Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on

I have never been asked to give writing advice, and if there’s any justice in the world I never will be. But even if I was, my rampant imposter syndrome would prevent me from answering. Even with two novels published, I don’t feel even remotely qualified to hand out advice.

That said, I have no problem whatsoever in talking about what works for me when it comes to my novel writing process. And hopefully, you’ll find a few gems hidden amid the following points that you can assimilate into your own process. So, to kick off…


Inspiration for a novel can come from absolutely anywhere. The important thing is to recognise it when it comes along. You might be inspired while watching the news, while reading a novel by someone else, while walking in the country, while having a bath, while listening to a song. My inspiration tends to come from dreams – or, to be more accurate, from nightmares – and that’s no accident as I deliberately induce them.

I’ve completed a total of five novels and have three more on the go, plus two in the planning stages. Out of all these, only one was inspired by something other than a dream. The idea for that rogue book came to me while I was taking a walk one lunchtime, and was just pondering things. By the time I got back from my walk, I had a basic plot outline and even a title in my head and I was able to start making notes.

But back to my nightmares. While holidaying on the Austrian Tirol last year I experienced a particularly fearsome dream about a witch, which actually came packaged with a basic plot outline and a title. My subconscious is nothing is not thorough! Anyway, I am now working this nightmare into a folk horror novel. 

I always know when an idea is worthy of a novel because I can’t stop thinking about it. It dominates my brain whether I like it or not. Avenues of exploration and interesting characters start presenting themselves. It begins to grow on its own. It becomes a living thing. And eventually, I sit down and start work on it, however…


I find the prospect of sitting down at my desk and ‘writing a novel’ incredibly intimidating. It’s a huge task, like staring up at Mount Everest from base camp and thinking: ‘Where the hell do I start?’

So, to offset the immense weight of this, I never consciously sit down to start writing a novel, I sit down to work on a scene. I’ll work on a single scene and when it’s done I’ll save it and work on another one, and then another. They don’t even have to be in the right order. It doesn’t matter. As I write them I’ll try my best to put them in the order I think they should be in, and amend that order as I go along, and gradually I’ll see a novel forming.

The most exciting thing about this process is that when I start work on a story, I have no idea how it’s going to end, so at that point I’m in the same position as the reader will be at some point in the future. And as I’m seeing the story develop, new ideas are coming to mind and I’m seeing my word count mount up, which leads me to…


When I have the writing bit between my teeth I aim to write 1000 words a day minimum. When I’m in full flow I can usually manage more. My record is 5000 words in one day. When I’m writing at this rate and seeing that word count pile up, and seeing the story take shape, it encourages me to keep at it. The progress alone begets more progress. It’s a snowball effect. And the more scenes I write, the clearer the direction of the story becomes, which leads to yet more ideas. The novel becomes self-perpetuating, and before I know it I have a first draft.

Congratulations to me!


When inspiration has struck and I’ve started mulling over an idea for a novel, I also start to think about the characters who are going to populate it. That idea could be the greatest concept for a story in the history of literature, but it won’t mean squat if the characters aren’t compelling enough for the reader to engage with. No matter what it is that I want to convey in a story, whether it’s revulsion, tension, excitement or surprise, the reader is going to experience it through those characters. The readers will be accompanying them on their journeys. So with this in mind, character is everything!

The process of developing a character always begins with an ‘in’, some little detail about them that acts as a doorway to other facets of their personality. In the case of Rosalind Brown, the protagonist in Deep Level, it was her love of ska music. Working backwards from this I determined that she had come to live in the UK from abroad as a child, that her resemblance to Selector vocalist Pauline Black won her friends on the ska scene, that these friends became her ‘tribe’. Her entire character unfolded via this one detail about her life. And as I continued to fill in her back story, she took on a life of her own and started dictating to me who she was and what she was all about.

The same thing happened with Cynthia Dowley, the hero of my second novel Frenzy Island. With her my ‘in’ was her distinctive look; Mohawk, horn-rimmed glasses, multiple piercings and tattoos. I started off one way, but she ended up going in another. There came a point where I had no control over who she was. She’d become a person in her own right, and that’s the magic I’m looking for as an author. The reader has to believe that the characters who are guiding them through the story have lives beyond the page. And if that character wins, the reader should share that sense of triumph. Or if they die, that sense of loss.


When I started writing seriously, by which I mean tackling novels, I dreaded the research aspect, and I vowed to only write books that required no research whatsoever, or books on subjects that I already knew about. Needless to say, this misguided philosophy lasted only around ten minutes. Then the real world kicked in. When I started work on Deep Level I made the effort to do some research into the London Underground and its history, and into urban exploration, and guess what…I loved it.

