The little boy in a hat

This is a post that I originally posted in my other blog, Suffolk Scribblings, but which is all about the writing process and the morality of us as writers, profiting from other people’s suffering.

Suffolk Scribblings

For the last couple of weeks I’ve been waiting for feedback from my alpha readers on my first book. As well as writing the odd blog post, I’ve been using my precious writing time to plan out my next book. I’ve been working it through for a week or so and got to a stage where I needed a turning point which would have enough emotional impact to tip my main character to do something they would normally never consider.

So, like most writers, I started to think about what would cause me pain and I immediately my children come to mind and how I would feel if they had an incurable illness. It is important for the plot that this illness cannot be treated on the NHS in the UK, even better that there is a treatment available abroad but that it would cost a lot of money. I…

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I have a new blog

I have just started a new blog. This is not a betrayal. Nor is it a separation. This blog was always intended to record the journey of writing my first novel and I intend to keep updating it as things progress, but as time has moved on I have found myself wanting to write about other things, completely separate from this journey. There is a lot going on in the world, both locally, nationally and internationally. I am interested in many things and I’d like to share my thoughts and opinions with the wider world. This is what my new blog is for. It will give me a chance to exercise my writing muscles on large and small subjects that I feel are important.

If you want to come along for the ride, please feel free to visit me at my new blog, Things I need to write about (snappy eh?) My first blog is about a gig at the village where I live.


Finished – for now

I wrote two very special words today:

The End

At  1:30pm BST I completed the third draft of my book and for a few moments I sat in front of the screen, those two words glowing in front of me, giggling like a child. It has taken much longer to reach this point than first thought. Writing the first draft had been a joy, the culmination of a lifetimes worth of pent up creativity. Editing it wasn’t. It was only after having read it through for the first time that I realised just how shitty* it was and how much work I had to do. During the following months I felt like one of those victorian flower collectors, hacking through a dead wood jungle before glimpsing the odd hidden gem. Darlings were slaughtered as I discarded over 18,000 words and re-wrote the majority of the rest. I played around with the structure of the story and sharpened the dialogue until I metaphorically cut my fingers as I typed.

The third draft was more fun. I was able to enjoy the book, smoothing out rough edges and adding touches as I followed each character’s individual story arc. While honing the third draft, I realised how similar my writing process was to an old art program I sometimes watched as a child in the late 1970’s. The artist was an old man with a beard, who always painted with a palette knife, which seemed rather odd to me at the time. If his style was unique, so was his colour scheme; his paintings were made up by browns of all hue with the odd touch of black or white for contrast. At first, he would slap on the background, smearing oils across canvass with broad sweeps of his blade. Then, he would block in his main subjects: the outline of a house or (as was usually painted according to my memories) a horse. Finally, he would gently touch in the detail, picking out highlights with knife’s tip; the glint of an eye or shadow under fetlock. This is how I see my writing process (though hopefully with a broader spectrum of colours and a less equine theme). Some people start small and get broader as time goes on. I’m the reverse and for the past few weeks I’ve enjoyed adding those small touches.

So the book has been (or in some cases will be shortly) sent to my test readers for first feedback. It is the first time anybody other than myself has seen what I’ve written, but should hopefully reassure my wife that I’ve not been sitting in the office typing “all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” I’m both nervous and excited, because even though I’ve written a book, within the next few weeks I should get an indication as to whether I can actually write.

*Thank you Anne Lamott for this phrase, it helped a lot.

Editing Question

Ok, I have a question for all you experienced authors. I’m in the middle of my first edit, have read through the manuscript from start to finish to identify any structural and flow issues, and am now going through line by line to tighten up my writing (or slash and burn as I prefer to call it).

I started out editing on a printed version of the manuscript, which I found excellent when cutting out unnecessary words, sentences or paragraphs, but clumsy when trying to amend text or expand where needed. I did this for the first two chapters and then entered the changes into Scrivener, which proved just as long winded as the original edit. I then decided to edit directly into Scrivener (which allows you to save versions of each section of your manuscript, giving you the option of rolling back the changes if you screw things up). I found this a much easier way of working, especially when expanding where needed.

Here’s the question: Am I missing something when it comes to the value of editing on paper? Does anybody else edit their electronic version of the manuscript directly?

OK, it was two questions.

If it’s just a case of whatever works for you, then great, but as I’m still at an early stage, I’d really appreciate any advice on this.

Many thanks in advance for your replies!

Ready for the dreaded red pen

Well, it’s taken a little while longer than I thought it would but I’ve finally finished filling the holes and making the big changes to the manuscript and I’m now ready to read it through for the first time.

My manuscript!

My manuscript!

