From Hook to Book

Archive for the tag “Writing Journey”

Talk to me, I’m a writer!

And people do. Incredibly generously. No matter where I go, if I ask a question and say I’m writing a book, mouths and doors open. Even when we barely speak the same language.

My recent research revealed that the location of French farmhouses, at least in the Somme area of France, aren’t like our Aussie farmhouses situated out in the middle of paddocks, far from town, but are located within the village, often on the main street.

Big buildings with high wooden doors and entries, or perhaps steel for the more modern, can line the street, like in the photo here. Beyond the walls and doorways are the yard in the middle and the farmhouse at the back. When asked why farmhouses weren’t on the farm land, my guide explained that it’s safer in the village (in numbers) unlike being isolated out on the land alone. In a country invaded often over the centuries, this made a lot of sense.

The farmyards’ location and set-out is integral to an important meeting of two central characters in my story and when I learned of their true location, I realised I’d set up their meeting all wrong. Only trouble was, since my guide wasn’t a farmer, how did I find out what lay behind the closed doors and gates of French farmyards to even begin to imagine their set out or setup? Many haven’t changed layout much over the century since the war, but, of course, most are much more modern in technology and living arrangements today.

Skulking along the main road of a small village seemed the closest I could get to seeing inside, snapping surreptitious photos through the odd door or gate left ajar. Until… My sidekick and I came across the huge house (pictured) next door to a “farmhouse”.  When Jackie, as we came to know him, stepped out the farm gate to retrieve something from his car, we bade him ‘Bon jour,’ and when he responded in-kind, I took the opportunity to ask him how old was the house as a lead in to asking about the farm.

He said he’d pop back and ask the owner of the “chateau” who was inside. Minutes later he returned and asked us to come in and meet the owner. Before we knew it, we were shaking hands with Jacques, Jean Claude and Jackie and explaining my interest as a writer in both the chateau and the farm. To my bemusement, Jean Claude started filming me while I interviewed Jacques. I feared, he may have misunderstood and thought me famous. The word writer seems to carry such weight. I started to explain that I was your garden variety writer, not discovered yet, but knew my words not understood by Jean Claude’s grin and failure to put down the camera, so we both continued to enjoy the moment.

Next thing, Annik, Jacque’s wife arrived and she very graciously took us off to show us through the lower floor of their delightful chateau. I was both awestruck and embarrassed, not having meant to impose so much on their kindness and generosity of spirit. My time with Annik stretched my French to surprising lengths and I found long forgotten phrases and words in my efforts to communicate with her. How could I forget, la fenêtre, the window and other such descriptions around the house from Form One French class? Sr Austin would be proud of me.

Annik and Jacques allowed me to take photos and answered all my questions. I also got to see through the disused farmhouse and imagine how it might have been when one of my characters lived there so very long ago. She may not live next to the chateau but I’m hoping it’s going to find a small role in the book too.

The meeting reminded me how often and how much people are happy to share their knowledge, expertise and sometimes important parts of their lives with me, indulging my writer’s curiosity with an openness of spirit I delight in and very much appreciate. I’ve spoken to rodeo clowns, sailors, itinerent workers, coal miners and now chateau owners to bring authenticity to my stories. Each time I feel they’ve given me a gift. They certainly enrich my stories.

Publication is a tough gig, but the writing life is pretty damn cool.

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A few good words… (To word count or not to word count?)

In keeping with the promise of a fresh start to the year, setting new goals, tweaking the lifestyle, I thought a new theme for my blog would be cool. So here I am with a whole new look. (Hair cut next week too.)

With a new year, new goals, new challenges, I want to look at word counts. They’re a pretty important deal for writers. How they’re achieved is a varied process. I’m pretty diligent, but I’ve never worked to a per week word-count target on a novel before. While I deeply admire those who can achieve the 50,000-words of NaNoWrMo in the month of November, I know it’s not for me.

Historical fiction, particularly in the early days can be a real stop/start business. A lot of lines of manuscript can trail off in a series of xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx’s, the details to be worked in after checking the facts, discovering whether trains actually ran every day to a certain stop, or whether that small country town had cars as early as 1919 etc. etc.

