What I’ve learnt about writing novels – so far

Words: I like them a lot, but that’s cheating because I actually knew that before. I now know I need about 80 000 of them to claim I have a novel-length manuscript. This can change between genres; fantasy is longer, Middle Grade fiction (for 8-12 year olds) shorter.

First Drafts: Best thought of as ‘word vomit*’ or you telling the story to yourself. It is a starting point and you just need to get it done. Do what it takes. Bribes can work. Make yourself sit at the computer when it’s not coming easily. About 35 000 words into my last manuscript, I ran out of steam even though I knew where the story was going and wanted to write it. I gave myself a couple of days off, but it didn’t recharge me. So, I simply had to make myself write for however long it took to get 2000 words done, every day. I wrote whatever came into my head, just to keep going. It looked awful on the page and I had to keep dragging those sentences out of myself for about two weeks. Like, seriously, dragging. I can honestly say it was the hardest work I’ve done while sitting in a chair. But it worked. At around the 50 000 mark, the words began to come easily again and the very end was written joyfully in a sweet 6000 word flourish. Best of all, when I reread it, the words I’d despaired over were better than I’d believed at the time. Go figure. Wading on through seems to work.

Other Drafts: Necessary. Mostly very enjoyable. But naming them is misleading. Some sections get rewritten 4352 times. Other parts, maybe once or twice. Like everything to do with writing, it’s not simple to explain. Apart from the seat of the pants thing, there’s no arguing with that.

Other Writers: Such a good bunch. Find some. Make them your friends. Have regular meetings (if you want to write yourself that is – otherwise that would be kind of weird 😉 ) Read their manuscripts when they ask, ask them to read yours. The technical term for this is beta reading. (The first MS I ever beta read was top notch and the author, Karen Whittle-Herbert, will have her first book, a crime novel called The River Mouth, published in September. Buy it. She’s a star on the rise.) Also, the writing community on Twitter is supportive and friendly. I believe some of the action is moving to Instagram now, but this may only be a rumour. I’ve learnt a lot from links and news shared on the bird platform. #AusWrites is a good place to get started if you’re Australian.

Finished Manuscripts: 1) A misnomer. Very hard to ever definitively say, “That’s it, I’m done.” I’ve heard authors say they never read their published book because they know they will want to change parts. But, at some point, one must send it out to the wide world. 2) Satisfying. Celebrate the moment. Whatever happens from here, I have finished three books. Yay, me. 3) Must be formatted properly before being sent off to agents/publishers. REMEMBER to do this. Who knew a title page was necessary and that chapters are best started twelve lines down the page? Everyone except me, maybe?! I think I’ve got it sorted now 🙂

Final Thoughts: I always imagined satisfaction from writing would only come with getting published. I can honestly say, I no longer feel this way. Having a serious writing habit has enriched my life more than I can properly explain. All you book people, readers and writers, are MY people. Wrestling with language in the written form and talking/reading about it is my happy place. I still plan to continue sending agents and publishers my work until someone cracks/ sees it for the brilliantly insightful work it is/wants to print it. However, meanwhile, I’m having an excellent time. (Except maybe when I was writing the middle bit of that book just finished, but let’s not get bogged down in details…)

All this is to say, if you’re living with that feeling that you’ve got a book or three in you, get to it. I can pretty much guarantee you’ll learn an awful lot about things you didn’t know that you didn’t know, and, if you play right, meet some great people. Also, I’m available to beta read if you get in quick 🙂

*I don’t know who came up with this brilliant way of describing a first draft. If you do, perhaps you could let me know?

P.S. I promised to share the roller coaster. I don’t think I got an ASA mentorship this time around and I haven’t yet heard anything back from the publisher or agent who asked to read my first Young Adult novel. It’s to be expected. I am alternating between sulking mildly and pulling up my big girl pants. I have another pitching opportunity next week and more publishers to try. I’m learning Auslan (loving it) because of a Deaf character I’m writing. I’m thinking of pulling the first manuscript I wrote out of a drawer and revamping it. Either that or continuing on with my half-complete third Young Adult story. The first draft of my second YA novel ( the one I’ve just finished) needs to percolate for a bit before I can read it with a clear mind.

Are you writing?

6 Comments

  1. After reading ‘Big Magic’ by Elizabeth Gilbert and watch my daughter struggle to find her way with her gift, I am so fascinated in the Creative Process, how you sustain it, how to get out of your own way and how it can just flow. I look forward to following your journey Annie, it is a brave, put yourself out there act and I am in awe of all those who conquer! xx

    Like

    1. Thanks so much for those lovely words, Sarah. I wish I had a magic answer that would help your girl. She is so very talented. For me everything was to do with the ‘so what’ that came with age & circumstances, so perhaps that will be her journey too? And I’ve been truly touched by how kind and happy for me that people have been. Whatever happens, your girl will always know that you believe in her ❤️ xx

      Like

Leave a Comment

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

WordPress.com Logo

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

Google photo

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

Twitter picture

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

Facebook photo

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

Connecting to %s