… Either way, the main thing I learned from this workshop is that writing a novel is a possibility for someone with an organised mind and enough determination and belief. Getting it published, on the other hand, is a whole different story, so watch this space for my next blog post – publishing tips gleaned from another workshop at the Cardiff Book Festival.

Visit Dan Tyte’s website to find out more about his book, and read my review of the first Cardiff Book Festival

Declaration: I received free entry to this event.