But I want to finish this new novel in “good” time. What does that mean? I’m not under contract, so I’m not bound to one year or eighteen months to complete it to publishable standard, but I am working as a full-time, professional writer, who aims to be published and read. So how do I ensure that I don’t meander along at snail’s pace, waiting for my muse to appear and giving in to a deliciously organic process that might side-track or detour me along varied paths before I get to point B?

I’ve got to set a word-count target and not let myself off the hook. But neither do I wish to produce crap to achieve that aim. So I’m working with the goal of “good” words. Keepers. Or at least a strong basis and a trajectory that is heading to the finale.

I can write 3000-words a day when I’m on fire. I’m sure I could write more if I forced myself. But I’m happy to aim for 1000-words a day – on writing days – I will have to take time out for uni. And I really want a “good” life/work balance this year. (A blog for another day.) If I’m firing, I’ll keep going, but I won’t add that into my weekly target and say, Yay! I got it done in two days, so now I can play. I’ll sit down the next day and tap, write, sweat out those next thousand words.

And, I’ve faced the fact I’ve known for quite some time, perhaps since mid-2010 when I joined a certain social network, that it’s brilliant to keep in touch, finger on the pulse, and connected with writing buddies and peers, except, Man, does it eat into your writing time. So FBook is another tweak. Everything in its time and place. First and foremost, I am a writer. I want, live, breathe, to write. And I’d like it to translate to a new novel sometime next year.

I love my blog too, so I’ll be ranting and raving and talking writing to anyone good enough to drop in.

Being a writer means I have an inherent curiosity as to how other writers “do it”. Come on now, lift your minds a bit higher please. I mean write, achieve words, word count goals.  Do you set a target? What gets you motivated, gets those words on the page? Let me know in the comments.

PS: Condolences to all the clichés that gave themselves in the creation of this post.

Au Revoir 2011 ~ Bon jour 2012

Waving 2011 goodbye, I’m grateful it was here, yet pleased to see it go. It’s been fun and frantic and sped by like no other. But, hey, don’t we always say that?

CYA logo by Bec Timmis

The first half-year for me was head down and fully focused on finishing the final draft of my novel, reworking a YA mss and planning a writing workshop. I thought they kept me busy enough combined with uni classes. I kept up with my writing goals and surpassed the one to enter a major writing competition by winning the published author category of the CYA Writing Competition for my YA novel mss Jumping Through Hoops in early September. A huge highlight in a frantic year, including my going up to Brisbane for the presentation.

 

On the homefront, it was a strange year of goodbyes and hellos in our family. In February, our nest shrank from three to two with our daughter flying across the world to the UK for nine months leaving hubby and me empty nesters, albeit briefly. What initially seemed a strange and unnerving occurrence soon revealed bonuses. It’s amazing how much simpler life becomes for a writer with fewer people to take into account, plan meals around, and be interrupted by. Still we were thrilled when our youngest son returned to the nest in April, bringing with him his cheeky humour and remarkable ability to “tidy” a room in record speed. Shame his equally remarkable ability to completely trash it at even faster pace remains unchanged. (Enter the “closed door” policy. What you cannot see, cannot hurt you. 🙂 )

Second semester got even busier with one uni subject requiring me to write an 8000-word exegesis, alongside completing the final stage of my Master’s Major Project subject. Both needed lots of writing and rewriting and for a few weeks there, I thought I’d drown under academic research papers, novel chapters and the pressure of looming deadlines. Short term stress though, for which I’m grateful, but glad to see the back of too.

So what will 2012 bring?

I’m still sorting my list of writing goals? I certainly have a wish list of a few small things I aim to achieve like:

  •             Find a publisher for TST
  •             Find an agent
  •             Make more reading time
  •             Indulge in more relaxation/family time
  •             Write many, many words of my new novel.

The journey continues because, of course, I’ve got to go all the way – from Hook to published Book.

So Happy New Year, one and all. May the muse, good health and good fortune bless us all in 2012. (And may it be somewhat less frantic than its predecessor.)

Postscript: I’m also grateful that when my car gallantly caught a Camry driving off the upper level of a tiered car park in early December that neither my daughter or I were inside but safely sipping tea in a cafe until a policewoman came in search of us. Thought you might like to see the pics. I am grateful too that the elderly lady who mistook her accelerator for her brake was not hurt either. Just another reminder to me to smell the roses more next year and never ever forget that cars and stuff are replaceable/repairable, but those we love are not.

