How to write a novel, III. The writing habit.

In the last of these pieces, I mentioned the idea of writing as habit.  Before I move on to my next subject I’d like to return to this point.

Firstly, writing is a habit.  We have all heard of writer’s block, and many professional writers will ascribe it to arty-farty pretension or plain laziness. They rather miss the point,  The reason that professional writers don’t suffer from writer’s block is that they don’t get the chance.

As I say, writing is a habit.

The reason that professional writers do not, as a rule, suffer from writer’s block is a banal one.  They never stop writing for long enough.  Professionals rely on their writing to earn their daily bread and they must write without a break in order to survive.  It is when you take a break from writing that you open yourself up to writer’s block.  The amateur is vulnerable to it simply because he takes breaks.  He has no editor, no agent, hounding him for copy.  The hounding, the discipline, that the amateur writer requires must come from within.

Make no mistake, writing a novel requires more than talent; it requires more than ideas.

It requires determination; it requires self-discipline.  Above all, it requires sheer hard graft.

Whatever work you do, it can be much easier if only it becomes a habit. Anyone who had been unemployed for a period of months and has started a new job will know how hard those first few days back can be.  By Friday, you will likely be as exhausted as you ever remember being.  Yet by the end of the second week, you will take it all in your stride.

Writing is like that.  When you start, it is draining as well as intimidating. When you have written a great deal, it becomes much easier.  Like other work, writing becomes a habit.

How do you acquire that habit?

Well, in the last part of this series, I talked about the notebook.  This is an important aid.  It is not just there as an aide memoire, not just as a source of ideas or a melting pot, where thoughts and ideas can meld.  The notebook itself is a piece of writing.  The more you write in the notebook, the more writing will become second nature to you.

You might also try to write reviews.  If you think of trying to write, it seems certain that you are a reader.  So, when you finish a book, review it. There are many sites on-line where you can post reviews; or you can simply write them all in an exercise book you keep in the drawer in the bedside table.  It doesn’t matter what you do with them, only that you write them.

You can take a leaf out of your schoolteacher’s book.  You remember all those homework compositions: “My Family”, “A Day Out”, “What I Did in the Holidays.”  Remember how pointless they always seemed?  Well, there was a point.  They got you writing. They got you writing then and they can get you writing now.

There’s another device that can get you writing: a diary.  Don’t mess around with those preprinted things; they serve quite a different purpose.  Buy a hardback notebook, say A5 size, and set aside half an hour to an hour every evening.  Don’t leave it until last thing, when you’re too tired to think. You know that rubbishy soap opera you watch but you keep telling yourself is a waste of time?  Stop watching it, take your diary into another room and fill up two pages every night — more if you can.  Write about your day — even if it’s the same thing you wrote yesterday and the day before — write about what you thought and felt about it.  Dig as deep inside yourself as you need to to fill the space. You are learning introspection.

Introspection is vital for a writer.  You must learn to know what is inside you for every thing that you write, every character you create, every event you describe, will come from inside you.

Notebook, composition, diary.  After a few days, if you tackle all of these, you’ll start tiring and feel like taking a break.


After a few days, you will just be starting to develop the habit of writing.  If you stop now, everything you will have done before will be wasted.  You have only just started to learn to express yourself.

Perhaps, at this point, you are protesting that you can already express yourself.  Perhaps you are articulate.  Then again, perhaps you aren’t.  I have always been rather a stilted speaker — sometimes I actually stammer; I have always found it easier to express myself on paper.

It doesn’t matter.  Whether you can speak fluently or no, it is another matter entirely to do so on paper, to take your thoughts and put them down in black and white, to defeat that scariest of monsters, the blank page.

Persevere.  Keep writing, anything and everything that you can think of. After a while, you will find that you no longer have to remind yourself to write your diary, or you blog, or whatever you are writing.

Now you have the habit of writing!  Keep going; you don’t want to lose it.


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