For a start, the research process forces me to read books I wouldn’t otherwise pick up, and watch documentaries I probably wouldn’t switch on. Also, research can open up new avenues of exploration as regards plot and character development. I don’t need to become an expert on something in order to feature it in a novel, but the more I learn about it, the better. Knowledge enriches the story. And in this way, I end up learning a little bit about a lot of things, and that in itself is a valuable thing.

Another benefit of research is bad experiences contribute to it. A while back, when I was pulling 10-hour shifts in a freezing cold, rat infested warehouse, I decided to view the entire experience through the prism of research, and it helped. It actually made working there palatable. And somewhere along the line, a novel of mine will feature a character who pulls 10-hour shifts in a freezing cold, rat infested warehouse, and the details will be immaculate, because the research is already in the bank.

And if you’re working on a fantasy novel, even daydreaming qualifies as research.

Plus – and this is a BIG plus – research can save you from making a right turnip of yourself. For example, if not for research, I would have made a monster clunker in the very first sentence of the aforementioned folk horror novel that I’m currently working on.

It read: “The first horror to befall the village of Glawlludw arrived on New Year’s Eve, in the coldest, darkest depths of midwinter.”

The novel is set in 17th century Wales, and at that time Britain was still on the Julian Calendar, which would have put New Year’s Eve on the 24th of March. Hardly the coldest, darkest depths of midwinter.


This is the bit I find the most laborious in my novel writing process. Writing the first draft is a joy, but I would describe working on the second as trying to tame a wild beast. My first draft is basically the clay from which a readable, coherent story will be shaped. It’s an unwieldy animal to be sure, an anarchic amalgamation of wild ideas, inconsistencies, glaring plot holes, continuity errors and embryonic characters. Word by word, sentence by sentence, chapter by chapter, my job is to mould it into the idea that I had in my head at the very beginning, or at least as close as I can get to it. So, yes, it’s arduous, but what keeps me ploughing on is the end goal; the bestselling, award-winning, critic-beguiling masterpiece that I know that it one day will be.


After the labour pains of the second draft, it’s back to enjoying myself. By the time I’ve finished the second draft I have a clear vision of my novel in my head. I have a grasp of the characters, I know where the plot’s going and – crucially – and know what’s going to happen at the end. In other words, I am working towards a clearly defined goal. So, from the third draft onwards, I’m adding detail and nuance, filling in back story, expanding on the characters and exploring new ideas generated along the way. This is where I see my novel becoming the magical thing I got excited about right at the start, when I had the dream that originally inspired it.

One trick I’ve picked up along the way is to read my novel out loud as I go. That way I can keep it snappy. I like a narrative voice that trips off the tongue, as opposed to one that gets bogged down in long sentences and interdependent clauses. I blame my background in advertising for that.

I’ll edit along the way too, ironing out any continuity errors, clarifying storylines and honing the dialogue, and I’ll write as many drafts as I need to until I’m happy with it. But just because I’m happy with the manuscript doesn’t mean that it’s complete, which leads me to the final part of my novel writing process…


There’s a quote attributed to Leonardo da Vinci, although I first heard it from the mouth of George Lucas: “Art is never finished, only abandoned”.

I would never dream of comparing myself to Leonardo, or to George for that matter, but I can totally identify with this. I could spend the rest of my life revisiting a manuscript, and I will end up making changes to it every single time. No work of art is ever perfect (with the possible exception of The Empire Strikes Back) so there would never come a time when my novel is complete. I will always be able to find something that could be improved, streamlined or amended. But down this path, madness lies, so there really does have to come a point where I slap the words ‘The End’ on the last page and walk away from it. This usually happens when some other great idea has come along and elbowed its way to the forefront of my mind, forcing me to lay whatever my current project is to rest.

But as authors the world over know, it’s when you abandon your novel that the real hard work begins, by which I mean trying to find an agent or publisher. Plus, there’s the most difficult, most agonising, most excruciating part of the entire endeavour, the part that every novelist dreads…writing the synopsis. But that’s an entire lecture of its own.

Deep Level is published by Darkstroke Books and is available from Amazon.

Frenzy Island is published by Cranthorpe Millner and is available from Waterstones, WHSmith, Foyles, Barnes & Noble, Forbidden Planet and Amazon.

Published by Richard E. Rock

Cat-loving, headbanging author of the dark and fantastical.

Join the Conversation


  1. What a relief to find another author who writes the same way I do! I’ve always been a bit embarrassed because my first draft was full of holes. Thank you for that, and thank you for the great writing.


Leave a comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: