How to write a novel in 4 steps

It could be time to realise those literary ambitions. Award-winning Scottish novelist A.L. Kennedy reveals her 4 golden rules for a successful novel writing experience

2. Keep going

If the novel prospers you will forget all those times you really wanted to do something else. You will no longer resent those evenings, weekends and holidays blighted by typing, pondering, or fretting. You will perhaps be able to say to your children and other loved ones, “See? It was all worth it. I wasn’t just being insanely selfish, I wasn’t just staring witlessly into space while your heart shattered into wet pieces, or ignoring your urgent needs for rescue and medical attention when you were being savaged by that escaped puma in the kitchen in a bizarre and ultimately heart-breaking incident that massively increased my online sales. It’s all fine now. Isn’t it? Why are you crying?”

A. L. Kennedy on writing

'If the novel prospers you will forget all those times you really wanted to do something else.'

3. Accept criticism

If you’re lucky, your novel will be good enough to get serious comment and criticism while it’s being prepared for publication. Try and distance yourself from your emotions about the whole thing and work with people of good will to perfect what came to you – lucky you - to be expressed. Self publishing – sorry – makes you the victim of your own impatience. Going down the self-publishing route almost always involves expensively failing to be read. People who want your money will tell you the handful of success stories, concealing the ocean of unread, under-edited nonsense. In that ocean, your potentially great piece could drown silently. One day, established writers may form self-publishing collectives. Meanwhile, no short cuts.

4. Be kind

Be kind to yourself, novels are a marathon for their authors – there’s no need to get blocked if you support yourself well and plan. All work and no play really is a bad idea for Jack – he ends up trying to murder Shelly Duval with a fire axe, remember? And be kind to other people. The people you love and the people you may come to love actually do rank above any mark you will ever make on paper. Make sure you stay in touch. And although you may wish to steal your family’s, friends’ and acquaintances’ lives, their most important moments, write them down and make money out of them – a) that genuinely makes you an unpleasant person and b) this gives you no range of imaginative techniques, no practice in creating your own fiction. When you run out of people to steal from, what then? Be kind, be kind, be kind – to your reader, to others, to yourself. In that order.


Sign up to the Penguin Newsletter

For the latest books, recommendations, author interviews and more