Writing a novel – a writer’s journal: part 21
I strangely find myself grieving.
I am grieving over my finished novel. That may seem a somewhat strange reaction to finishing my novel for children last Tuesday, but that is exactly how I feel. For almost nine months this story has been growing within me-and I didn’t plan the gestation period to be nine months, but that has an oddly significant synchronicity to it.
Much of my planning and thinking over the last nine months has centred on the novel and its characters. In particular, the last two months has seen me totally focused on getting the first draft done. I worked long hours on the story during that time and finally the first draft has come to an end. To carry the analogy even further, I almost feel like I’m going through some form of post-natal depression. Weird.
I was so caught up in the creative process of the developing story that the ending came with a real let down. It’s finished. What was going to happen to my characters now? They had come to life on the pages of my printed out manuscript-and now their lives have been cut short.
Now comes the messy part. Just as a new mother has to deal with a new born baby and the messy bits-the muck of excreta, the insistent demands to be fed, the restlessness of sleeping and waking-so too the new born novel screams out for attention. Before my novel can emerge into the wild, imposing, critical world for all to see, it demands my total attention again, and again, and again.
It needs a firm, disciplined and yet loving hand to mold it into shape. It has flaws that need correcting. It has errors that need elimination. It has aspects missing that need to be inserted. It has inconsistencies that need righting. Above all, it needs daily attention and assistance until it has reached maturity and I can wave it goodbye and send it off to a publisher.
Oh dear-I can see another day of tears looming, the day my baby leaves home for good.
I think I’d better go and get pregnant with another story.
- Writing a novel – an archive of articles detailing how I went about writing a novel.
Writing a novel – a writer’s journal: part 20
Rewriting and editing: is there a difference?
There is a fine line between rewriting and editing. One of my lecturers is quite adamant that there is a huge difference. I see them as distinct but closely related. What you call them is not important. It’s the process that is crucial.
By rewriting I mean going back over the whole text and literally rewriting whole passages – perhaps even whole chapters. In my case, there should be a minimal amount of this as I strive for my first draft to be very good. Blogging – as well as many aspects of the course work for my MA – has taught me to write quickly and accurately. It comes with experience – the more you write the better you get at it.
Despite that, I know that there are quite a few passages where I need to scrap what I’ve written and rewrite afresh. My supervising lecturers, (and fellow students) have pointed out that in the early chapters I have managed to have an inconsistent and shifting point of view which is confusing to the reader. It is very important to be consistent with POV in children’s books.
In some cases only a sentence or two need rewriting; in other areas it can be as much as a paragraph or part of a chapter.
There will also be some cultural elements relating to my setting (Nepal) that I still want to include. My first draft was just getting the story down. This element of the rewriting is more fine tuning the story, adding local colour, cultural references, locally used words and expressions and so on. I’m striving for authenticity; all I have at present is the plot. (Perhaps that is being a little harsh on myself! I hope you get the point.)
Editing on the other hand is a distinct discipline. In this stage I will look at all the nitty-gritty elements of spelling, punctuation, word usage, grammar and sentence construction. It really is a nit-picking stage. Basically being an editor with a big red pencil. A bit like how I marked students’ work when I was a classroom teacher in another life.
The editing process is also distinct from the proofreading stage. This last stage is checking that everything is totally correct, that there are no typos and the finished manuscript is perfect in every way. You don’t look for elements of style or even grammar at this stage.
- Writing a novel – many articles extensively outlining the process I went through while writing a novel for children.
Yesterday I finished the first draft of my novel for children. I have been working hard on this over the last two months and finished it over a week ahead of the schedule I had set for myself. I love setting goals – and then achieving them. Now my creative brain needs a little break for a few days. Time to attend to a few other matters before launching into the rewriting phase.
Today I had a totally different writing task which took most of my attention. The whole point of writing, in my opinion, is to be published. Sure, there are people who write just for themselves and are totally happy with an audience of one. I guess my private journal writing comes into that category. Such writing is not aimed at a broader audience. Unless, of course, I become obscenely rich or infamously notorious as a result of my writing. Some people might want to read my private grumblings. But I doubt it.
