Image from Flickr by Jonathan Rolande

Back in December 1998, I spent my 14th birthday money on Nigel Watt’s book Writing a Novel and Getting Published.

And for quite a few years, my dream was to be a full-time fiction author.

Not everyone has the same writing dream, of course. But perhaps the most common, generic, one looks like this

I make a good living writing what I want to write.

In many ways, it seems a pretty reasonable dream. Of course, I doubt you’d say “no” to being on the New York Times bestseller list (I know I wouldn’t) – but you might well be very happy about doing something you love and getting paid for it, enough to live comfortably on.

In 1998, the path to achieving that dream looked something like this:

  • Step #1: Write a book; finish it.
  • Step #2: Send it to agents; get an agent.
  • Step #3: Agent secures publishing deal; writer lives happily ever after.

As a 14 year old (and indeed as a 20 year old), that’s what I thought would happen. That was the dream.

It may well have been your dream too, or perhaps still is.

My first novel floundered at Step #1; my second went out to agents and failed to secure more than momentary interest.

After a hastily abandoned attempt at a third novel, my fourth, Lycopolis, was the first I was truly proud of. And I decided not to go down that well-trodden path again.

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Image from Flickr by Images_of_Money.

Should you pay for help with your writing? And when in your career should you do so?

These can be really tough questions to face. After all, you probably want to make money rather than spend it. Unless you’re already a well-established writer, chances are you’re not making much from your writing and you’re relying on a day job to make up the difference.

Yet, without investing at least a bit of money, you’ll probably find it tough to make any progress at all.

Here’s what I’d suggest you spend your money on, from cheapest to most expensive, in order to produce the best work you’re capable of.

Quick note: I’m only covering the writing/editing stage here, so I’m not looking at people who can help you publish (book formatters, cover designers) or people who can help you market your published book. I’ll get to that in a future post!

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Image from Flickr by dadblunders.

There are several perfectly good ways to structure a story in terms of viewpoint, but (probably) the more common ones are:

  • A single first-person narrator, as in Florence and Giles or 600 Hours of Edward.
  • A main third-person narrator plus occasional omniscient narration, as in Harry Potter.
  • Several third-person narrators, as in The Song of Ice and Fire series, some getting considerably more “screen time” than others.

In this post, I want to think about stories where the narrative is split pretty much equally between two characters.

I’ve come across more books like this in recent years and wonder if it’s becoming a more popular viewpoint choice. (I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on this in the comments!)

Here are some examples of books that are structured in this way:

Gentlemen & Players by Joanne Harris ( / – the narrative is divided between two first-person narrators; the identity of one of these is concealed, though hinted at.

The Chaos Walking trilogy by Patrick Ness ( / – a particularly interesting one as the first book has one first-person narrator, the second book has two, and the third book has three.

The Help by Kathryn Stockett ( / with three first-person narrators, Aibileen, Minny, and Skeeter, all with a different voice.

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn ( / – with two first-person narrators, their narratives combining to give two sides of the story.

Those are all first person examples. Of course there are plenty of third-person narratives split between multiple viewpoint characters, but they tend to be more likely to give some viewpoints considerably more screentime than others, and/or segue into an omniscient perspective.

A good third-person example that works in a similar way to the first person ones above is my friend Nick Bryan’s Hobson & Choi series, where the third-person limited viewpoint switches back and forth between the two titular characters.

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Image from Flickr by jeff_golden.



What do those words mean to you?

Some writers would have you believe you can’t write a word without them.

Others think they’re unnecessary: you just sit down and write, regardless of how unenthused you feel.

Personally, I think the truth is somewhere in the middle.

Inspiration and motivation matter. They make your writing better. On your best days, they make writing almost effortless – and irresistible.

But … sitting around until the muse descends and the stars align could mean a very long wait.

In a moment, I want to get into practical ways you can harness inspiration and motivation – but before that, let’s clarify those terms.

