Monday 21 October 2019

Sinéad Moriarty's novel route to writing bestsellers

April 2010
Author Sinead Moriarty
Penguin Ireland. Photo Brian Farrell
NO REPRODUCTION FEE. April 2010 Author Sinead Moriarty Penguin Ireland. Photo Brian Farrell
Sinéad Moriarty

Sinéad Moriarty

Rejection letters punctuated the beginning of Sinead Moriarty's career. Here she writes candidly about her journey from aspiring writer to best-selling author.

Writing a novel requires two main ingredients - passion and discipline. I think that applies to anyone who achieves any goal. People often tell me they want to write a novel but can't find the time. The thing is, if you really want to write a novel, you will find the time.

Writing a book seems easy until you try. Sitting down in front of a blank screen or blank pad of paper is actually very daunting. Very few will still be ploughing on, 90,000 words later.

And even those who do manage to write a book may not get that book published. I know this from personal experience. My first two novels failed miserably to find a willing publisher.

My first novel took about eight months to finish. I was working full time so I wrote it before work, after work and on the weekends. When it was finished I sent it out full of hope and optimism… that didn't last long! It was rejected by everyone. Editors, publishers and agents around the world all said no.

I picked myself up, dusted myself down and wrote another book which I duly sent out to the four corners of the world - same outcome. Nobody wanted to publish my book. No one.

After two years of spending more money on stamps than food, and a constant barrage of rejection, I began to wonder if I should give up. I could have wallpapered my apartment with 'no thank you' letters. It was very demoralising. So I sat down and thought long and hard about why I was writing. I realised that I loved it and it was my passion and I was going to stick with it - no matter what.

But I decided that I needed help. I was really private about my writing and told no one about it. So I joined a creative writing group. It was such a relief to be with people who felt as passionately about writing as I did. The tutor gave me some great tips that I still use to this day. She told me to plot the book out. She said you should always do a chapter breakdown before starting a novel so that you don't end up going off on tangents and wasting thousands of words going down dead ends.

During the creative writing course I wrote my third novel, The Baby Trail. I finally stopped trying to write like other people. I just wrote the way I spoke. I 'found' my own voice. The Baby Trail was inspired by my own struggles with infertility so I felt very passionately about the subject matter. It's a black comedy about the crazy lengths women go to when they are trying to get pregnant and I found it very cathartic to write.

But having been rejected so many times, I was wary about sending it out to agents and editors. My tutor encouraged me and gave me the courage to try again. Within three weeks I had an agent and a book deal and my life literally changed.

When people ask me how to get started, I always recommend that they read Stephen King's On Writing. After having my first two novels rejected all over the world, I was feeling very despondent when I came across the book.

I have to admit I'm not a fan of Stephen King's novels. They just aren't a particular genre of writing that I'm into, but this book, On Writing, is a gem. I honestly think anyone who wants to write a novel should read this.

Before he became a multi-million selling author, Stephen King was an English teacher and the book is like a lesson in how to write. He doesn't waffle, he doesn't go off on tangents, his information is incredibly helpful and to the point. This is a man who believes that less is more. He doesn't waste words. He gives you his advice and guidance in a succinct and very clear manner.

He gets into the nitty gritty of writing which is very helpful. I try to write 2,000 words a day, based on his advice and it has stood me well. He hates adverbs and their overuse, which I have taken to heart.

It's the practicality of the book and the no-nonsense approach which drew me to it. King doesn't hold back, he says it as he sees it.

One of his quotes is so apt - "In many cases when a reader puts a story aside because it 'got boring', the boredom arose because the writer grew enchanted with his powers of description and lost sight of his priority, which is to keep the ball rolling".

He also believes that reading is as important as writing. He says if you want to be a writer, you need to read a lot as well as write a lot. This is so true: the more you read, the more you absorb, the more ideas come to you, the better you become at writing.

People often wonder where a writer writes. I know a lot of people who write in libraries or coffee shops but many writers also write at home. I wrote my first three novels on an IKEA desk that my husband put together for me in the corner of my bedroom. My husband has many talents, but assembling flat packs is not one of them. Thus my desk was lopsided. I had to put all papers and documents up on the right hand side as everything to the left slid off onto the floor.

This desk however was where my writing life began. I became quite superstitious about it. I was too frightened to change it. After all it was my lucky desk. What if I got a new one and was struck down with writer's block? I duly wrote my next book leaning sideways at the desk.

Eventually my back began to ache so I had to face facts and 'upgrade' to a new desk that was straight and solid. This time, I treated myself and had a desk made - not by my husband - by an actual carpenter.

I was nervous at first, but soon realised that it isn't the desk or the room or the house or the surroundings that affect your writing; it's your mindset. I have happily written six further books on my new desk.

I always find that I am calm and at peace when I'm writing. I can't wait for the children to go to school so I can disappear into my office and into my own creative world.

I try, as recommended by Stephen King, to write 2,000 words a day. I don't always achieve this, but I always feel really disappointed if I don't.

I write Monday to Friday but very rarely on the weekends. I used to worry that the inspiration would fade and on Monday I'd have lost my momentum, or that my ideas would have disappeared. But it isn't the case. They always come back and I think it's actually a good thing to switch off and do other things. It helps re-charge your batteries.

The other important thing to remember - I learnt this the hard way - is that the first draft is just that - a first draft.

I have written 10 books, some of them I had to do huge re-writes for, some of them only small re-writes. I think the biggest re-write was on Pieces of My Heart; I had to re-write half the book. When your editor says 'it's just not working', your heart sinks. Because you know that those four words mean you are going to have to do a lot of work.

But the thing about a good editor is that they will help make your book better. You cannot be objective about your own writing. You need a second pair of eyes. You need an editor's input. I firmly believe your editor should be smarter than you, mine certainly is and I am very thankful for it. Her critical eye has benefited all of my books.

So my advice to anyone who wants to write is - be passionate, be disciplined and find a good editor!

The Secrets Sisters Keep by Sinead Moriarty is published by Penguin Ireland, €14.99

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