Novel writing – What I’ve learned from an 8 year old’s story.

Last night I was sent a story written by 8-year-old Abigail. Her father was (rightly) proud and wants to encourage her writing. I was captivated by her story of the Midnight Sky which was speckled with such gorgeous descriptions that I was immediately transported to the village where the story is set.

I adore reading stories from children. There’s something very special about the way they don’t worry about structure, plots, arcs. They write the story they want to tell and there’s a huge lesson in this.

I’ve wrote back to Abigail telling her the parts I enjoyed and encouraged her to keep going but I realise now I should have added a thank you, because reading her unfiltered words which had come straight from her imagination and her heart has reminded me of a very important lesson.

First and foremost you should always write for yourself.

When I began writing The Sister the best advice I ever received was ‘write the story you want to read’ and that served me well. I had no expectations of ever finishing a novel, let alone it being published and I wrote unselfconsciously.

Writing The Gift was a different experience. The Sister was No. 1 in the kindle charts and the reviews vast and varied. I desperately wanted to please every single reader moving forward. Based on feedback I upped my pace, and then slowed my pace. Added more description. Less description. My days were spent endlessly rewriting , fighting a losing battle to this time write the perfect book.

There is no perfect book.

Releasing The Gift was even more nerve racking than publishing my debut and the relief when it reached No. 1 was immense and that brought with it a welcome change in circumstances. Writing was to be my full-time job but this came with an added pressure as it was now to be my sole source of income.

After The Gift I read the reviews and realised it’s impossible to try and please everyone and I had a period offline where I shut myself away to write The Surrogate. The reviews for this book have been amazing and I allowed myself to relax a little. But not enough.

Now, awaiting publication of my fourth psychological thriller, The Date, I’ve a new idea brewing at the back of my mind but I haven’t yet started writing and it wasn’t until reading Abigail’s story I realised why. Lately, my mind has been clouded by doubt. Is my new idea commercial enough? Will people read it? Enjoy it? Impossible questions to answer and rather than letting a story naturally evolve I’ve had potential readers at the forefront of my mind which, for me, isn’t conducive to creativity.  Thanks to the timely reminder from Abi, I’m going to write from my heart, the story that I would like to read.

15 thoughts on “Novel writing – What I’ve learned from an 8 year old’s story.

  1. This is a sobering lesson for those of us as yet unpublished – getting that initial book deal is not the end, merely part of the ongoing process and just because we get published doesn’t mean we’ll relax for the next book. Your first book did so well, it made writing the next so much more pressured! And you’re right about the lesson from Abi’s story – write what you want to read. How else will you sustain your enthusiasm through such a long process? Good luck with your next book, Louise and all of those that come after 🙂

    • Thanks Lynn. I wouldn’t change being an author for the world but there is that ‘each book has to be better than the last’ expectation and not just from readers. It’s expected in the industry which is fair and we should always strive to improve but it’s easy to lose what you actually want to say.

  2. This is a great price, Louise, and has come at a timely moment as my WIP is foundering as I second guess myself, doubting my work and wondering if anyone else will like it. For now, I just need to write it for me because it’s the story I want to tell.

  3. Write what you want to read–so true. I’ve found that any time I write (or re-write) just to please others the writing suffers, but more importantly so do I. Losing oneself in people-pleasing writing is a disaster. Thanks for this reminder!

  4. One reason I left teaching was because I was being told to teach year 1s (age 5 or 6!) to plan the structure and content of their writing before they started a story. Yes, even those who could barely hold a pencil. Introduction, development, further development, conclusion. Who are the characters, what is the setting and make sure you include adjectives/adverbs/ past tense/conjunctions… sorry, you’ve got me started. Great post for children and adults.

  5. Out of the mouths of babes. This is why I enjoy listening to the BBC’s 500 words competition entries: because the stories always have integrity. Years ago, in what seems like another life now, I worked on the WHSmith children’s writing competition and I had the same feeling then. Yes, we want to make a living, but we must tell our stories in our own way.

  6. I love your advice. I am ‘stuck’ in writing my first…. I get ideas- ideas I love- then I worry and worry and worry! Writing for myself and not worrying about the publishing…. I think that this will help me immensely!

  7. I always say that the innocence, magic,and wonder of our child counterparts is still within us if we’re willing to listen and look. Connecting with my inner child has helped me through a lot of self-doubt and past the voice of my inner critic. It’s helped me connect freely with my imagination and my creativity. We as adults can learn from s child’s free spirit, sense of adventure, and imagine without the fear of what others think.

Thanks so much for reading!

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