As an aspiring writer, you should certainly start by writing an outline. I explain how to do this in this Masterclass. You solve a lot of problems with an outline. It is far easier to correct your mistakes if you write an outline than if you sat down and wrote, ‘Chapter One’ at the top of a piece of paper and started writing. If you work that way, it will take an awfully long time to correct your mistakes.
You will spend six months or a year writing the book, and only then will you find out things that you wish you had known right at the start. Writing an outline also concentrates your mind. It is good to carry on reading a lot at this stage. Suppose you are writing a love story and you have decided that the hero of the story is in love with a woman who is already married. When you are reading other books, you will see how other writers have handled this and you’ll see the problem from different angles. That will give you a rich sense of how many possibilities there are.
My agent’s response to the outline for The Hammer of Eden – then with a different working title
You should also show your outline to other people. It’s a bit bruising, or at least it will be bruising if it’s going to be any use to you. If your mum says, “it’s lovely dear,” then you haven’t learned anything. However, if your friends say, “it seems a bit boring to me”, then you must ask them, “why does it seem boring? What sort of story do you like? What would make it interesting to you?”
Then you’'ll get them criticising your work and although they are amateurs, their thoughts are worth having. I learned to do this eventually and I wish I had earlier because I would have grown and matured faster as a writer if I had done.