Want to write a book? Just do it

Exciting times at The Lighthouse! Cat Clarke’s new book, The Lost and the Found, is out in July (and it’s stunning – buy a copy!). In same month, my very first children’s novel, Elspeth Hart and the School for Show-offs, hits the shelves. All this writing has got me thinking.

For me, the hardest part of writing is taking off my editor’s hat and not critiquing every sentence as I write it. Honestly, I didn’t think this would be a problem when I started writing children’s books. I have written for so many years (journalism, poetry, short stories, copywriting, blurbs, stakeholder reports, you name it) that writing feels like a completely separate experience to the experience of being an editor. Surely, I thought, it would be simple. I’d just switch off the editor part of my brain when I wanted to write some more of my book.

Man, I wish it worked like that. Some days the writing feels easy, but on other days, my internal monologue as I write goes something like this:

  • Are you sure that’s the right word? You can think of a better word than that.
  • Should that be a semi-colon? No, make it two sentences. Semi-colons are too complex for this age group.
  • Is this a boring bit of dialogue?
  • Is this scene rubbish? Should I cut it?
  • Is that adverb really necessary? You’re always telling people not to use adverbs.

As you can imagine, all these brain shenanigans are most unhelpful. They slow me down when I should just be enjoying the writing. The whole process made me believe even more in something that I’ve said to many writers over the years: write your first draft as mindlessly as possible. Some people plot carefully, with chapter breakdowns and a clear idea of what’s going to happen, and that’s great. But even if you are one of these organised people, try to let your story flow on the first draft. Be fast… don’t worry about picking the perfect word… ignore your typos. Just do it. Have fun and keep going. The perfect-word-hunting and improving and honing and rewriting can come with draft two.

I’m off to try to take my own advice now (easier said than done!). And if anyone with 7-9 year old children is in Edinburgh on 9th May, do come along to the Elspeth Hart launch in Waterstones Princes Street at 3pm. All welcome, and I’d love to meet you!

About Sarah Stewart

Sarah Stewart is a Director at Lighthouse Literary. She was previously Fiction Editor at Scholastic Children's Books and a Senior Editor at Floris Books, and she writes the Elspeth Hart series, published by Stripes.