Viva La France

Parlez-vous français?

Mais oui!

Gotta love a research trip. Mine is set to go. With flights to France booked for next year and a preliminary itinerary planned, it’s been made real.

This week my French language course books arrived. Tres excitement! Flipping through the pages I’m already recalling my high school French.

I studied the language for three years in secondary school. Funnily enough I recall almost everything I learnt from the first six months and virtually nothing from the next two-and-a-half years. I remember the basics: the numbers, the verb être “to be”, foods and vocabulary, thanks to the Poirot family who liked to eat poisson (fish).

When I began form one (year seven), my family were living for a two-year stretch in a country town in northern Victoria and I went to the Catholic high school where one of the nuns taught French – sans accent. Dare I blame my deplorable French pronunciation on the formidable Sister Austin whose rote learning of verbs and vocabulary impressed the words indelibly into my brain? Perhaps. Sadly, she cannot be blamed for my ongoing struggle to successfully roll my Rs!

We moved back to Melbourne mid-year and I immediately found myself drowning in a class run by a ferocious French woman who refused to allow a word to be uttered not French. To this day, I cannot fathom how she expected me to explain my lack of understanding and language in French, especially when 99 per cent of the time I had no clue what she was saying back to me.

The situation was not helped by her sighting my Term I and II reports where I was shown as an A+ student in French at my previous school. I’m sure she thought I was fudging or lazy.

Mais non!

What I’d understood perfectly well spoken in slow, Australian accented, basic French did not translate coming at me in rapid-fire real French.

Next year, we’ve planned to spend the final two weeks of the trip settled in an authentic French house in a small village in Provence so that I can write up the balance of my notes and write some actual scenes while immersed in the atmosphere and culture of France. This was my one regret from my last novel’s rushed research trip. This time I want to ‘live’ the life (if mostly in my imagination being such a different era) and I see speaking to the locals in the village where we’re staying in their language as an important part. Or at least attempting to.

Armed with a basic French course book, cds and dictionary, I’m hoping to learn to converse enough to pass the time of day and request “un vin blanc, s’il vous plaît” at the very least.

So over the next few months hubby and I are both going to dive into language and all things French in preparation for the trip. Not to mention me researching and sorting heaps of questions, locations and history preparatory to my research around the battlefields in the north.

Here’s hoping any new language and vocabulary I learn will stick too, unlike Mandarin. A recent cleanout turned up my one semester workbook and I was disappointed to realise it was all just Chinese to me.

一白葡萄酒,請

Uni Kid (at heart)

Some folks get their thrills buying a new car, or taking a trip. Some find their bliss in simple things like the scent of a rose or laughter of a child. I miss my secret thrill.

Every day thousands of people teem through the turnstiles at Melbourne Central Station, up the escalators and out into the blue sky or leaden deluge, dependant on which ten minutes in the hour Melbourne’s weather alternately puts on, and onto Swanston Street.

Being a writer, I often study people’s faces, surreptitiously, of course, and wonder what they are thinking. Where do they come from? And where do they go to? Who waits for them at home? And how did he get that scar on the bridge of his nose? Car accident? Angry wife? Superman flight off the garage roof as a child?

A couple of times a week for the past 18-months, I’ve been one of the throng emerging from the subway into the world aboveground. And on every single one of those days, walking along Swanston Street, I look up to the skyline and the buildings, the signage of RMIT, and cannot contain my smile. A fizzing bubble of excitement races up my spine and the same words wing through my mind. “I love being a uni kid.” (Yes, I’m a little old to say such a thing – it’s a throwback to my daughter’s uni days when she spoke of the media kids, the tv and radio kids in her course. What can I say – it stuck.)

I can’t help it. Eighteen-months on, I still feel thrilled and privileged and honoured to walk the hallowed halls of  RMIT and to be completing a Masters degree. I never went to uni straight from school, but I’ve always been a big believer in life-long learning and undertaken many courses over the years from dressmaking to Chinese cooking to life writing to Mandarin 101. My first taste of tertiary ed came in the late nineties when I decided that if I was going to free the writer I knew fluttering against the cage of insecurity inside of me, then I’d better get some keys to help unlock the cage door. So I commenced my Diploma of Arts – Professional Writing & Editing at Box Hill Institute. Three fantastic years later, set on my path  and armed with confidence, fantastic writing buddies and with  two published books and three in-print, I graduated. But a part of me still yearned for a degree – and, I have to add, the cap and gown I was robbed of at my graduation. Every other year the BHI TAFE grads wore gowns, but someone dropped the ball on the planning for the grads of 98.

