Writing tips: Top authors share their best advice on how to write a book

Always dreamed of writing a book but no idea where to start? Let these book writing tips from some of the literary world's best-selling authors help you...

Book writing tip #1: don’t be afraid to embrace home comforts

Fiona Barton, British crime author whose new novel The Suspect (Bantam Press) is out now, says:

“My guilty secret is that I stay in bed to write. I have an office in the tower of my home in France, with a writing desk, lumbar-friendly chair, whiteboard, mood board, pictures and notes-to-self on the walls, but the writing desk, lumbar-friendly chair, whiteboard, mood board, pictures and notes-to-self on the walls, but the writing happens in a large double bed opposite a window looking out at a lake.

“My husband brings me cups of tea and I am so immersed in the story, I often don’t notice he’s been. I know this all sounds a bit Barbara Cartland, but there is no frou-frou bed jacket.”

Book writing tip #2: when writing about mystery, always look around for mystery

Tana French, whose new book, The Wych Elm (Viking), is out on 21 February, says:

“I think most mystery writers are always looking for the potential mystery in everything. I have ideas for books from an old suitcase in a skip, or the time we had mice. The Wych Elm was different. I was thinking a lot about luck, and how too much luck can stunt our capacity for empathy – and around the same time, I read an article about a skeleton found in a wych elm in 1943. The two things clicked together in my mind.”

Book writing tip #3: ask difficult questions

Best-selling author Jodi Picoult, author of A Spark of Light, says:

“On a normal day, I go for a five-mile walk or a run. Then I shower and head downstairs where my husband has 
a cup of coffee waiting for me. After breakfast I head up to my office. But my routine does vary. If I’m researching, I may be anywhere in 
the world shadowing someone – an abortion provider, a lawyer, an Amish farmer. When I’m writing, I am in my office from about 8.30am until 4pm.

“What inspires me are questions to which I do not have the answers. Writing is my way of figuring those out.”

Book writing tip #4: look to the people around you for inspiration

Best-selling author Marian Keyes, author of The Break, says:

“Wherever 
you are where there are other people about, there’s plenty of inspiration for the characters in your novel. Look at those people, wonder about their lives. Have fun with it. Pay attention to lines of dialogue – what 
do they tell you about them?

“Look without judgement at their appearance. Do they have a fabulous pedicure? 
Do they light up when their children come near them? People give us clues all 
the time and all you have to do is be alert. All you need 
is one characteristic to begin to build a life around them.”

Book writing tip #5: get outside of your comfort zone

Kit De Waal, whose debut novel My Name Is Leon became a best seller, says:

“Being in an unfamiliar location is gold for a writer – your senses are working overtime. Take a notebook and scribble down your first impression as you enter the wide concourses. Press record on your smartphone – capture the noises in real time. “

Journalling

Book writing tip #6: always jot your ideas down

Gavin and Stacey star and author of debut novel Never Greener, says:

“Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night and have an idea or think of a line of dialogue. I’ve learned to my cost that if I don’t write it down there and then, no matter what I tell myself, I will not remember it in the morning.”

Book writing tip #7: try listening to music

Best-selling thriller writer Clare Mackintosh, author of new novel Let Me Lie, says:

“I listen to the sort of music you might hear in a spa. I find a track and put in on over and over again for the same novel. I have it on very quietly and it instantly gets me into the right zone.”

Book writing tip #8: use pressure to your advantage

Joanna Cannon, whose second novel Three Things About Elsie is out now, says:

“The pressure of only having a half-hour break to write worked well for me [Joanna wrote her debut novel, The Trouble with Goats and Sheepwhen she was a junior doctor working in A&E]. A lot of writing is thinking so I’d do that when walking the dog or on the way 
to work. So when it came to my break, I knew exactly what I wanted to write.”

MORE: How to self-publish an ebook on Amazon

Book writing tip #9: immerse yourself in your characters

Erica James, author of Coming Home to Island House, says:

“If, at the end of the day, I know the character whose viewpoint is coming next, I make that the last thing I think of before I go to sleep and the first thing when I wake up.”

 

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