If you are thinking of entering the Debut Crime Dagger (UK) or the NaNoWriMo (International) this year or next, or just aching to finally get started on your first novel — then bookmark this blog as, over the next few months, I’ll be providing you with the key elements you need to start writing your first novel.

Right now you may be feeling a little overwhelmed, wondering where on earth to start.

Firstly, relax. The average novel is approximately 90,000 words, but they don’t all have to be written this week, or even by the deadline whether it’s the end of November or the end of February. In fact, like all projects, whether at work or at home, if you break it down into manageable chunks it immediately becomes less psychologically overwhelming and less likely to induce writer’s block whether you commit to 500 words every second day, or 2000 words every Sunday you will most likely be half way through the novel by the end of February (which is, of course, the Debut Dagger deadline). If you are hoping to battle through NaNoWriMo which is the writerly equivalent of the Iron Man but hopefully with a less painful outcome, then you’ll want to check back in here for my NaNoWriMo blog.

Whatever it is, commit to it.

The aim is to be relaxed but focused

Think about all the places/times in your day/week you might be able to carve out a bit of author-time. It might mean sacrificing your social media addiction or your favourite Netflix show, but it will be totally worth it when you can type The End on your first novel. When I worked for a major film & tv studio I used to get up earlier than usual and go to a café near work and write for an hour or two before heading into work. All those early morning writing sessions resulted in me finishing my first screenplay (after many redrafts). I was lucky enough for it to then garner industry acclaim, screenplay awards, getting optioned and many years later resulted in me being invited to attend the illustrious BlackList Labs in Vegas through whom I am now developing it. When you sit down to put in the hours, you never know where that work will get you: maybe to be an older, wiser author or a published or produced author. Unless you put in the hours, you will never know.

Scottish author S J Holliday has great advice for debut authors :

“Don’t be precious about how/where/when to write. Try for several short bursts of writing in a day and the words will soon stack up.”

Just get the words down and keep going. You can’t edit a blank page. i find my best ideas and plot twists come up as I’m writing my first draft – once I get to know my characters a little, they often dictate how the story should go too.

Best-selling crime author Mel Sherratt’s words of encouragement for debut authors.

So, check your calendar and carve out your author-time over the next few months. Do it now so it takes precedence. Tell everyone who needs to know: your partner; the kids; maybe even your boss (especially if you’re hoping to write at lunchtime at your desk without getting fired) so they can support you in finding the author-time you’ll need. To prepare, think as much as you can in your day about your characters and your story, developing them in your head rather than in front of a blank computer screen — the more you do this the more you will get out of those moments when you finally get your author-time in your favourite coffee shop.

Start now. Find the time. The only thing stopping you writing is you. It’s free!

Words of encouragement for debut authors from best-selling award-winning Irish author Liz Nugent.

I often find it much easier to write away from the demands of home, although it’s not always easy to escape — this might be as simple as going out into the garden, finding some winter sun and cracking open the laptop or heading off to the local coffee shop armed with some earphones and the Evernote app on my phone. One friend, the fantasy author Tarn Richardson, writes in his car whilst waiting for his kids school rugby games to end. Whatever and wherever it is, this is your time, time for you to escape to another world, even if it’s only on paper.

As most authors will tell you it’s not the writing part that is ultimately the issue, it’s the thinking part, that’s where the really heavy lifting is done and the best way to avoid sitting down to write with your mental tank on empty. So, ensure you also find time to think. Try and let your project take over your thinking time during all those tedious chores whether it’s running on the treadmill at the gym, unloading the dishwasher or zoning out to survive the school play or the weekly team meeting. The more you think about your characters and your story, the more you will get out of those moments when you finally get your author-time in your favourite coffee shop or hiding out in the kids’ Wendy house with your laptop.

Next time I’ll be looking at character and story and how you might find your way to both.

In the meantime, if you want to take a look at my notes on character, they are available to download here in the Red Carpet Writers Club.