A couple of people in my Masters have said they won’t be attending their graduation ceremony. And I can understand why with most having already graduated once before and worn the gown and mortar board I so covet. Next year, though when my turn comes, I’ll be there with bells on, Bells on hand that is to help me celebrate.

I can’t wait to wear that mortar board, but I’m pretty happy too that I’ve got one more semester of being a uni kid. So if you see a woman on Swanston Street smiling into the sky a bit goofishly, next year, it could well be me. Or some other middle-aged silly loving what she’s doing and thinking herself very, very lucky to be a uni kid too.

Or it could be a writer hugging news of a new book contract. Now there’s another thrill I’ve never gotten over.

A Novel Beginning

“So much of our time is preparation, so much is routine, and so much retrospect, that the pith of each man’s genius contracts itself to a very few hours. The history of literature — take the net result of Tiraboschi, Warton, or Schlegel — is a sum of very few ideas and of very few original tales; all the rest being variation on these.”  Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Experience”

Where do you start a new novel? According to the famous words in A Sound of Music’s Do-Re-Mi, the “very” beginning is a very good place to start. But for my new novel, I don’t think the very beginning is the right place to start.

I mean how can a writer know so early in the writing? Often nothing much is happening in the “beginning”. Hence the value of backstory and flashback. Sometimes important incidents shaping the character or journey might be found in the past, but are these the best starting points? Or, are you best to start in media res (in the action)? Or in a poignant moment.

You know what, it doesn’t matter, because…

Yay! I’ve started the writing. And my initial chapter one starts not at a birth or even when characters first meet, but at a significant event where all their lives are about to change. The moment in time is inevitable and unpreventable.

Whether this start remains as the beginning one, two, three years from now when I finish this novel, I am yet to know. What I do know is that it’s fantastic to have started and to have met one of my main characters. I cannot wait to get to know them all.

I have lots of scene ideas and a storyline. It’s complex and going to take time. I do know this novel is not going to be written like the last with a chronological narrative. That’s exciting in itself. And opens up a whole new way of writing for me. I’m usually pretty linear. But because I have lots of ideas and multiple viewpoints, I think this story and characters will lend themselves to growing and weaving into each other. Of course, it might all tangle into one hell of a mess too, but the beauty is the freedom to write in disconnected scenes. Of course I envisage the connections in my mind, but it’s going to be a little like a jigsaw putting it together.

I’m excited to have bought the new Scrivener for Windows program and am hanging out to try it. I’ve just got to put aside a couple of hours to go through and learn the basics via the tutorial. I love that I’ll be able to write in scenes and then shuffle them and draw them all back together via the program. I can see lots of possibilities. I’m also eager to try the digital index cards and cork board, though I’m equally impressed with the value of laying out hardcopy index cards to map a manuscript too. (If you’re into index cards, and haven’t already done so, you might like to check out my previous post on manuscript mapping.)

I’m glad I’ve had a few months to begin to separate from my last novel. It was very funny and quite strange to see in the new writing where the main character is supposed to be a young Aussie male that the voice and speech mannerisms came out fuddled with the unique voice of Maire, the main character from my recently finished novel. Funny because she’s female, young and Scottish. Hmmm. Perhaps the distance from the first is not great enough yet.

I have lots of research to focus on before progressing too far with the writing. Though I am writing in a similar era to my previous novel so have the benefit of a great starting knowledge on the history, lifestyle and culture. Really I’m just thrilled to have made a start.

The writing process is different for all of us. American author John Irving begins with his novel’s last sentence and works his way backward through the plot to where the story should begin. I don’t have such a process to  start. Though with my background in writing for children and YA, I try to go with action, or start the point of story where things begin to happen, hot up. I’d love to know if you begin your new story by a set process or how you begin. I wonder if it affects different genres, age groups, styles. Please share if you’d like to in the comments.

