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Writer’s retreats: Why escaping to an idyllic cosy cottage is no way to write a novel

Article by Louise Dean

The little lodge in the middle of nowhere, with a raging fire and food and drink and you inside all toasty warm looking rather charismatic putting down thousands of words of pure poetry onto a page. That ain’t going to happen.


Never. No way. Not even one day. That ‘golden time’ to write your novel? It’s not coming for you. Nope. Sorry.

So you’re going to have to buck your ideas up a bit. Don’t put off until tomorrow what can be done today! If I sound a little 1940’s, well I am thinking that today’s novelist needs to be like the war time housewife.

Think of writing your novel as if it’s war time.

I’ve got a recipe for you from the Kritikme Ministry of Novels this week. (One day, your ‘designer writer lifestyle’ might come but when it does, you’ll still be using this chicory-stained tried and tested recipe from our scrap book.)

Dig for victory. Go scrump and scrounge. 

Go get some free ingredients for your novel, bring home some rubbish. When you describe where someone lives and you want to show they’re not ‘toffs’ don’t tell me the crisp packet was blowing up the street; it’s always blowing up the goddam street. Tell me there’s a sheepskin coat over a refrigerator outside the front door. Get off your backside today and go outside and note the things that are the real rubbish out there and use them. They’re free. These ingredients will make an excellent dressing for your descriptive passage main courses.

Mock Hero Soup – based on a famous writer’s recipe.

Read writers you admire, but don’t take notes. Make a glutton of yourself on their books but don’t get yourself in a trot trying to follow their workings. You can’t write like Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Stephen King or Donna Tartt. But you can write like you. Take the big picture from them – the things I show you at Kritikme – the way characters have real lives, messy lives and don’t behave nicely or to plan. That sort of thing. But don’t nab their sentence structure or compound clauses – in other words the things that are there because they have evolved that way for them. Just swallow it whole and let it sink in. Take with Andrews Salts. Digest, and relax.

How to nail your style

How to nail your style? Well, think of  a couple of writers or books books you adore. Describe the writing style of each. Which parts do you think you share? I know that I like a jovial fatalism with occasional sentimental asides and caustic cheap-arsed remarks (Vonnegut, Coetzee and me, all me). Nail your schtick. Write it down. Take two, add you, make one.

Sentence Stew – let’s taste every ingredient please.

Check every descriptive, declarative statement you write against these:

  • Is it necessary?
  • Is it accurate and true?
  • Is it scintillating?
  • Has it never been said this way before?

Now go cook that novel in your air-raid proof hovel.

Have fun, make a mess, fail lots, and keep schtum about your work in progress!

louise dean author imageLouise Dean is an award-winning author published by Penguin and Simon & Schuster and nominated for The Dublin International Literary Award, The Guardian First Book Prize, and the Man Booker Prize. She is the founder of Kritikme.com, an online creative writing course which teaches people how to write a novel in ninety days.



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