You know what? This post is mostly a checklist to myself to keep me on the straight and narrow, but if it helps you – great! So, here goes:
This might seem self-explanatory if you wish to be a writer, but you wouldn’t believe how many writers I’ve met who have said they don’t read much; instead they want to write the books that haven’t yet been written. It’s true that a prime motivation of a writer is to write a story that hasn’t yet been told, but in order to become good at your craft, a writer should read often and widely. My preferred genres to read are psychological fiction books and supernatural horror, but recent reads have included Sci-Fi/dystopian and Urban Fantasy.
I would be lying if I said I wrote everyday; having a young child often means that childcare takes priority. When I have time to write, I try to squeeze in a minimum of a paragraph. I don’t tend to set time constraints, as I find that a rather rigid and inflexible aim. Instead I aim to progress the plot by even a smidgen; I also count cutting parts that I feel irrelevant to the plot or characterisation as progress towards the ultimate goal of finishing a novel-length manuscript.
Use your chapter plan:
In my blog post on Outlining and planning a novel, I talked about the importance of using a notebook to plan chapters, characters and research. I always refer to my chapter plan notes to avoid straying from the main storyline (one or two red herrings can enhance a story. Too many can detract from the plot and annoy the readers). Once I have finished a chapter I tick it off in my chapter plan notebook and mark the date. Doing so also makes for a satisfying record of completion.
Once finished, find yourself an editor, or at the very least a competent second set of eyes to look over your work and catch mistakes. I find that after six months or so of writing a first draft, I ‘burn out’ on the story in the sense that I can no longer see the flaws. A good editor will lovingly point out any inconsistencies in the plot, characterisation in addition to spotting any typos. All writers need an outside perspective to improve their work.