(The photograph above is the birth of my new baby zucchinis, or they will be soon. Writing novels takes preparation just like vegetable plants. Only I’m not sure that my new novel will look as beautiful for awhile. I’m sure I’ll be eating these zucchinis long before my novel is ready.)

The Real Reason Why I Write

The bigger you are...

Because I love it, I’m good at it, I love to play with words, and work with words as much as read them. Words thrill me the way you put them together, mix them up, tweak them, select them, reorder them and they speak back to you in all kinds of different ways. Make you laugh, cry, cringe, and draw you into the drama and danger!

Okay, okay, do you want to know the real reason why I write? Because it’s safe. Not much can go wrong sitting on a chair in front of the screen, or balancing a laptop on your knee.

I was a clumsy child, born with two left feet. I fell over them all the time along with any stray hairs left lying on the ground. My orthopaedic surgeon once asked what on earth I’d done to my knees, since the damage to them resembled that of a champion skier. I couldn’t explain, but, now, thinking about it, I think it was all that falling down I did as a kid. And what did I land on every single time? Yep, my knees. It’s a wonder my nickname wasn’t Scabbers. (And no rat jokes thank you!)

My knees wore scabs more than shorts. The pair of them. Yet, I had two sisters who could run like hares and won all the school races. Me, where did I come? Last, and that’s only if I finished the race because I had a bad habit of falling over three strides in.

I did grow into my clumsiness and even grew up to play a reasonable game of tennis. I could swim rather well too. (It’s hard to fall down in a swimming pool.) I could have been an Olympian, the like of Shane Gould, if only my parents had given up some sleep and taken me to training at 4 a.m. Just for a few years until I got faster.

Writing I can do sitting down. Nothing to bang my head on, crash into, slip over or trip up on. Love it. But it’s the words that keep me coming back. I can lose myself in others drama and danger and still get up from my chair unscathed.

Not like a simple act of trying to find a connection on the back of the television the other night. Stepping out from behind the television table, I couldn’t get my second foot to follow the first. I don’t know what it even caught on, but down I went – hard. OUCHIES! And all for what – a Nintendo cable connection. Another dangerous sport! So no more games or sporty activity for me. I’m sticking to writing.

Hope you can’t prove me wrong really, but fess up in the comments if you’ve had any diabolical disasters while writing. Otherwise, tell me instead what do you love about writing and being a writer?

Writerly (and research) Influences

This week, as part of my Master’s subject Reflective Practice and Exegesis, we’re compiling a research archive. Instead of making it all about our WIP, we can focus on any subject, collection, or a theme of our choosing.

I’m using China – more specifically my 2006 trip to live and work as an ESL teacher – with a strong focus on how it influenced me as a writer, not to mention as a person.

Gathering all the bits and pieces together equals so many amazing memories. But… What to choose: student lists, lesson plans, contract, invitation letter, journal, photos, mementos, tickets, receipts, bank book, ESL diploma, antique pot, emails, letters, cards, chop sticks, good luck charm, China sim, visa application, passport, Olay facecream bottle – in Chinese.

I know I’ve far too much to include in my project. And that is a major part of the assignment – deciding the value of each piece and where it sits in the hierarchy of importance of the research.

At first glimpse some things don’t seem so important, like the bank book. An item I’d take for granted at home, (if we still used passbooks) but my Bank of China passbook represented a rite of passage, making me, Chris Bell, a resident in China – accepted as a working teacher in a foreign country. A huge and significant shift in my mindset – not to mention one gigantic thrill.

Class photos of my students, annotated with their “English” names, proved hugely important in connecting me to each of them as people. (The college’s choice to use English names – not mine.) The names came to reflect their personalities, despite a couple of girls who wanted to change their English name every class because they’d found a new name they liked “better”. (I did have to stomp on that practice with visions of  four classes times forty-plus students wanting to change their names every week too.)

A little brass pot, haggled for in the antique market by my fellow Aussie teacher is a prize I treasure, but where does it sit in the hierarchy of my research? Not so very high, as it turns out.

 

A photo of a key cutter’s shop near my apartment – hugely important. My fiction story The Key Cutter’s Grandson  was written and accepted for publication whilst I was in China. Photos from my day trip to what I thought was a centuries old tower (turned out to be a decade old) and the local “dog” market became major influences and storylines in a commissioned work for Pearson The Doublecross on my return from China.

