A few months ago I was tweet-hopping and landed on the action-packed Nail Your Novel run by the very fabulous Roz Morris, who has a great head of hair and lots of books under her belt (and I've been wondering whether it may be a tasseled belt, with little mirrors and folksy charms...). It so just happens that Nail Your Novel isn't just the name of Roz's online home, but is in fact her book described as 'a writing buddy' that tells you how to shape your big idea from blank page to finished manuscript. If you're already writing fiction, or have always day-dreamt about your own Jane and Rochester but don't know how to proceed, get thee here, where you can download a copy of this gem or here, where you can buy a hard copy.
What I love about this book, and about people like Roz, is the no-nonsense, confident approach to resolving issues and some of these are as pressing for writers of fiction as they are for those of non-fiction. In Nail Your Novel you'll find the five big problems that affect us all: losing enthusiasm, confidence or track, catching project-envy (I've got this badly), and lamenting a lack of time (and you know what I think of that one!). But this book doesn't simply dwell on problems to great philosophical depths, for its strength is the offering of solutions that you can implement this very second.
When I sent the link to a non-fiction writer I know, she told me that the emphasis on planning and not jumping in too early was the greatest advice anyone can receive. Thus my dear reader I urge to go and grab your copy even if you think that your book about railways couldn't possibly benefit from a bit of research into how a good novel is crafted. Read it anyway, it may just surprise you.
And now let's see what Roz has to say! Thanks very much for these answers Roz... Now I always think of you every time I need to leave my desk and clump all the way to the frontdoor in my wooden clogs!
What is your idea of perfect writing?
Great writing always has something in it that inspires me to write. I guess the love of communicating through words is infectious.
What is your greatest writing fear?
Letting something go before it's properly finished. My stories come up to me like Chinese whispers. I spend a lot of time deciphering the pieces and putting them together. My novels take a lot of drafts, and I'm always finding something I can hone and improve. I let them go reluctantly.
What do you consider your greatest writing achievement?
Hard to say as I'm proud of all the novels I have out in the world. I suppose I should say that finding my last ghosted stories had sold half a million copies was pretty cool! But what beat me was getting reviews on reader forums that say, 'I LOVE these books, please write some more!'. Even though my name wasn't on them, that kind of reader response is pretty hard to beat.
What is the writing tendency you most deplore in yourself?
Overcomplicating. I am forever reminding myself to see the simpler motivation, explanation or consequence.
Which living writer do you most admire?
Woody Allen. He never stops coming up with ideas and is such a clever storyteller.
What is your greatest writing extravagance?
Very high-heeled shoes. I can't walk in them, but I can sit at my desk in them. However, I have a kneeling chair and untangling to answer the front door is at best undignified and at worst dangerous.
What is the quality you most admire in somebody else's writing?
The ability to make the writing transparent so that I feel I'm surrounded by what is happening, not reading a line of words about it.
What or who is your greatest writing love?
Once I've got the structure right, and a draft with all the elements I need, I get to my favourite part – honing the exact way the story is told. For me, the telling is everything.
When and where were you happiest with your writing?
I find writing is a constant process of little battles and triumphs. So yesterday I was happy to write a paragraph that really connected me to one character's feelings for another.
If you could change a thing about your writing, what would it be?
I would have started ten years before I actually did, then I would be ten years better at it now. And I would not have to remind myself to stop using the word 'suddenly'.
What is the most marked characteristic of your writing?
I have an overdeveloped taste for drama and strangeness, or so my friends tell me. So I guess these would be defining characteristics.
Who are your writing heroes?
Have I got time to list everyone on my bookshelves?! But I most admire writers with a bit of a cheek and panache – Alastair Gray, Anthony Burgess (who once wrote a line, 'Clean-shaven Tristan mouther "goodbye" fishily').
How do you hope your writing will be referred to as long after you've gone?
I hope people will say, 'I loved that book'.
What is your writing motto?
Make the reader care.