At the start the thought of reaching 100,000+ words seemed like the equivalent of scaling one of the higher Himalayan mountains; a mind-boggling feat that was best not contemplated. Just one step at a time. A slow journey for me with so many distractions if not setbacks. But no excuses, because no one asked me to do this. So if I failed it was only me to be disappointed.
To extend the mountain analogy (perhaps to excess): I mostly seemed to be wading through low clouds and finding myself lost. But occasionally they would clear to reveal a landscape that while unfamiliar had features I could pick out, which combined to be something meaningful. Then finally reaching what seemed like the top but under a misty haze, though still seeing way below and feeling I could go no farther. Still, the happy relief of a load removed and a kind of jadedness from struggling my way through the difficult bits (of which there were many) impaired any perception of reality. So it’s better leaving time to recover before coming back down. Before attempting that second draft.
It’s not uncommon to write a third or fourth draft. Somehow details are missed, inconsistencies. (Funny how glaringly obvious errors have escaped my attention even after 3-4 read-throughs!) I’ve been accused of writing disjointed chapters, so am careful now to keep everything tied into as tight a narrative as the story allows. But there’s always the chance of some fundamental flaw which makes that impossible. Too early to tell. This is still the time to have – faith. Meanwhile: take a break of at least a month, maybe another project, and then face the sobering reality of how this latest novel fails.
Links to my fiction: The Captured (US) The Captured (UK)
Time Over (UK) Time Over (US)
The one big advantage of self publishing is having total control of your final output. No editor to ‘kill your darlings’ – drawing metaphorical red pen lines through your precious finely crafted text. Yes surely the reader has the time and patience to read that digression so integral to your protagonist, their back-story.
While the self publishing route can seem like a recipe for an unrestrained and undisciplined (and unchecked) writing sprawl, it represents creative freedom. I’m surprised what is allowed to remain in the books from big-name publishers of big-name authors – those with past acclaim. One rule for them? The difference is that they have garnered the trust of readers who know the book is worth sticking with through all the flabby parts. Not that I’d claim to be a great editor. Certainly self-editing has been a problem. It’s never easy to see the wood for the trees when it concerns your own novel.
It always seems as if traditional publishers/agents are looking for the next big thing that is similar to the last, but fresh. They state what they prefer, mentioning particular authors. So somehow you should be like them and yet original, as if there this finely tuned skill known only to writers of a certain talent. That can feel dispiriting. Even if you admire said author, hold them up as an ideal, what you produce can only ever be a sub-version of theirs. Yet to claim “I am an original, and I aspire to no one,” can just seem like arrogance.
If, from those gate-keepers, examples of their ideal fiction is only meant as a guide then perhaps they should state that. Or maybe they should be more open-minded to the possibility that the next big talent may come out of left-field, and surprise everyone.
Thanks for reading.
….is knowing what to leave in, or cut out.
On that (possibly) final draft, when I’m feeling confident, I rewrite with ease, often thinking: that so obviously needs changing, how could I not have seen it before? So another paragraph further honed until I’m happy with it – again. But the thought of having to cut said paragraph seems, well, unconscionable. This is common; it must have given rise to that troubling phrase “kill your darlings.”
What precious sections were in need of cutting only becomes apparent when it’s too late. I recently noticed a new review for my novel Time Over, having assiduously avoided reading them lately (I find it’s generally best not to read my own reviews, and certainly while the next book is in progress). I just happened to see the word edit (or editing); it was enough to make me turn away and click off before I could see any more words of that damning indictment.
The problem is, one reader’s self-indulgent dross is another’s profound insight. At least that’s what you tell yourself … to keep the darkness at bay. But really you can’t strike the same cord with everyone. Yet there is a standard, and maybe this is why a professional editor can be valuable.
But if my latest book does go to an editor, it would be tempting to tell them: “I accept all the amendments you advise/the corrections you’ve made. Just don’t let me see them.” Then I am spared the potential pain of seeing my creation ripped apart.
In a book review I read only this afternoon someone decried the use of a prologue, recommending that you skip it, saying it detracted from the story. While that can be true, it can also give an insight onto the essence of a novel, a flavour (if it’s done properly) of the style as well as story. In brief, a shortcut.
Not that I’ve managed those things perfectly. There’s always been something of a compromise, having to balance interesting or entertaining writing with explanation (though trying to avoid exposition). There may have even been inconsistencies. My latest focuses more on a key character than any important plot point; it’s about his condition as result of his predicament.
A prologue is not about leading you into the story’s beginning but more like a snap-shot taken from a different angle to the rest, maybe a wider angle or a narrow focus, whatever seems the most interesting and revealing. If it focuses on a specific point in time dealt with later on in the novel then best to avoid repetition, even if the reader has forgotten much of the prologue by then. Peter Watts’ Blindsight is a the best example I’ve read in recent years.
