Writing a book part 6: first words at last

Yesterday morning, I finally started writing my novel. I spent months developing the story, and since early December the structure, plot and timeline have all been ready. Between then and now I haven't worked on it at all, largely because I wanted to start writing it in earnest with the turn of the new year. But if anyone asked, I said I was giving the story some space to settle, or something similarly vague.

Nobody asked.

Anyway, at 6:30am yesterday I turned on my laptop, turned off the wifi and opened a new document. Thirty minutes later, I had written 349 words of my book! The opening line was 'The smell hit you first."

Dreadful. I hate it: clichéd, melodramatic, cheesy. (Not the smell.) But I ploughed on regardless and the subsequent 344 words got much better. In fact, I was rather pleased by the end.

Incidentally, these won't be the novel's opening words because I started writing chapter seven. If I'd tried to begin with something so crucially important as the very first sentence of the book, and then come up with something as groansomely hackneyed as 'the smell hit you first', I might have had to defenestrate my laptop. So I chose chapter seven for the arbitrary reason that it takes place in January.

Something interesting about this process is determining my style of writing. I'd love to be able to write with the equanimity of Cormac McCarthy or the intensity of John Steinbeck, but that wouldn't come naturally - and above all, the last thing I want to sound is forced. I may not be crafting high literature, but I did find myself fitting a few pleasing turns of phrase into my 349 words once I got into the flow.

A more prosaic concern - literally - and literarily - are what grammatical conventions I choose to follow. Deciding how to style speech, for example, is a big deal. The school-taught method of using a separate line enclosed by double inverted commas seems too childish to me.

"Don't you think?" asked Richard.

"Sure, sure," replied the reader, eager to get past such pretentious convolution, "whatever."

I'm going to try not using speechmarks at all, to start with at least. There is something about minimal punctuation that creates a stronger reading connection, I think - it draws you in, requiring the reader to decode the text as it is read. Excessive punctuation does the opposite, alienating the reader with its tiresome signposting.

If I carry on at the current rate, it will take me 229 days to reach my putative target of 80,000 words. Taking into account missed days for being on holiday or hungover or just plain lazy, my realistic aim is to finish the first draft by Christmas of this year. Being as the book takes place over twelve months, this provides a satisfying synchronicity.

"Don't you think?"