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How do I become a novelist?

Written by Non Pratt

Did you always have ambitions to be a writer?
I started writing the books I wanted to read when I was fourteen, at which point I had a vague idea that it might be fun to do it for a living, but after university I got distracted by the idea of working as an editor instead. Although I was still writing, I thought of it as a fun hobby rather than anything else. It wasn’t until the launch party for Trouble, when every one of my friends said how great it was to have my dream come true that I realised they were right!

Why do you write?
If I go too long without writing, I turn into an unpleasant version of myself: snippy, depressed, permanently frustrated – and frustrating. Writing rebalances me.

Do you write every day?
I write most days, although there’ll be patches of time in which I’m visiting schools, talking to librarians, or speaking at festivals, and the word count on my latest project doesn’t change at all. But even if I’m not sitting at my desk, I’m still writing. Staring out of a train window is my favourite way to work through a story, even if I never put pen to paper.

Do you have a dedicated writing space to write?
I write at my computer on a sit/stand desk that I always forget to move up and down. At right-angles to this is my grandfather’s desk where I’ll sit to write things in my notebooks or plot things on Post-It notes which I then stick all over the walls around my computer. It’s a bit chaotic.

Did it take you a long time to get published? What was the process?
For most authors published by a traditional publishing house (rather than those who post writing online or self-publish eBooks) the process is this:

1. Write your book

2. Edit your book

3. Get the latest edition of the Children’s Writer’s and Artist Yearbook and mark up literary agents who deal with books like the one you’ve written, taking care to think about age range (young/teen/adult) and genre (Sci Fi and Fantasy/romance/non-fiction)

4. Submit to agents according to their guidelines

5. Sign with an agent

6. Agent submits to publishers on your behalf

7. Sign with a publisher

The only way in which my process differed was that working as an editor, I knew how to submit my work and to whom. When I met with Jane Finigan at Lutyens and Rubinstein, I knew that she was exactly the right person for me and my writing. After that, we spent a couple of months making Trouble better and then we sent it out to quite a lot of publishers at the same time. It took about two-three weeks meeting editors from different publishing houses before Jane and I decided that Walker Books was the right publisher for me.

What else do you do other than write books (if anything)?
I left my job as an editor in 2014, when Trouble was published, because I couldn’t realistically balance writing, parenting and a job as an editor. I wanted to invest what time I had in writing, but also in setting up school visits, writing blog posts for online publications (like this one!) and generally making myself as available as possible for any other opportunities that might arise, like speaking at conferences or setting up ‘Guide to Publishing’ evenings for other new writers. (I also have a fearsome Spider Solitaire habit – does that count?!)

How do you balance competing priorities? What effect does multi-tasking have on your writing?
My enthusiasm for new projects outweighs my organisational capacities – my desk is messy, my mind easily distracted and the things I take on eat into my writing time. But when I start becoming the snippier, stressier, less pleasant version of myself, I put aside anything that isn’t writing and get back to what I love best.

What are the best thing and worst things about being a writer?
So many of the best things are also the worst: I love working on my own, answering only to myself, getting lost in another world, but I hate how lonely it can be; I come back from school events buzzing with the joy of meeting students and talking about stories, but I also resent that they take me away from my desk. Humans are a mass of contradictions and I’m no exception!

What do you do when you get stuck?
First drafts are my first love, but there are times when my plot feels plodding and my sentences dull. But creativity is cyclical – you write through the bad times to get back to the good. You can always edit bad writing, but you can’t edit something that hasn’t been written.

What beliefs do you think people have about writers and are they true?
Some of the pre-conceptions people have about writers:

– We are as rich as JK Rowling (false, most published writers do not earn enough money to write full time and those who do are happy and grateful for that much – Harry Potter was a wonderful phenomenon and it’s best to enjoy Rowling’s books to read and your own books to write)

– We sit around in our pyjamas drinking tea (true, unless you’re one of those writers who works in a café, in which case I don’t think they let you in wearing your PJs).

– We spend a lot of time gazing out of the window (true).

– All you have to do is write a book (yes… but then you have to edit it, sell it and promote it).

– We are megalomaniacs, cackling gleefully as we puppet-master our characters’ lives (well… maybe, just a little bit).

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