I’m in the early stages of my journey as a debut author, so I thought I’d blog about my experiences and hopefully offer some advice for anyone looking to do it too!
If living through the “unprecedented times” of a global pandemic has taught me anything, it’s that life is short. You only get one shot at life, and if there’s something you must do – something you’ll regret forever if you don’t at least give it a try – then you MUST do it!
For me, it’s being a published author.
I started working on a book idea a while ago. I dipped in and out of it, using any and every reason for procrastination. It just felt like such a mammoth project, and who did I think I was, writing a book? However, for all the challenges of 2020, living in such an unsettling period certainly pushed me towards an attitude of ‘Just bloody go for it.’ It taught me that I have to take tangible steps towards my dream of being a published author because if I wasn’t going to do it for me, then who was? And what did I really have to lose if I didn’t at least try?
The first step towards that dream was actually sitting down and getting the words on the page.
The best advice I can give when it comes to thinking of an idea for your novel is to keep a notebook (or use Notes on your phone) and jot down anything that springs to mind. I have pages and pages of scribbles, most of it is rubbish, but some ideas are worth exploring – even if it means putting them on the backburner for now.
Another tip is to read, read, read! Read everything in the genre that you want to write – immerse yourself in the work of the authors who are successful in that particular genre. There are endless free resources that can help you hone your skills, and also some brilliant creative writing courses.
Do everything you can to learn about story structure. A book I’d massively recommend is ‘Save The Cat! Writes a Novel’ by Jessica Brody. It applies screenwriting methodology to novel writing and outlines the critical plot points that make up a story.
Word count is an important consideration too, as the typical word count differs across genres. It’ll by no means be the final word count once you get further along the process, but it’s a good start. For example, when I submitted my manuscript to agents, it was just shy of 80,000 words, then it clocked up 100,000, and now (as of July 2021!) my editor and I are working on getting it down to approximately 90,000.
There’s nothing more to this than sitting down and getting the words on the page.
It doesn’t matter if they’re the worst words ever written. (Note: I’m absolutely sure they won’t be, but we writers can be a tad dramatic.) And there’s a high chance you’ll want to delete them in the early days. However, if you still hate them when you’re editing, then you can delete them, but as the saying goes, “You can’t edit a blank page.”
Think of the first draft as telling yourself the story, exploring your plot and getting to know your characters. It doesn’t have to be perfect. It just has to be there.
When I finished my first draft in June 2020, I spent the following few days in a happy daze because I’d FINALLY crossed off one of my ultimate goals in life – I’d finished my first novel! Alas. Plot twist. I read it back, and the first half that I’d dipped in and out of writing over the years was awful. Truly awful, as in, throw-it-in-a-shredder-and-cry. So, what did I do? I deleted it. The entire first half. Deep breath. Click. 40,000 words gone.
Deleting that mammoth chunk of the book was painful, but it was necessary. I rolled up my sleeves and rewrote the first half of the book.
I’d like to say that was the end of the editing process, but in the words of Ted Hastings: Jesus, Mary and Joseph and the wee donkey – it was NOT the end. In fact, it was the start of many, many edits. Even now, I can’t put a number on how many times I’ve drafted, re-drafted, deleted, edited and amended (I’m currently going through the editing process with my publisher). But you just have to make peace with editing because it’s a vital part of the writing process.
Even by the time you think your manuscript is done and ready for querying literary agents, it isn’t the end of editing. When you sign with an agent, and later work with an editor through your publisher, you’ll likely have to go through many rounds of intense edits all over again!
By the time summer 2020 rolled around, I was happy with my manuscript and felt ready to start querying literary agents. My 30th birthday loomed, and my aim was to have done everything in my power to ensure that I was one step closer to gaining representation.
At this point, while my day job was still quiet, the relentless routine of writing, editing and querying consumed me. I couldn’t switch off. I couldn’t think about anything else except my manuscript landing on an agent’s desk, them enjoying it, requesting the full novel and then offering representation. My experience of that ‘OH MY GOD’ moment, and how you can maximise your chances when querying agents, is what I’ll explore in my next blog!