How to write a novel (with young kids underfoot)

The Mummy part of Writer/MummyDuring the month of November 2011 I wrote 50,000 words of what has become my third novel, Pictures of Love. Depending on how much you have written in the past, that may sound easy or it may sound incredible.

It felt incredible for me, not just because, before 2008, I had never written more than 100 words of a novel, but because I am a stay-at-home mum with two children under three, a mad labradoodle and a husband who travels a lot. Oh and at the time I had a solo exhibition of my artwork at a Gallery in Stamford, and was running the odd live painting demonstration.

I’m not one of these super-mummies with a full-time job, immaculate house and beautifully behaved children, who still finds time to teach them sign language and who bakes cookies with them on a Sunday.

Well, I do bake with them occasionally, but usually only when we’ve run out of chocolate.

If you want to learn how to be a good mummy, you’re on the wrong site. I try (not always successfully) to accept I’ll only ever be good enough at being a parent.

However if you want to learn some tips on how to be a writer/mummy then I might just be able to help.

I meet many people who “have always wanted to write a book”, whether a novel or a non-fiction work. Since calling myself a ‘writer’ (rather than, as previously, ‘marketing manager’, ‘consultant’, ‘artist’ or ‘full-time-mum’,) I have been amazed how many people have said to me “oh I’ve always wanted to write, but I just can’t because xxxx,’ fill in excuse here.                                           

“I don’t have the time,”

     “I don’t know where to start,”

        “I just can’t write,”

            “My writing is boring.”

I apologise for being blunt.

It’s for your own good.

They are just excuses.


I know this, because I have used every one of them in the past. And, if I hadn’t signed up for the Open University Creative Writing module when I fell pregnant with my first child, as a way to keep my brain moving, I would probably still be trundling out those same excuses.

Two things changed.

Firstly, the OU course taught me that you just need to start writing. You can’t edit a blank page. I learnt many different styles – poetry, life writing, fiction – and lots of excellent techniques on how to be a good writer. And it might have remained just another qualification to add to the vast array I’ve amassed (being an academic junkie who has a perverse pleasure in studying), were it not for the second thing that happened.


I stumbled across Nanowrimo, a couple of months into the course, and my life changed forever. Literally.

Nanowrimo stands for National Novel Writers Month. The challenge is to write 50,000 words during the month of November. It doesn’t matter what words. You could re-write the phonebook, if that was your desire. The important thing about Nanowrimo is to just keep writing. (If you’ve seen Finding Nemo, think of Dory singing ‘Just keep swimming, just keep swimming’.)

That first November, I only started half way through the month, and still wrote 28,000 words of what became my first novel, Finding Lucy. It’s not quite finished, more on that later, but the point is it currently stands at 78,000 words. That’s a novel, even if it doesn’t have an ending yet.

And you could do it too.

The following two Novembers I wrote another two 50,000-worders (although the 2010 year was only weeks after I gave birth, and so it is more a journal of round-the-clock feeding and the challenge of having two kids under two.)

The point is, if I can do it, Queen of Excuses that I am, you can too.

I can’t help you sell a £100k three-book deal, because I haven’t done it. 


What I can do is tell you how, in three years, I have progressed from someone who couldn’t get past the first chapter, to someone who has four novels in various stages of completion, including one that I’m getting ready to sell as an e-book for the kindle.

All whilst also doing some teaching, painting, the occasional consultancy project and, of course, caring for my young children (I sketched out the last five chapters of Finding Lucy just a few hours before going into labour – five weeks early – with my second child)

Without even realising it, a dream I had harboured all my life came to fruition. And it all came down to confidence: being told I could be a writer, and then being given the push to go ahead and prove it.

So, here are my top tips on how to get started, how to keep going and, most importantly, how to finish your first book.

(I will add detail to each section in subsequent blogs)

1. Throw away the excuses

2. Write what you know

3. Carry your story with you

4. Get Professional Help

5. Find fabulous friends

6. Finish, Finish, Finish

7. Put your critical hat on

8. Get it out there

5 thoughts on “How to write a novel (with young kids underfoot)

    • It was my first ever post, I think. I stopped the series halfway through, realising I didn’t know enough to talk about Beta Readers or editing. I feel I do now, though, so I’m going to write the last four posts and re-post it. I find it interesting that my ‘voice’ hasn’t changed much in fourteen months of blogging!

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