Tips for writing books: I wrote a book while in lockdown – here’s how you can, too


Last April, as ambulance after ambulance slalomed at high speed down my South London street and the evening government briefings increasingly took on the gruesome unreality of the nightmare, I survived by creating a imaginary world and withdrawing into it.

I started writing my novel The Lock In over Easter weekend, in the early throes of Lockdown 1.0, when the stillness and seclusion were both new and already felt like they were in it. had always been. I finished writing it about eight weeks later, in mid-June, just as the world was tentatively starting to open up (well, for the first time, fateful). And so the book will forever remind me of the strangest days – in more ways than one, since the idea for the novel actually arose out of my experience locked up with my boyfriend in our apartment when we both had a coronavirus last March, and spent a sweaty week dealing with our skyrocketing temperatures and taking turns crying until we got too dehydrated and needed to quit.

I subsequently wrote a column for this journal about our feverish week – I believe my hard-earned advice to those who self-isolate was to make sure they had more in the closet than a box. bamboo shoots, like us – and the next day the column was published, I was contacted by an agent, Hannah, who suggested that I consider making a book. Then the world closed. I hate cooking and the Zoom quizzes make me want to join one of those cults where they don’t believe in the Internet; so I wrote the book instead. A warning for those who would rather not relive it, The Lock In isn’t actually about the lockdown, nor is it about me and my boyfriend. The column was only a nebulous starting point.

Instead, it’s a comedy (hopefully) about three roommates, Ellen, Alexa and Jack and Alexa’s Hinge date, Ben, who all find themselves trapped in an attic, while downstairs. floor of their New Cross home filled with water. They can’t call their poisonous landlord, the kind of ordinary bully you might know if you’ve ever rented a house in London (raise your hand if you’re stuck in Generation Rent!), And they can’t break the bank. door down.

As they improvise more and more inventive ways to escape, it turns out that Ellen knows Ben from somewhere (enter: twist), and Jack tweets the whole fiasco live… Here, I’m sure my editors would agree, it seems logical point at which to stop that the book is now available as ebook and audiobook, and available for pre-order in hardback, which comes out in July …

Either way, writing the book wasn’t just a hobby; it became a release (my second favorite, in fact, after staring at a blank wall until I realized an hour had passed, but definitely before doing burpees in my room until that the neighbors are complaining).

As the world felt like it was in freefall, the routine became a survival mode: mine was working from home for this newspaper during the day – juggling Zoom calls and Slack diplomacy and how the heck to find something. something new to say about the Groundhog Days of Lockdown – and then in the evening, without the vortex of time and energy of my commute, I would write, usually with a glass of wine. No offense to daytime work, but I liked the evenings a lot more.

I’ve been a journalist for almost a decade, which involved a lot of words, a lot of stories and a lot of artificial and unflattering photographs. But unless you count the play I wrote and directed for my extended family over Christmas 1999 – and trust me, no one who saw it would – I had never written anything “creative”. previously. After years of writing a brief for my editors, there was something quite liberating about indulging in my own fantasy world. I hadn’t really planned, other than a crazy synopsis for my agent, and the most sketchy of chapter outlines. A modern commercial fiction novel tends to be between 80,000 and 100,000 words – I was aiming for around 90,000 words (and I think the finished book is around 95,000). I didn’t have a worksheet where I count my word count, or commit to a specific number of words per day – and after deciding that Googling “how to write a novel” brought up tips that made me feel inadequate and a terrible impostor (the audacity to consider writing anything, you cheat!), I stopped doing it too and went for it. What works for one person may not work for another.

It’s also very difficult to get a perspective on this while you’re at it. You’ll go on with your career, throw adjectives and create your dialogue, enjoy it all (“could this be… the best book ever written?”) And then hit a rut (“could this be… the worst book ever written? ”). The answer is (obviously) it’s neither – and the bottom line is to finish it. It goes without saying that it helped me a lot that I didn’t have much of a social life when I was writing The Lock In; I’m currently writing my second novel, and it’s much more difficult with the allure of wine on outdoor terraces and the real, human interaction. Still, I enjoy it immensely – and this time around, it still feels like a retreat.

Before publishing a book, I probably would have said that I knew a bit about publishing (I have an English degree! What else?); I now know that I had no idea how nuts and bolts work, and I’m still learning a lot. While writing last spring, I sent my agent Hannah a few chapters as I went; once I thought I had a draft finished she suggested some adjustments, then pulled it out of my hands and I went into the “submit” step. Hannah had a list of editors at various publishing houses and both large and small footprints – of people she thought were a good match for the book – and then sent the manuscript in.

The response was fairly quick – within weeks five publishers were interested, which meant the book had gone up for auction at five. In the end, I signed a two-book deal with Michael Joseph – an imprint of Penguin Random House. I am biased, but they are brilliant.

After signing the deal, there were a few weeks of using it as an excuse to go for a drink, and then it was back to work. My agent, editor, Rebecca, and I brainstormed the book, highlighting which parts of the script should be amplified and how to keep the momentum going. Rebecca provided me with an “online edition” of the book – as it seems, a line-by-line analysis of the book – and I set to work refining the manuscript: tweaking and adding chapters, and trying not to be too precious. about losing pieces that no longer fit the story (writers, eh?). With each round of edits it felt more like a real book that might one day be published.

Which is a good thing because he is now in the world. It is both exhibiting and exciting; I don’t read reviews – frankly my anxiety doesn’t need anything else to feast on – and I get a giddy feeling every time someone tags me on Twitter in case that’s something. which I’d rather not see, but it’s a thrill when someone tells you that they enjoyed it; when your sense of humor translates into something funny. And after last year, the connection seems to be the ultimate price.

Locking is available as an ebook now, or for pre-order as a hardcover version (Penguin Michael Joseph, £ 12.99)

LOSE THE PHONE: tips for finding your writing area

Thinking of participating in the Stories contest? While everyone will find their own way to get into the groove, here are some writing tips that have worked for me.

Don’t compare yourself to anyone else

The beauty of writing is that everyone does it differently. Find your own voice and don’t worry if it doesn’t sound like someone else’s. Authenticity stands out.

I might be a Luddite, but I found it easier to get into the zone when I wasn’t scrolling through hyperactive news feeds (especially during a pandemic). Ditto for WhatsApp. I would put my phone on Do Not Disturb and then leave it in another room while I tried to continue.

Lots of them – and regularly. If you are intrigued by something, step away from the screen or page and come back. You will often find that your brain has fixed the problem when you thought you weren’t.

Instead of trying to have just one epic day a week where you write seven chapters, try writing for less time, more regularly. I found I was more in the thick of it that way.

You need a draft to work with, so stick with it and put your idea in place. You can refine it later.

Now tell us your story

The Evening Standard and Netflix launch the first storytelling contest and festival. The “What’s Your Story?” Is looking for a new generation of writers with strong stories and original voices. Entries must be written (up to 1,000 words) or recorded as a video (up to two minutes), and winners will receive mentorship from Netflix and Penguin. Categories: Young adult (11-17 years old); Adult (from 18 years old). Registration closes on June 30 at 11:59 a.m.

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Book Publisher, Evening Standard


Editor and Columnist, Evening Standard

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