“Inspiration” and “motivation” sometimes get used almost interchangeably – particularly in the context of “inspirational quotes” or “motivational quotes”.

In a writer’s life, though, they’re two different forces with different roles to play.

Inspiration is about ideas. You might feel inspired by a line of poetry or a blog post or an article in the newspaper: it sparks off an idea for a short story or blog post or article.

Motivation is about drive. It’s the urge to sit down and write, or to carry on writing when you’re half-way through the chapter or blog post you want to finish.

Inspiration can happen in a moment: motivation’s something that lasts longer.

Of course, the two often go hand-in-hand. You have a great idea (could be big – a whole novel; could be small – a line of dialogue). You feel enthused about sitting down to write about it. You jump in and then you want to keep going.

Can you write without them?

(Though, arguably, some level of motivation always exists, if you’re getting a task done – even if your only motivation is to be able to cross it off your to-do list.)

Will your writing be as good as it could be without them?

It might still be perfectly adequate. In many cases, that could be all you need: perhaps you’re writing something for your job or for a client, and you just need to convey information.

But in many cases, if you’re not inspired, you’re going to turn out something that’s somehow lacking heart. It might be a competent short story – it’s not going to be a competition-winner.

And if you’re not motivated, you’re going to struggle to ever reach the end of a project, especially if it’s a long one, like a novel.

Can you manufacture inspiration and motivation?

Well, most of us can’t simply sit down and decide to feel inspired and motivated … but there’s a heck of a lot we can do to hurry the process along.

To get inspired, try:

You might read about writing, or you might read something similar to what you want to write (a novel in the same genre, a blog on the same topic).


This might seem like an odd thing to do when you’re feeling totally uninspired – but set a timer for ten minutes, and sit down with a pen and notebook and start to make notes about your project.

What are you stuck on? What do you need to know? What could happen in your novel? What might work on your blog? Before the ten minutes is up, there’s a very good chance you’ll have hit on a new idea.

Taking a course.

This could be a pricy – but very effective – option. A few years ago, the summer before I started my MA in Creative Writing, I was rather worried. I’d been blogging for six months and had (I thought) completely lost the desire to write fiction.

A couple of weeks into the MA, I was raring to go – working first on short stories, then getting up the courage to begin (and, later, finish and publish) the novel I’d been thinking about for years: Lycopolis.


Motivation may well naturally follow on from being inspired – but if not, here’s an extremely easy two-step plan to follow:

Step #1: Open up your writing notebook or Scrivener project or Word document (etc).

Step #2: Spend a couple of minutes jotting down a brief plan for whatever you’re about to write.

More often than not, you’ll find that your initial resistance to writing vanishes almost instantly. It’s a bit like exercise (for me, at least!) – once you’re over the initial hurdle of getting started, it’s easy to keep going.

If you haven’t written for a while, or haven’t been writing much, you might feel keen to keep going. Hang onto that.

My best, easiest writing comes when I’m working on a project regularly – not necessarily daily, but more than once a week. Once I’m moving, I want to keep it that way.

If you want to keep up your momentum, try:

Putting an “X” on the calendar each day that you write.                                

Some writers find it incredibly motivating to build an unbroken chain of Xs; others go for a gentler approach and aim for two or three per week (perhaps building up gradually).

Planning writing sessions well in advance.

If you suddenly end up with a busy couple of weeks and no time to write, you’ll lose momentum. Plan ahead – get writing sessions onto your calendar, and mark them off as you complete them.

Keeping a writing journal.

A writing journal is simply a notebook (or electronic equivalent) where you jot down a sentence or two at the end of each session, noting how your writing went. You can record facts (words written, time spent writing), feelings, and even any new ideas that came to you.



If you’d like plenty of encouragement and support (as well as loads of materials to inspire you and suggestions on staying motivated), check out my community / teaching site, Writers’ Huddle.

Membership is only open for a few more days – I’m closing the virtual doors on Friday 12th June and won’t be reopening them until the autumn.

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