It’s true that the prologue seems to have gone somewhat out of fashion. I don’t know how much publishers and agents are reflecting this or leading the way but many now are showing their dislike, judging by blogs I’ve read. Maybe it became too obvious a device; in science fiction often used to ease the reader in to a complex storyline concept. Then that dreaded word formulaic is invoked.
But here’s a final plea from someone who still cleaves to that old device, not as a standard formula, but just as an option. Because sometimes there seems no better way to begin a story.
If you’re writing the third and possibly final draft there’s no excuse for not giving it your all. The question is, does that mean only working on it when you feel a hundred percent well, comfortable and generally on top of your game?
Today I’m writing this with a cold when I’d normally be on that third draft of The Captured. It’s easy, then, to make excuses for not really feeling up to it. It could be that you’re just feeling fed up for having missed the only bit of sun on an otherwise gloomy February day; a whole multitude of reasons for being less than a hundred percent focused on the work. (And, BTW, I hate it when people talk about giving something 110 or more percent, as there’s no sense of any maximum effort. OK, rant over.)
There’s plenty of advice out there on writing fiction in general, about ploughing on even when the muse is not there. But this (though hardly ever stated) seems to refer to that first creative stage, when just getting those words down is a achievement and never mind the quality. Not that I’d ever set myself a word-count goal – that’s a tyranny of the self, treating it like some feat of endurance. If someone has set a deadline, a contract with money involved, then maybe. No hard and fast rules otherwise.
I guess many writers have realized that on their third draft they haven’t been completely focused, and so they do a fourth, or a fifth…. But why waste the time if your not giving it your A-game?
For me, starting work on a new book has been easy. Getting beyond the first chapter – let alone to a completed novel – is an entirely different matter. Some might compare embarking on a new novel to falling in love … again: This is The One, at least you think that when it starts to take shape. Of course, all previous ones seemed exactly as special at the time – it was going to be your magnum opus, nothing was ever going to top that. Then reality hits. In my case in the form of reviews. Although some have been positive I always like to fixate on the negative. My initial reaction (in my head) is: But you haven’t read it properly; you don’t understand that character’s motivations or the underlying causes. In truth, I would get carried away with an idea. But – in science fiction – you can get mired in trying to unravel a complex theory shaping an event with an even more complex explanation. Brushing over it can seem like a lack of attention to detail or authenticity; the obverse seeming weighty and stymie the reader if not the plot. However, this type of insight has tended to be very much after the fact (when the book is out there). At least with an E-book it’s never really too late.
If I’m going to stretch my initial analogy, then think of that work-in-progress as a new relationship. You invest your all into it and expect to find answers very quickly. You are filled with hope but also troubled by insecurity, the latter tends to happen about a quarter of the way in. Life eventually intrudes: distractions, maybe personal events or outside that can make your big idea seem insignificant, irrelevant or inappropriate. At the start it might have been like living in a bubble. But when that bubble bursts is when you can truly get a handle on what your WIP will become. Not that there’s anything wrong with quixotic thinking at the outset, because the voices of doubt telling you to prepare for failure are rarely useful. Anyway, if you make it halfway (for me around 50,000 words) then there is that sense of having been on a journey with a possible destination, maybe not what you expected it to be, but still well worth continuing.
Time Over is now free to download for a very limited time.
A question many writers ask themselves is: how much do reviews matter?
I noticed something curious when I recently withdrew a novel I wasn’t happy with, and also had some spare time to rewrite. The book could best have been described as an interesting failure, problematic in its creation. So I’d given up finding a traditional publisher and went with Lulu.com as well as putting it up on various other sites as a free download. Anyway, checking the Amazon UK page I was surprised to see there’d been nine reviews of the book, averaging 3 stars. So did that suggest mediocrity, or something more interesting? I think most writers would prefer to think – given that average – some hated their work and some loved it. But there was not that smiley face bar graph. Ok, so there were way out concepts in the book, stretching the science fiction to the fiction end at times. I half expected there to be some negative comments about certain sex scenes that were not exactly conventional (although not especially graphic). None however. Frankly, it was That Difficult Second Novel where I tried to expand my writing range, where I’d got a little too ambitions. You aim for the stars and end up getting three! It is pleasing though that even ten people (1 US) were motivated enough to write a review of a free book from a relatively unknown author, especially those who seemed just a bit disappointed. Trouble is, when you write a blog about writing you build yourself up to be knocked down. At least that’s usually the British way. But I’d be the first to admit there’s always room for improvement. It’s a constant learning process.
Well, I’ve republished Time Over on Amazon KDP. The price can’t be set at zero but is as low as possible, for now anyway. Will be interesting to see how it fails this time. I know there are those who have an aversion to paying for a novel that hasn’t been recommended or passed some threshold of star rating. But any starred reviews are welcome – if they’re well considered.