In the past few weeks there has been plenty of support in the student press for ****, or, The Anatomy of Melancholy, for which I am very grateful. One of my favourite articles / most useful to a wider audience was a short piece I wrote for The Stag – a great fortnightly newspaper – on the topic of writing a novel while studying. I only had 500 words, but I hope I managed to get some useful points across – let me know if you agree or not! The full transcript is below, or you can click on the image to view the original article:
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Student Author and Well-Known UK Book Blogger Matthew Selwyn on Novel Writing Tips & His Novel: ****, or, The Anatomy of Melancoly
How to Write a Novel (While Studying)
So, you want to write a novel? Yeah, good luck with that. If you’re trying to write a novel while studying (or doing anything else that requires ridiculous levels of commitment – you know, like trying to watch all of Breaking Bad before your Netflix free trial expires) then you’ll get a lot of this sort of scepticism. Ignore it – with a little planning, you’re more than capable of completing a novel and your degree without either falling by the wayside – I did, and I’m a bumbling idiot, so you’ll be fine. Here’s how.
nb. These are my quick and easy tips for writing a novel. I’m not going to give you advice on the craft of novel writing; on how to write a good novel, or even a readable one. I’m going to give you tips on the purely practical: getting your words onto the page. The rest is up to you.
(1) Write something you’d want to read There is always something ready to distract you from writing, whether it’s Facebook (you know, because if you’re not logged in for at least four hours a day you don’t really exist, right?) or that pesky coursework you’ve been putting off for weeks. The best way to guard against distractions is to make sure you’re enjoying the writing process. The only way to do that is to write something you’d enjoy reading.
(2) Have a (realistic) plan Set yourself word targets, but make them realistic: a novel is a long-term undertaking, so respect that. In November I tried to write a novel in a month (NaNoWriMo, anyone?) and was burnt out after a week. Resist the urge. If you can write 1,500 words a week (that’s only 200-ish words a day) then you’ll have an 80,000 word novel in a year’s time. That thought should be more than enough to sustain you.
(3) Writer’s block isn’t a thing There are varying opinions on the function of writer’s block in the creative process – I prefer to think of it as a sign that you’re still formulating ideas, rather than it being a procrastination tactic – but whatever it is, don’t let it be an excuse to skip a writing session. Some days the words will come easier than others, but they will always come. Writing is discipline.
(4) On editing The temptation for most writer’s is to edit their work as they go. Don’t do this – you’ll end up spending so long beautifying your prose that your productivity will drop to zero. Instead, set a particular milestone at which to edit your work (maybe every 20,000 words) and do it in a concentrated period.
(5) Don’t get swept up in being a writer You’re writing a novel; it’s exciting, I know. But if you spend all your time boasting to friends about how much you’ve written, posturing in coffee shops with your MacBook Air, and hunting down the perfect elbow patches to complete your ‘writer’s look’, you’ll never get any actual writing done. Being a writer is not a lifestyle choice. It’s a job, or a compulsion, depending on your bent. Either way, it’s not glamourous.
So there you go, some quick tips on getting that first novel down. As much as I believe in these tips the truth is, there are no rules to novel writing: if it works for you, it works. So sling this article aside, pull up a laptop and let’s get this thing on the road, you lovely word-fanciers. Here’s to your first novel – see you on the other side.
About the Author
Matthew Selwyn is a young writer from London. A student interested in the relationship between mental illness and technology, he also works in an academic library and runs one of the biggest personal book review sites in the UK (www.bibliofreak.net).
“The subtle and eerily accurate texture of mental illness that spills out over [****, or the Anatomy of Melancholy’s] pages is remarkably relevant: a very modern interpretation of a long existing malady. The powerful blending of depressive and addictive responses to a marvellously rendered reality makes this a remarkable and frighteningly prescient read.”
Reality is overrated. Sex, love, power, life: it’s gone digital. Why settle for a girlfriend with cellulite? Why spend every day working a dead-end job? These are the new days, the infinite days: plug in, get connected. Life is porn, porn is life, don’t accept anything less than the electric light show that is our digital reality.
At the end of every computer screen, a mind is being formed on the material coughed up by the web that connects us all: this is the story of one of the internet’s children, told from his own warped perspective. This is the millennial generation, the Y generation: we’re horny, lonely, afraid, and self-confident. This is our story, our reality.
Thrillingly inventive and powerfully engaging, ****: The Anatomy of Melancholy is a timely examination of life and masculinity in the digital age, a study of loneliness and mental decay, and a satire on the consumption of literature of disaffection. Brutally honest and darkly comic, it is a very modern novel about a very modern life.
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I’m very grateful to everyone who has published articles about the book and me so far, and I’d love to know what fellow writers think of my quick tips here: do you agree, or would you recommend something different?