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How to Write a Novel Whilst Working Full-Time

31st May 2017

How to Write a Novel Whilst Working Full-Time
In five words: write, read, listen, yell, write.

In a few more words… Writing is hard. Writing the long, long story that is otherwise known as a novel can often feel impossible. It can feel especially impossible if you are writing around a full-time job, writing with no promise of publication, no idea where (or if) it might end. I know this because I’ve been there.

My first novel, All the Good Things, has just been published. I wrote it whilst working full time. I wrote it on the sweaty little train from Leeds to Halifax, which — mostly, barring breakdowns due to missing doors, horses on the track, missing drivers, that sort of thing — got me to work and back again.

I wrote it on Saturday mornings. I wrote it when I should’ve been doing housework. Sunday evenings. I wrote it when I should’ve been sorting my post. I wrote in rare and precious bursts of inspiration, late at night and early in the morning. I wrote when I was happy. I wrote when I was sad. I wrote when I had no idea what I was doing. I wrote because I couldn’t not.

I didn’t tell anyone what I was doing. My friends knew I wrote, but they didn’t know I was writing a novel. If anyone asked what I was working on, I said, ‘a long thing.’

Because I didn’t really think it would go anywhere; I didn’t think I was good enough. But also because the thought of other people thinking about my work put me right off it. I could see them already, pointing and laughing.

I’d read articles about other women who’d got published and think, ‘they’re so much better to me. Plus, they had a grant to finish their novel/ a trust fund/ a book deal and so had all the time/money/approval their needed. I suppose I’d better get out the hoover…’

The best method of defeating such thoughts was to a) turn off the Wi-fi and b) read. Read books that really crack open your heart. Books by women. Books by men. Books by people who are like you and totally different from you. Books that scare you. Reread the books that made you want to write in the first place. Return to that first place. By now you’ll be itching to pick up the pen. So just do it: reply.

I’m just replying to all the great books I’ve read, I told myself. That’s all. I treated it the way I treated the half marathon I ran at the same time: not worrying what time I got, only that I reached the finish line.

It was all about the experience, not what the experience looked like. To my great surprise — my hard drive is littered with abandoned stumps of novels — I finished both. Funny what you can achieve when you take off the pressure.

The other thing I did was find some writer friends. You know, other people, many of them women, who have this same, strange urge as you. We mostly have messy houses and messy hair.

Sometimes, we swap work; we criticise each other constructively. Learning to see such criticism as a positive rather than an attack is one of the most valuable things I’ve learned in the last few years.

We talk about the things we’re reading and the things we’re writing (or not writing) and lots of other things that are more to do with life than books.

But then good times with friends are not so different from good times with books: you come away feeling enlarged, refreshed, and not giving a shit what anyone thinks about you or your work.

You might even feel what women are so rarely allowed to feel: that’s it’s okayYou might even feel what women are so rarely allowed to feel: that’s it’s okay to do a thing, not because you ought to or because it will help someone else or bring in external success, but because you want to. Because you enjoy it. You enjoy it even if there are times it makes you yell.

I went on this way for eight or nine months. Somehow, I’d reached an end. A whole draft. Over 70,000 words. After leaving it to languish on my hard drive for a month or two, I sent it off to some agents. I got one. A few months and about a lifetime of worrying later, Viking accepted the book.

Getting to this stage doesn’t mean you no longer have to worry what people will think of your work; far from it. But if you’ve already reached some truce with that voice that says you’re not good enough, you’ll really grow into your edits; you’ll be able to see the difference between someone saying your work could be better and someone saying it’s no good.

But hopefully by now you’ll write because you need to and the housework can wait and there’s no shame in admitting any of this.

Clare Fisher‘s debut novel, All The Good Things, is published this week by Viking. Her collection of short fiction, How The Light Gets In, is forthcoming from Influx Press in 2018. Find out more via her website on follow her on Twitter.