I think my most important research piece for this project – at this stage of my reckoning – is my journal. Begun on the day I made up my mind to go and teach in China, and written up every day of my time away, it’s a complete chronicle of the joys and thrills and challenges. A rollercoaster read for me even now. But I’m so glad to have it and it has to place high in the hierarchy of my project for the influence it had at the time and now. Insights, observations – many forgotten consciously – scribed between the pages, alongside snapshots of emails, receipts, tickets, letters, photos of what was at times, a fraught, emotional journey. (Leaving home and hearth, husband of twenty-five years [whom I married at tender eighteen], children, dog, parents and a country I’d never stepped out of – + alone – turned out to be quite a big, incredible deal.)

Just like in any writing research, it’s all about deciding what’s important to leave in, or leave out.

Where each item sits in the research hierarchy– it’s value – is exactly the same as choosing what merits going into your novel/or story and what doesn’t. The heirarchy and value system reveals how some things may have so much meaning or interest,  but aren’t necessarily good vehicles to show the journey/story, like my little antique pot. It’s about weeding out the things, you’d just really love to show because they’re so interesting, or fun, or you just happened to learn about.

I guess, it turns out my assignment isn’t all about fun and reflection after all.

Now I’d better start writing up some descriptions and formally valuing my items and assigning them their place in the hierarchy. Hopefully this lesson will enable me to avoid  being one of those authors whose done heaps of research and forces the reader to know it.

Meantime, I’ve loved looking back and seeing how the research and my lived experience has taken me forward as a writer and a person. I value all of it, but most would never make it into “the book”.

Writing Organically – I can do it!

I’ve just had the revelatory experience of reading back over some of my notebooks kept from the beginnings of my novel. Strange. And enlightening.

I’m amazed how much has changed. Character names, story tracks, the intention, definitely the outcome.

A little history: I started writing this novel as part of Year of the Novel 2008 at the VWC. I swapped novel ideas mid-year when the starting settings, of what became my new project, fired my imagination and lit a fuse of research passion. At first I could barely start the writing, so engrossed was I in emigrant life aboard the steamship, living in a coal-mining pit village in Scotland, and the era of the Great War. BUT…  I  wrote copious notes of story ideas and character profiles. (Interestingly, no one remotely resembles my initial physical descriptions and personality profiles. I think I wrote them out and then completely disregarded them!)

For the course, I had to come up with a 250 word synopsis (to sum up my novel idea). BUT… and, for me, a big hurdle of a but, (I may already talked about before) – I was encouraged to write it organically. Me – a plotter and planner, not a pantser. The thought was exciting, the reality – terrifying. For six weeks between our bi-monthly classes, I couldn’t write a word. I didn’t know what to write. I wrote characters, ideas, snapshots, but with no plot point to start, I couldn’t begin. Not even to write my way in.

Until…

I cheated. I wrote out 13 possible plot points and the starter’s flag dropped. I was away, and kept on going for 136,000 words. (I’ve since cut many thousand of them from the early writing, but added as many back.)

I find it fascinating over the course of writing both the novel and three notebooks, how in the early stages, the chapter or storyline ideas morphed into entirely different beasts. Yet, the early incomplete synopsis is almost identical to the basic narrative line of the story. So much surrounding it is different though. Better, for sure. Deeper, more thoughtful and character full. The story has deepened and taken on texture of the lives of the contributing cast and the effects of the Great War.

At a point, and I’ll guestimate here from memory, it was around the 60,000 word mark, when I handwrote scenes in my notebooks, some became keepers. Whereas earlier, I wrote chapters by hand, but never looked at them while I typed the actual scene. It always came out so differently anyway – as I typed.

Suddenly, I found some handwritten chapters worked on the page, the voice strong and the narrative line connected directly into the story. New writing could suddenly be typed as written direct into the manuscript. It was a flashpoint: The voice of the novel was set. Finally I knew my characters well enough to trust their decisions and let them lead me a little more. I knew how they’d react to different circumstances and events. Of course, they, and those they came in contact with, continued to surprise me totally on occasions with some contrary behaviour and choices. (Thrilling when that happens – in context.)

