The Tome

(My thoughts on writing)
Set yourself up properly first. You're going to need your own little space in which to write. It could be a cupboard beneath the stairs or a table in the lounge but everyone who lives with you needs to understand that's your private space. If you have a family, don't try and write when the children or your husband/wife might need you. I tended to wait until the house was asleep and although it meant I got a lot less hours at my pillow I was able to write guilt-free and in quiet. Peace is important so take the phone off the hook and try and organise your writing time to avoid interruptions.

Organise a routine for yourself and explain to your family and/or those you share your life with. They need to support you in this endeavour so try to keep that routine reasonable. Perhaps one or two hours a day and when it least inconveniences those you care about.

Commit - Try and live to that routine. My family got used to me disappearing around 10pm when dinner was done, homework finished,conversations enjoyed, uniforms and lunch boxes sorted and everyone winding down for the night.

Set yourself goals - this could be a daily word count or it might just be a time limit you set yourself. Work hard to meet those goals and keep them realistic so you don't set yourself up for failure. If you're a working mum then perhaps only 500 words daily is feasible or if you're a fast writer then it might be more. But don't expect 5000 words daily because that's fraught with tension for you especially as children have a way of getting sick, needing you, suddenly remembering an urgent assignment and so on.

You will need a working computer too. And I'd suggest you invest in a flash drive and download every session onto that external drive so the kids can't unwittingly trash your work if you're using the family computer.

When you can, invest in your own desk computer or laptop, which is solely for your work.

Attend a course
One of the major leaps in getting started is to 'get into the mood'.  Starting a book, particularly for a brand new writer as I was just a few years ago is daunting.  Sometimes you just feel as though you need something to get you kickstarted.  That's how I felt anyway.  I found 'the zone' by attending a week long summer fiction writing seminar with Bryce Courtenay in Tasmania.

That's where I had my epiphany.  I came home, burning with enthusiasm and high on his confidence that I could so this and I wrote my first novel.  It was called Betrayal and the rest is history as they say.

I don't think without that fantastically fertlle week of intense learning, creativity, sense of purpose and yes, just the confidence boost, would I have produced that first novel as quickly or without terrifying myself with questions like "what on Earth am I thinking?"   Now although not everyone can be selfish enough to take a week off as I did from work, family, normal life (actually it was hell on my husband leaving him with twins just in their first year of school) - but even enrolling in a weekend course will do wonders.  But choose carefully.  I'd quietly suggest that you ensure the lecturer is published as a fiction writer because call me a snob but I do think it makes a difference to learn from someone who has actually leapt the great divide and made it to the other side successfully.  Then you can draw on their experience as much as learn the tools of the trade.

Make sure the course isn't too general i.e. skimming rather than focusing on important aspects such as character, plot, dialogue, pace, etc, or either too specific i.e. how to write crime when you're actually interested in writing fantasy.  Mine was a general course but we had five full days on how to write popular fiction and I learned so much that was valuable and still serves me well today.  Mind you, I was learning from a very good teacher, so be choosy and wait for the right tutor to come along.

The Rules
Rule number one in writing is: There are no rules. So don't be swayed by insistent WEA lecturers who insist that your secondary characters must do this or that or appear only so much of the time, or that you can't change viewpoint mid scene or that your lead character MUST do such and such...blah, blah.

You can do precisely what you want with your characters, your plot, your dialogue, your scenes.  This is your book.

There are, however, some very good guidelines that you can follow as a first timer until you find your own comfortable style so can I suggest you browse some bookshops and find one good book on writing that appeals to you and read it cover to cover.  There are dozens so again, browse at length and choose carefully but you can use this as your guide but not your rule book.

Mix With Other Writers
Join a bookclub, attend community writing events, join the Writers Centre, and generally get to know other writers in and around your community.  Their enthusiasm is infectious and from here you'll probably start to find valuable draft readers who'll be critical to the final manuscript you submit to an agent.  Don't be afraid to let other people read your work but choose with care - you need to trust these people's judgement and not feel uncomfortable about them offering constructive suggestions.  And listen to them.

Good luck. F

Fiona McIntosh