Today I prepared some submissions for a publisher. I’m nearing the end of my Master of Arts course, and every year the humanities department calls for submissions from staff and students involved in the programme. The deadline is Friday, so I knew I had to get organised. Successful poems and stories are published in the annual anthology which is published in November. Last year I had a story and ten poems chosen which was very satisfying. This time around I have submitted eight poems and four short stories. It will be interesting to see which of them the editors choose.
One of the good things about this submission is that I could submit electronically. Makes the whole process relatively painless compared with sending off letters. Bit cheaper too.
Challenge to readers
Are you constantly writing but never sending off those stories and poems and articles you’ve slaved over so lovingly? The secret to getting published is no secret, really. You need to write, write, write and then submit, submit submit. And while waiting to hear back from the publishers, you need to write some more, and then write some more and then submit… I think you get the picture.
Send off a story or poem today.
Good writing – and may you see your writing in print soon. I know I will.
Writing a novel – a writer’s journal part 19
I DID IT!
I actually did it. I have finished writing the first draft of my novel for children. I wrote the last words this afternoon.
My target was 40,000 words which is set down as a requirement by my lecturers. (This is my thesis paper for my Master of Arts Creative Writing degree.) In the end I finished on about 39,175 words which is good. It gives me a little flexibility during the rewriting stage. I know there will be extra things I want to include in a few places. The maximum word count is a guide only anyway, but we really can’t stray too far under or over. In reality it may have been better to be over by a few thousand words; it is much easier to cut rather than add words.
Next stage: rewriting
I’m going to let it sit for a few days before getting back to it. Ideally I might be better off leaving it for a few weeks, but with a deadline of the end of November I don’t have that luxury. The next stage is to go through the whole manuscript, rewriting sentences and passages as needed. I know I have some problems with point of view in the early chapters, for example. I will also sit down with my supervising lecturer and analyse whether there needs to be any structural changes. This will inevitably lead to more rewriting.
The next crucial stage is editing. In this stage I will go back over the whole manuscript, looking at all the fine details of spelling, punctuation, word usage (is this the best word to use here?), grammar and sentence construction. It is a process I do not enjoy. I’ve been trying to get to ‘like’ this stage as an important step in the creative writing process. I don’t think I’ll ever ‘love’ it. At present I tolerate it as a necessary stage towards getting published.
The final stage is proofreading. In this stage I will check every letter, every word, every punctuation mark and make sure everything is perfect.
I have a few busy weeks ahead.
- Problems with point of view
- The importance of editing
- To err is human – to proofread is to be a good writer: seven effective proofreading hints
- Writing a novel
Writing a novel – a writer’s journal part 18
This week has seen great progress on my novel for children. I have had one of the most productive weeks in a long time. It has also helped that my diabetes at last is under some sort of control. Sure, I’ve had a few periods where it has caused a little problem with sleepiness, but overall I am feeling much better. Energized, creative and productive – that’s a good combination.
The momentum with my novel has been building now for quite a few weeks. Over the last week I’ve added on 8000 words. I passed the 36,000 word mark this afternoon which is another major milestone along the way. My target is 40,000 words but we do have a little leeway either way. I still have a chapter and a half to go and that should add 2500 to 3000 more words so I am right on the money with my planning.
Originally I planned to write 20 chapters each of about 2000 words. I’ve generally achieved that. Most are a little under and several are just over. The first chapter was written deliberately short, so that gives me a bit more flexibility in the rest. During the rewriting stage I anticipate adding a few sentences and paragraphs here and there, so I should still be within the word limit.
One of the interesting things that has happened over the last week is that the momentum built up and the total focus on getting the story down has produced some unplanned, unexpected twists. Several times characters have popped up in unplanned ways, giving the plot a little twist which has enhanced the tension of the story.
Another interesting thing has happened with the tension. After about chapter 4 or 5 I realized that I needed to dramatically ramp up the action. I believe I have succeeded in doing this. Aimed at 10 to 12 year old children, it needs to be a page turner. Each chapter needs to end on a high, a cliff hanger, or the desire to want to turn the page to see what happens next.