Month: December 2015

Life after the first draft

Life after the first draft

eviemcrae.blog“Hurray – I have finally finished the first draft of my first novel”. When I posted this update on Facebook a few months ago, I was overwhelmed with the number of friends that congratulated me on my achievement. I was feeling pretty chuffed with myself as you can imagine. All previous attempts to write a novel seem to fall by the wayside at around 30,000 words, so all things considered 120,000 words was impressive.

A few days later I felt a complete fraud. It was quite apt that I stumbled across this quote.

I think it’s fairly common for writers to be afflicted with two simultaneous yet contradictory delusions – the burning certainty that we’re unique geniuses, and the constant fear that we’re witless frauds who are speeding towards epic failure.” I concur with that statement wholeheartedly. You see the first draft is not the end of the story. Far from it.

First drafts embody effort and hopes – dreams and potentials that could be realised – if you’re willing to put the hard work in. The cold, hard reality is the First Draft never gets published.

So what now? Well in simple terms it’s all about making your novel as good as it can possibly be. You’ll notice how easy it was to say “as good as it can possibly be”. Well, I’m here to tell you – particularly if you have just discovered this post after writing your first draft – it is a long road ahead. And I mean a long road.

Even assuming you polish your novel until it is positively gleaming, I was reliably informed by a Literary Agent in London that the average novel may be edited up to 12 times.

If you haven’t realised it by now, I’m not trying to pour cold water on the project – merely setting expectations. If you’re serious about getting published, you can’t send your baby out into the world half dressed.

Infinity and Beyond…

Once I committed to the editing process, I was genuinely surprised how much I enjoyed it. It’s early days but here is my advice based on my experiences so far.

1. Hold it … hold it

Initially, I was raring to get my book progressed to the next stage but it is useful to have some breathing space (typos, spelling and punctuation pick-ups aside). Aim to give yourself a week between the end of the first draft and the beginning of the next phase.

2. Time to wear your editor’s hat

There are those that just like being writers, but even on the most basic level you need to edit your work before it is sent out into the world. Now is the time to start thinking like an editor – not a writer.

3. Print out hard copy

Do a fly through to pick up obvious typos, gaps or weakness in the content. Scribble away in the margins. You might have more ideas, or change your mind, continuity issues, timelines to check– that’s OK just right it all down.

4. Taming the beast

I realised very quickly that while 120,000 had an impressive ring to it, publishers aren’t necessarily looking for a novel with such a long word count. From all my research, I deduced that either 80,000 or 100,000 was the word count I should be aiming for. That means I need to cull at least 10% content. Now here’s the thing. What do you cull? Have you ever heard the expression “Kill your darlings”? Yup. Every bit as painful as it sounds. But if you want to be a published author and taken seriously – needs must!

What to Cull?

  • There are a number of places writers waste words and I’m no different. I have discovered frequently overuse the following words – ‘of course’, ‘realised’ ‘had’ and ‘that’. Those four words/phrases cropped up time and time again throughout the pages. Every writer has certain words they are fond of using. Once you have identified yours you will know what to look out for. Rather than loathing the process I began to enjoy the challenge of finding new ways to say same things. As an exercise, I recommend searching your document for the word ‘THAT’. I guarantee 90% of the time this word is superfluous and should be cut. You will notice your writing is improved with this one simple change.
  • Dialogue attribution. “He says/she says” clogs up your narrative and word count. It is extremely boring to read he says/she says line after line. Create believable characters with strong dialogue and attribution can be reduced to a minimum.
  • Adjectives. Because we LOVE words, writers often string together more adjectives than necessary to describe someone or something. One powerful adjective will do.
  • Adverbs. 90% of the time adverbs are superfluous. Adverbs are used to modify verbs. They tell us when, where, how, in what manner or to what extent an action is performed. Go through your copy and eliminate words like ‘very’, ‘quickly’, ‘soon’, ‘kindly’, ‘calmly’, ‘carefully’ and so on.
  • Be concise. If there is a way of saying something in fewer words – do it. With creative consideration and a good vocabulary, it is possible.
  • Consider the merit of every sentence. In the first draft, you have spilled your guts, but now is the time to tidy up. Each sentence must progress the story and be relevant. Sometimes what goes down ends up irrelevant to the story – action, dialogue, emphasis on a certain character? If it isn’t essential for the growth, development and understanding of your story ditch it – or at the very least, cut it down.

Every stage of the writing process is an opportunity for growth. As I’ve said before tackling a novel is very different from any other writing you may have done, professional or otherwise. I’ve realised through hard work just how rewarding life can be after the ‘First Draft’ but you have to be willing to roll your sleeves up and do the hard graft. There – not feeling so much like a fraud now – until next week. Bye for now.

