Top Writers’ Tips

I was lucky enough to attend the seminar ‘Getting the Novel Done’ at the Mountain to Sea Festival last weekend, where Chris Binchy, Claire Kilroy and John Boyne talked about how they complete their novels. I could have listened to them all day long – they were honest, intelligent and very entertaining. If any of them are looking for a new friend please count me in!

Each of them gave five top tips on how best to write a novel. Here they are:


John Boyne: The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas.


  1. Stand up and read your work aloud to hear the rhythm.
  2. Never re-write the beginning of a story when still on the first draft
  3. Don’t attempt to write a cross-over novel. If you’re writing for children, then write for children.
  4. Know when to set a book/story aside and begin a new one.
  5. The healthier you are, the better you will write. Go for walks, eat well and watch your alcohol intake.


Claire Kilroy:   Tenderwire, All Summer, All Names Have Been Changed.

  1. Accept the first draft is crap
  2. Delete lots of little sentences that you don’t need.
  3. Seek an internal logic to the piece. Mesh the story and its characters in any way that you can. Use objects to connect.
  4. Use specific verbs. Don’t write he went, use an appropriate verb.
  5. Don’t tell anyone you’re writing a novel.


Chris BinchyThe Very Man, People Like Us, Open Handed

  1. Balance self-confidence with self-doubt. Ask yourself which attitude is appropriate for the stage you are at i.e. employ self-confidence for the first draft when you need to finish it, and use self-doubt during later drafts when you need to be critical of your writing.
  2. An edit can improve anything.
  3. When you get an idea write it down – he uses the notes pages on his phone.
  4. When plotting a first draft, keep it simple and straightforward. You can build in more complex details later on.
  5. If you want to get published, be nice to everyone – it is a very small pool and everyone knows everyone.