How To Write a Novel During Lockdown
When lockdown began I saw so many memes and comments on social media saying how now was the time to ‘write that novel’ and ‘learn a new language’. But I genuinely have written a novel during the lockdown. Today I thought I would share my story and my advice on how to write a novel during the lockdown.
How did I write a novel during the lockdown?
I am a writer. First and foremost that kind of helps, but writing a novel when you’re not already a writer isn’t impossible – far from it. It will just take time.
I wrote my latest novel Asking for a Friend (working title) in three months. I started in late February 2020 and finished the novel on the 24th May 2020.
Being in lockdown was actually beneficial to me as I was able to sit for weekends at a time and bash out 10,000 words. I didn’t have to fit writing into my working day because I was socialising or travelling. I could sit in my room without being disturbed and not feel guilty for ‘not going out’. There was no writer’s guilt – which trusts me, is a thing!
Also, being in lockdown meant that I needed a distraction and writing a story is the perfect distraction. You can enter a world or storyline that’s completely separate from what’s happening right now, and it’s a great project to keep you occupied and stave away boredom. Plus, it’s a lot easier to remember your plot lines, characters’ names and ideas in a short space of time than it is over weeks and weeks – particularly if you don’t plan, like me.
Give yourself time
I found shutting my door to write – without telling myself I have to write 5,000 words or need to finish a chapter – was the best way to write. Everyone is different and some people need the structure and discipline that comes with setting goals and word counts.
For me, I would rather give myself time to write and let ideas flow without the pressure. I also don’t plan, whereas a lot of writers have to have their stories completely structured from beginning to end before they even start writing. I’m a free writer.
You need to find your groove and test out various ways of writing to find out how writing works best for you. But to do these tests you need to give yourself time. Unless you’re Stephen King, no one sets out to write a novel in three months. They write a novel in however many days/months/years it takes them to write a novel.
Brain-Dump or Write Short Stories
If you’re in need of an idea, but struggle to find them when staying indoors my best advice is to brain-dump all of your thoughts or to write a short story. Many of my novels have begun as short stories from university. Also, I like to use family anecdotes as a starting point for a novel.
The idea for my latest novel began with something my best friend said to me when we went out drinking to celebrate her birthday
When I look for a man, I look for you with a penis.
That one line has spawned a 90,000-word contemporary fiction novel, currently with my agent. You never know where an idea will spark. Sometimes it is when you’re travelling, socialising in the pub or relaxing on a beach. But ideas don’t just stop because you’re indoors or in need of one.
Find your motivation
Motivating yourself to write is difficult. This is probably the thing I struggle with most – but the irony is that as soon as I start writing I struggle to stop. Because I know this sometimes that’s all the motivation I need.
Other times I need to find a new source of motivation. For me, this can come in many strains:
When I was writing my latest novel I discovered Authortube on YouTube. It’s a network of writers who share their writing journeys via videos. I particularly enjoyed watching Writing Vlogs and Write With Me videos because they motivated me to write myself. It was also a good support system for new and established writers and well worth checking out if you’re starting to write a novel.
While it’s easy to get distracted by a good novel, it’s also good motivation to write your own. When I write my novels I tend to read a look of books in the same vein of the story i.e. contemporary fiction if I’m writing contemporary fiction, or historical fiction if I’m writing historical fiction. This can be a good motivator as it reminds you what your aim is: to get published/be read etc
Watching Films/TV shows about writing
I know that watching shows/films about writing sometimes gives me the kick up the arse to write a bit more. It’s exciting to see and kick-start my imagination to think what life will be like as a published writer (even if the truth is far from what shows/films portray it as!)
I seem to change writing tools for each novel. With my novel My Mr Keats I wrote a lot of it by hand, typed it up and then wrote a bit more on the computer. Then, later, I would go back to writing by hand, typing it up etc. It was a system.
For my latest novel, I wrote solely on the computer, I only wrote three pages by hand and that was for a chapter I was particularly struggling with. But for the book before this one, I wrote it solely by hand in Cath Kidston notebooks and then typed it up.
Sometimes, changing up your writing tools can help, but no matter what at some point you’re going to need access to a computer.
Find a support system
I’m very lucky that I have a literary agent who is a bit of a personal cheerleader for me. I also work in publishing, and my boss is Phoebe Morgan – the author of The Doll’s House, The Girl Next Door and more recently The Babysitter. Having a fellow writer as a boss is great! She’s extremely supportive and the best person to speak to when it comes to writer’s block, routines and word-counts etc.
Phoebe was also writing a novel during the lockdown and we both finished our first drafts within a few weeks of each other, so during that time it was great to discuss and share our support for each other.
You don’t necessarily need to have an agent or even friends that write to have a support system though. You can utilise social media, Authortube on YouTube and online communities with other writers. There are newsletters with weekly writing prompts, motivational memes and more.
Put yourself out there as a writer and find your tribe, it can be really helpful as a motivator but also for getting advice, swapping story ideas and figuring out plot twists.
No one can write a novel unless they actually write something. It doesn’t need to be perfect. I think there is a misconception with regard to writing a first draft that it has to be the best thing ever written, but that is absolutely false. Your first draft is a massive achievement but it’s only the beginning.
I tend to edit and re-draft my novel about eight or nine times, and while that sounds like an untenable process it’s not. An edit can take two days – i.e. proofreading for spelling mistakes and grammar – and others can take weeks i.e. a structural edit where I move the plot around and re-thread it again.
Editing is just re-writing after all. But when you have a first draft, no matter what condition it is in, you will have written a novel. So get writing!