1. Read widely and critically. At one point, I went through two books that had done incredibly well and analysed what happened, chapter by chapter. That really helped me see the shape of two successful novels.
2. Know when to stop reading. Sometimes reading other novels doesn’t help. During the first draft of my first novel, I read JK Rowling’s A Casual Vacancy and Dickens’ David Copperfield in quick succession. Funnily enough, a narrator kept intruding into my copy! When I started on the first draft of my second novel I felt completely stymied as I worried everything had been said before. Sometimes, you need silence to develop your own voice.
3. Treat it seriously. This is your job (or one of your jobs). Just because you work from home doesn’t mean you don’t work, so set yourself a designated word limit or number of hours a day. If you don’t treat it, and yourself, seriously no one else will. Similarly, invest in yourself. I am hopeless at looking after myself but have finally bought a decent chair and accepted that I need to do physio and swim if I am in this for the long haul. (And I am.) I’ve also just discovered the benefit of a deep tissue massage to soothe my hunched shoulders. It’s not a luxury; it’s a necessity to ensure I can carry on with my job.
4. Don’t get hung up on how others write. I have wasted far too much time obsessing about others’ word counts, or creative writing qualifications (of which I have none.) I’ve now realised this is irrelevant. All that matters is that I create novels that people want to read and that I keep doing so.
5. Try and hold on to your self belief. Writing any novel – but particularly a novel where you have no advance and no contract – requires such a leap of faith. You have to believe, deep down, that what you are saying is worth writing and that you can pull it off – even when the self-doubt niggles away. And when your agent or publisher tells you it’s good, or better than good, do believe them. It’s not in their interests to give you false hope or to flatter unnecessarily. Seize that praise and use it to power you through the next crisis of self confidence (of which there will be many!).
The Art of Baking Blind by Sarah Vaughan is out now.