The thrill for me too is in realising how organic the process of writing my novel turned out – despite my thinking I couldn’t write organically. In spite of me thinking my process strictly that of a planner’s because I knew where it was going. So much altered in the writing and I can see now looking back how I had no intention of certain outcomes originally, but I knew little back then of the Great War and its fallout. My story evolved and grew into something far beyond my original scope or what I believed my scope to be. The journey totally transported me during the writing, and I’m hoping it will do the same for my future readers.

I’m edging toward the starting line again. It’s a little daunting facing the blank page, but hugely exciting to be meeting new characters and glimpsing their lives and stories. A new notebook is started and I can’t help wondering how much these characters stories, and mine, will alter when they begin to lead the journey. I can’t wait. I’m excited to be going with them. I like a couple of them already. Though I see some trouble and troublemakers on their horizon.

So plotters and pantsers all, how do your stories grow and change? Do they? Do you dare to let them?

When is a Novel Ready?

Good question!

Some answers:

    • when it’s as good as you can get it.
    • when you’ve said all you need to say.
    • when your mind starts twitching toward the next project
    • when you start thinking of all the things you can do when it’s done.

My novel has been nearing cooked for awhile now. I’m on what I hope is my final redrafting. Some readers have told me it’s “that” close.

But… in the past two weeks I’ve found two contradictions that no one has picked up on in all the previous edits and reads, especially not me. i.e. in one chapter my main character lights the gas lamp, two chapters later she flicks on the light switch. (Early days of electricity and they had it in some houses but not in others. This instance was unfortunately set in the same house. Sigh.)

Small things yes, but important.

So am I much further away than I think, or is it simply that writers have to work through all the editing layers for certain problems to reveal?

I think so. I always find it amazing the different types of problems I find in each fresh edit.

For me, it’s always like the miniscule things slip through the many reads and drafts because I’m looking at story development first, and then for things like language, consistency, characterisation, pace, rising tension, balance, scenes, dialogue, narration etc. So many levels and layers before certain obvious or minor issues may jump out. It works the same for finding pieces of info or small incidents that come too late or out of order.

A crit buddy is advising me to set aside what she calls my usual pursuit for perfectionism. And I suspect she’s right. I want this manuscript to be the best it can be, but I don’t want to edit it to death either. I want to stop while the natural and unique voice, my beta readers all love, is still spontaneous and fresh.

But…

It’s imperative it be the best it can be because I don’t want to waste one opportunity with any potential publishers or agents.

It’s thrilling to think I’m nearly there. And terrifying. Three years is a long time and this novel has seen some major and painful interruptions in its birthing.

My darling Mum became ill in 2009 and though I was able to write in the six months before she died, in the middle of the night and in snatches, I wrote only six-thousand words in the six months following.

I strongly believe now that the quiet and deep grief in losing Mum enabled me to write some of the harsh and passionate scenes of loss in my story with a greater power and empathy. It enabled me to tap into a grief I’d never known previously.

I’ve been blessed with a very happy childhood, marriage and children. My life has been fortunate and blessed in so many ways. I am so lucky to have lived the life I wanted and dreamed of, my one wish is that I’d started writing earlier.

Of course, writers write from imagination and we don’t need to live something to write about it, but I do think the heartbreaks and fears of the past three years have rounded me as a writer and brought a far greater ability to feel my story at a level I suspect I would not have had circumstances been different. (Much as I wish them so.)

I’ll never really know how much events influenced the evolution of my storyline. I do know my resulting novel is a powerful testament to women’s strength in a tough era where death and suffering were a given part of life. Stoicism was expected and vital for women in order to survive and endure.

So is it ready? My novel, I mean. Nearly – so close now.

I’m getting some advice from a professional editor on whether it needs a structural edit. I’m way too close now to tell. So much is working, but am I missing something? I’ve written this novel with a huge passion, but always intending for it to be published. I want it to be read. Breaking in to get a first novel published through a mainstream publisher is harder than ever. I want this novel to be the best it can without overworking it. It’s time now for a professional opinion.

Then I’m sure some rewriting – one last draft – a resting period. A final read through, and then, I’ll begin the submission process, which I’m already formulating to target publishers, and seek an agent.

But that’s another blog for another day.

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