The ideal idea. How to get started writing a novel.

In all the excitement of writing novels, short stories, blogs and setting up a website, I’ve neglected to write anything new about the writing process itself.

With my latest novel, Counterbalance, ready to be submitted to agents, it’s time to look back at the process I have gone through and see if there is anything interesting or useful to aspiring writers out there.

My last blogs about the writing process were when I was in the middle of writing Idle Threats. My process had changed since I wrote Leg It and it has changed yet again so I think it would be helpful to break the process down into stages and show how my approach has differed over the three books.

As always, this isn’t the ‘right way’ to write, it is just what works for me. Every writer will find a way they are comfortable with but hopefully you find it of some use.

We’ll start, as seems logical, with the idea.

The Idea

Leg it was written fifteen years ago so it’s difficult to remember where the idea for the book as a whole came from. I remember having a very clear vision for the ending paragraphs, almost a cinematic scene in my head and I started from there. I don’t think the idea for the school years came until I started writing the book itself.

Leg It

I knew I wanted to write a book, I knew I could be funny but I was also very naive when it came to writing and I suspect I just stumbled on the idea at some point during the process.

When I published Leg It in 2011, I got the bug for writing again and was keen to get started. I suspect I jotted the original idea for Idle Threats down in a long lost notebook, if you find it I suspect that it will be worth millions.

The notebook itself was ‘free’ in a very smart Barcelona Hotel I once stopped in and it had guides to various cities around the world as well as my scribblings. Whilst all my notes are jotted down online now, I do miss the notebook as it made me feel like a proper writer. If anybody finds it (looks like the one below) there will be a pint in it for you.


The idea was very simple ‘Armed siege in a call centre’ and it was only when I started getting feedback about Leg It and ‘fans’ were asking to see more of specific characters, especially Bumper, that I decided to make it a sequel. I wanted to keep the same comedic tone and using some of the original characters whilst introducing some new ones seemed to be the way forward. A lot clearer than the idea for Leg It and the major difference being that my idea was to form the middle of the book rather than the ending as I had with Leg It.

The beauty of making all my notes online using Evernote, is that I can pinpoint exactly when I had my idea for Counterbalance.

On 9th September 2014 I wrote ‘Another person being your counterbalance.’ That was it and less than two years later the book is done. As you will see in later blogs, I developed my idea and the end product doesn’t really bear any resemblance to the original idea but that was the seed that got me started. Five words turned into 80,000 and a completed novel.

Ideas can come from anywhere and I currently have nearly one hundred ideas for books or short stories jotted down in Evernote. The majority won’t see the light of day but you never know, they could grow into bestsellers.

If you are struggling for an idea, here’s a simple exercise that really does work.

Set twenty minutes aside with no distractions and write down as many ideas as you can think of. Can be as small as just one word but no longer than a sentence. Don’t edit, don’t think, just write them down. They can be ideas for a story, ideas for a character or a place or even just a word or phrase you like the sound of.

Don’t worry about other people seeing them and most of all, don’t worry about how stupid they are.

Once you’ve finished, if you’ve allowed your mind to wander you will have 20-30 ideas jotted down. Clearly a lot of them will be rubbish but who cares? You’ve only wasted twenty minutes.

I guarantee that you will have two or three really good ideas to get you started but best of all, you will have one that it is utterly ridiculous. Write that one.

Give it a go, what do you have to lose?

Last time I did this exercise I came up one called the ‘Whicker Man’ about a man who lived in a house made from wicker baskets and dressed as Alan Whicker.


I posted on Facebook about what a stupid idea I had come up with and I was encouraged (forced) to write a short story on it by friends from my writing group. I was really quite pleased with the end result and may post it up on here one day.

In my next blog I will be looking at plotting and planning.

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