Ahead of the release of his new book The Sins of the Father, we caught up with author Jeffrey Archer to ask him about his thoughts on writing, and what tips he has to offer those who aspire to produce novels of their own.
“I have long believed that it is not possible to teach ‘creative writing’,” he told HuffPost UK Culture.
“You can teach a person how to write, by teaching nouns, verbs, adverbs etc, but the ability to tell a story is a God-given gift, just as it is for a painter, a ballet dancer, or a violinist.
“However. Even if you have that gift, the demands on you to write a successful novel are numerous.”
Jeffrey Archer’s top 10 tips for writing:
1. Make time
“Decide when you’re going to write. Don’t be casual and only do it as and when it suits you. Don’t think you can write a novel after you’ve done a hard day’s work, it’s insulting to those professional novelists who spend their time doing nothing else.”
2. Be disciplined
“For example, I write from 6-8am, 10-12am, 2-4pm, 6-8pm. I keep that routine up for 40-50 days and handwrite every word. I then take a break and go back to it again a month later.”
3. Write what you know
“Don’t do vampires, wizards or ghosts because they’re in fashion. Jane Austen wrote about family life in a small village and gave us six of the greatest novels ever written.”
4. Get some fresh air.
“I go for two long walks between sessions, for two reasons, physical and mental. The plot will buzz around in your mind while you are walking, continually churning over, which it can’t be while you’re actually writing.”
5. Do several drafts
“Do not imagine that the first draft of your book is the one that will be published. My latest novel, The Sins of the Father, was 14 drafts and took approximately 1000 hours.”
6. Be flexible
“If you think of something better half-way through the writing process, don’t be frightened to go back and incorporate it or even change the story completely.”
7. Seek opinions from professionals
“When you want an opinion on what you consider the finished script, seek it from a professional editor, an agent or someone you don’t know, through a third party. Do not seek an opinion from your wife, husband, partner, mistress or close friend. They will lie.”
8. Read the greats
“There is no substitute for reading great novelists, and instead of just enjoying their craft, think carefully about how they’ve achieved it? Do they spend pages on description, do they move the story on quickly, how do they make you turn the page? It’s all there in front of you if you look carefully, so at least when you try to do it, you have analysed how successful authors have managed it in the past.”
“If the body is a physical wreck – too much drinking, smoking, late nights – how can you expect the written word to be anything less than drunken, useless and tired?”
10. Don’t give up
My first novel, Not a Penny, Not a Penny Less, was turned down by 14 publishers, ended up with an advance of £3,000 and on first printing took a year to sell 3,000 copies. It is still extremely rare for a first book to be a bestseller.