Is it time to come out of solitary confinement?

Is it time to come out of solitary confinement?

eviemcrae.blogAs part of a busy creative team, I’ve always been motivated and inspired by those around me. I’ve always been in awe of the talented designers who have brought life to my words, no matter how dry the subject matter. Gifted wordsmiths and copywriters have always pushed me to think beyond my comfort zone and have provided invaluable feedback and critique before that moment where you send your handcrafted ‘baby’ out into the world to fend for itself.

If all this sounds frenzied, then you’re correct. However, the world of novel writing is very different. It is solitary. That means you have to be all things to yourself and your work. Many writers will identify with the roller coaster of emotions. The elation and self-belief that you are creating something that could change the world, all the way to despair and the pits of self-loathing. You know what I’m talking about. When you look at your screen and think ‘who am I kidding? A five-year-old could write better than this. I’m an idiot to think I could have something here-‘ and so it goes on.

Sound familiar? If you are one of those who has been quietly working in your corner of the world with no human contact, embroiled in your own nightmare of rejection and derision then I’m here to make a suggestion. Get involved with other writers. They’re not a bad bunch really.

I have to say I struggled with the very advice I’m imparting to you. First of all, I don’t want other writers stealing my idea (as if-). Secondly, having traversed publishing and corporates alike, I have met my fair share of -well I’ll just say it – stuck up literary snobs. The thought of spending evenings or weekends with a bunch of bespectacled ‘superior school teacher’ types makes my feet want to curl up and drop off.

Without wanting to sound like one of those very snobs that I shy away from, neither did I want to attend a writer’s group filled with old grannies writing stories about their cat (and, by the way, I love cats). I’ve been there, done that and I’ll be back there soon enough I’m sure. My desire was to find a group of people just like me – if that were at all possible. People who had enough intelligence to provide valuable critique without making me feel I should give up and stay home to watch the Jeremy Kyle Show. I soon realised that in order to test the waters with what I had to offer, I did indeed have to dip my toes in that scary water.

Taking my courage in my hands, I signed up for a writer’s workshop at Bloomsbury Press in London. The title of the workshop was “How to hook an agent.” I didn’t feel my writing was at the point of needing an agent. My coat of protection was the notion that this was a fact finding mission. If my work wasn’t up to scratch it was because it wasn’t ready – if you catch my drift.

The day of the workshop arrived as did I, all nervous with my laptop in hand. I have no sense of direction and was following my trusty Google Navigation along the streets of London. When I looked up, I met a similarly apprehensive individual, smartphone in hand, nervously looking around.

Are you here for the writer’s workshop?” I asked with all the coyness of a girl embarking on her first day at school. I was met with a smile and relieved nod of the head.

My new friend Alice and I walked in together and sat next to each other to provide each other with much needed moral support. As it turned out, there was nothing to be scared of. We met a group of 4 agents, each providing us with valuable information on what they looked for in a query letter and submission pitch. In the afternoon, we had an opportunity to use that information and deliver our own pitch.

Hearing yourself describe your book to a group of people you’ve never met before is an illuminating experience. First of all, you are fighting the fight or flight instinct with thoughts of ‘what the hell am I doing here?’ But what follows after your mind has scrabbled around trying to find as few words as possible to sum up your book, is the beginnings of your ‘elevator pitch’. Let’s be honest, how many of you would make yourself come up with that at home in the comfort of your study, until push came to shove?

Instead of blank expressions, communicating the much feared ‘what planet are you on?’, you will receive encouraging nods, and people breaking out into their own discussions about ‘your book’.

The feedback I received in my ‘one-to-one’ with my chosen agent of the day, was invaluable. What surprised me most was the questions from other writers and participants. Questions about characters, questions about what inspired the novel and so on.

In short, I came away from the day thinking, ‘you know what, I might have something here. I’ve got a lot of work to do, but I know where the work needs to be done.’ Putting myself up for scrutiny like that provided fresh momentum, new motivation, clearer direction and a belief that my destiny didn’t lie in the lap of Jeremy Kyle while my writing languished in a bottom drawer somewhere.

So if you’re struggling with confidence or clarity, I really recommend putting yourself out there. Start with whatever group you feel most comfortable with. Nowadays local libraries run excellent writer’s groups who will provide you with a forum to read your work out loud. That alone is an invaluable experience.

Of course, for my part, the icing on the cake from my adventures in London was making the acquaintance of like-minded people who were really great fun to be around. We made a pact to email each other from time to time and offer support when moments of doubt come knocking. Nobody was interested in pinching my story idea because they all have fantastic stories of their own to tell. So yes, writing a novel is a solitary experience, but it doesn’t have to be a lonely one.