1. Find your story. My books always spring from a question. What if? Single in the City began with the question: What happens when you take a hapless young American girl and move her to a city where she’s completely ill-equipped to live?
2. Find your voice. We’re tempted to write in a style that we like to read, but like covers of songs, the copy is never as good as the original. It took me three books to find my voice, so experiment and see where you’re most comfortable, what seems most natural.
3. When you’ve come up with the idea for your book, and have outlined it, and maybe have started writing it, then stop. Sit back and think about how you’d convey the story in a single sentence. This is something you’ll have to do hundreds of times if it’s published, and it’s something a publisher will want to be sure it can do easily too. Once you’ve got your sentence, expand it out into a short paragraph. This is the one-minute pitch, and makes sure you have a fully formed concept for a book. I only realized after I’d finished my first novel and had to write a synopsis that I’d written a book with no storyline. Save yourself the trouble of this uncomfortable discovery.
4. Get the words on the page, whether you feel like it or not. You can always rewrite later. A blank page is much more daunting than a paragraph you aren’t happy with.
5. Have a junk folder and don’t be afraid to kill the darlings. Actually that last one isn’t my advice, but I can’t remember who said it. It means that occasionally, beautiful prose will burst forth on to the page. You’ll love everything about it. You must not be afraid to cut it out, because it may not be necessary to the story. A reader will notice this, and resent you for it. But don’t delete! Save it to a junk folder, along with all the other paragraphs, phrases and chapters that you cut out in the editing process. Having this folder will give you the confidence to cut, and make your story cleaner and better. And you can always recycle in another part of the story or another book if the perfect occasion arises.