That’s it, all 110,000 words and 493 pages. It seems a little strange to think that just six months ago I sat in front of a blank screen, wondering as to whether I would be capable of writing a page, and now I have a fully fleshed out second draft waiting to be hacked into (I’m not sure whether I am using the right terminology, but in my head, the first draft is the first write through from start to finish without stopping, the second contains the major corrections and changes that you knew needed to be made to ensure the story made sense – in my case writing out a character, adding in the causes of civil unrest that suddenly seemed a food idea two thirds of the way through – with the third draft being the first fully edited version for reader testing).

My trusty editing kit

My trusty editing kit

Talking of hacking, it was my wedding anniversary today and as a gift, my wife bought me the editing kit above. Who said romance is dead. I am looking forward to putting them to good use over the coming weeks.

For those interested, I’ve been reading an excellent book on editing called Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King. If you are looking for a clear and concise guide on how to edit your book, I would heartily recommend you get it.

So, it’s T- 4 days and counting before the first read through, with the aim to have a second draft ready for some selected reader testing by the end of April. Wish me luck everyone.

Editing is hard

Editing is hard, or should I say, I’m finding this particular part of the editing phase hard. I’m not saying that I’m not enjoying myself, I am, but there is a small part of me that is now regretting not spending a little more time in the planning phase.

For a start, my first draft is so big. It didn’t feel this big while I was writing it. I was very happy, writing away, telling the story without the need to look back at what I had written. Now, however, I’ve started to realise just how big 100,000 words really are (it will be at this point that some of you writers will be going “Pah! 100,000 words? Come back to me when you’ve written something substantial.”) For me, though, as a first timer, it’s a lot. Really. The good news is that I was having doubts about whether the story (as opposed to my writing) was any good, but while reading through the manuscript, I’ve discovered many good things that I had completely forgotten about. The bad news, is that I have an awful lot still to do.

It also doesn’t help that the editing phase I’m involved in, is making the big changes, those changes that I knew I had to make before I get the chance to read through the full manuscript as a whole. I have five more scenes to go, before I finally get to read the finished draft. Five more. The difficult ones (does everybody leave these until last?).

It also doesn’t help that I keep having ideas. I’ve changed the ending of the book. Again. I’ve killed somebody. Not written them out (although that has happened too), but decided that the story would be better if somebody died. I must admit to enjoying picking out the supporting character that was for the chop, and then killing them off. Mwa ha ha ha (maniacal laugh).

The only saving grace to this period of editing is that I have just transferred the manuscript to Scrivener, and it has been a godsend. I have a clear idea of the status of each scene in my book, what needs amending and what is ready for a read through. I can also see how helpful Scrivener will be when I write my next book (yes, it’s still there, tapping away at the sub-conscience, desperate to be heard.) I’ve no idea how the windows version works, but if you are either writing, or thinking of writing a book on a mac, spend your £30 (or a few more dollars) on Scrivener. I can’t recommend it enough.

Back in the saddle

For those people that know me well, the title of this blog will be very funny, but I mean it in the metaphorical sense. I need to start with a few apologies. To those of you that kindly agreed to follow this blog, with the expectation of receiving regular progress updates, I’m sorry. Many apologies too for those that have left comments since mid December. My performance has been a little lax, to say the least, but I believe I’m up to date. I do, however, have an excuse. I have been following the advice of Stephen King and letting my first draft rest, a period that happily coincide with the Christmas and New Year festivities and less happily with a bout of the lurgy which swept through the family. So I haven’t had much to report up until now, and as this blog is all about my journey, let’s just call this a planned detour.

That’s not to say I’ve not been doing anything. I’ve been doing further research on genetics (thanks Daneel), making notes on my second book, and reading, reading and more reading. As the title says, though, I’m back writing again, having started the first part of the editing process. For those who aren’t au fait with this stage of the writing process, what is meant to happen is that I read through my manuscript, taking out all the unnecessary text, tightening up the story, tailoring the pacing and fine tuning the wordsmithery, along with correcting the many grammatical and spelling mistakes. As it happens, I’m doing none of the above. Yet. At the moment I’m correcting the first half of the manuscript so that it matches where I got to in the second half, following all the ideas and changes that came to me whilst writing the first draft.

Last week I started to write out a character that appeared in the first few chapters of the book, his activity being added to another character, hopefully giving them more depth. This is not as straight forward as it sounds. I’m not able to simply change the dialogue and actions from “Jim says” to “Bob says,” as the character from whose viewpoint I’m writing liked the first character but dislikes the second. This has led me to rewrite some passages, take out others and most interestingly inverting some dialogue which works much better than the passage as it was originally written.
I’m also planting seeds of social unrest that come to the fore in the final third. This is a lot of fun, because it allows you to write about seemingly innocent activity which will have enormous consequences later on. It’s made me wonder weather I should write my next book starting at the end and working backwards!

I hope everybody who reads this had a wonderful Christmas and New Year period and I look forward to catching up with you all soon.