Taking the next step

Sending ones first manuscript into the world is no easy step. Like the wavering toddle of a baby learning to walk, learning to hush your inner critic long enough to send a file to someone other than your best friend or mother, can be very daunting. I should know, in the past year I have taken a number of steps like this on my walk to publication.

I started my book in late 2014. A project with no expectations or limitations. I’d always dreamed of being a writer, but I had a job I loved and a comfortable, reasonably carefree life. I wanted to see if I could write a book.

It turns out I can! Though, not a particularly good one. At the time, that didn’t matter, because nobody was going to read it. When I decided to take the next logical step in the process and revise the draft, I made a number of revelations, not least of all that maybe I actually did want to make something real of this story.

I signed up to a Masters of Creative Writing. I applied for Fiona McIntosh’s Commercial Fiction Masterclass. I wrote and rewrote my story until it became something I could almost be proud of.

Through each of these meanderings, I shared a chapter here and there. I took on board feedback and criticism and tried to apply parts of these to the whole. Earlier this year, I got my manuscript to a point where I thought, I need someone other than myself to read this and tell me where it’s not working. I was too close to it now and needed a fresh perspective.

But the thought of someone else reading my work in full was daunting. It was a necessary step, I knew, but one that seemed much harder than all the ones before it. Sharing the whole manuscript would be like stripping off my clothes and standing before a crowd, letting them see all there was to me, with no coverings to hide my scars and imperfections.

When I nervously hit send on the email, a miraculous thing happened; I came up with a new story idea. Just. Like. That. It was as if my brain suddenly freed up an entire shelf’s worth of space for something new. The second I released this huge part of myself, reasoning that I would not think or tinker with my manuscript until all four beta readers had returned their feedback, my brain was open and ready for the next thing.

The saying, ‘when one door closes another door opens’ had never held any meaning for me before. In my life, I’ve been the director of the doors. Deliberately opening them and walking through. I always knew what was on the other side. Yet, there I was, fearing that I would be told my work is rubbish, fearing that I would have a void where my ongoing draft had previously been, and most of all, fearing that I wouldn’t have another book in me.

Sending your work into the world, can be like stepping off a cliff. You’re free falling, almost suspended in the air knowing that soon enough, you’re going to hit the water. It’s going to hurt like hell, but you’re too far gone now to change it.

Strangely, the worry about what my beta readers think has subsided. Don’t get me wrong, I still care deeply and want my book to be a success. I want to publish that story, but I’ve also realised that it’s not all that I have to offer. If it doesn’t get picked up, it’s okay, because now I have something new to focus on, and the experience and tenacity to see it through to the end.

The thing with writing a book is that you’ll step over multiple cliffs, climb back up and do it all again. When all my beta feedback comes in, I’ll revise and rewrite and then move onto the next step; either sending to an editor, a publisher or an agent willing to take on my debut novel.

And if my book does get picked up, then the journey really begins!

Sometimes the words just flow…

I want to tell you a secret.

Sometimes my fingers fly so fast across the keyboard, they can barely keep up with the thoughts and ideas circumnavigating my brain.

These are the times when I am in ‘the zone’ of my novel. Something has just clicked together like a missing puzzle piece and the rest just seems to fall into place. It’s almost like an avalanche, where one small change or idea has the power to influence everything else in its path.

This quite often happens when I’m layering exposition. I can get lost in the spatial awareness of my characters, or of the colour of someones eyes, the way their hair kinks out just so. These are the little details I love to write. These small details that give the reader just enough to start building a world or an image in their mind. Enough that they can be immersed in place and time without being told where, or who or what.

But then, at other times, I sit at my desk and I watch the clock slowly tick by. Writing words feels like pulling weeds. A job that has to be done, but it feels never-ending. There is no joy in these moments. I’ve had a few of these days in the past. But they’ve been fewer and farther between lately. I equate this to two changes:

  1. I am writing more regularly than ever before (excluding NaNoWriMo), and
  2. I’m writing less words.

I’m not writing less words overall, just less words each time I sit down to write. I’ve given myself permission not to reach a certain number of words if they aren’t coming. I allow myself a bit of time to see if it will be a flow or flop kind of day, and then I let it happen naturally.

These days, I’m fitting writing around a baby, so I don’t have the luxury of wiling away hours. My words need to be on point and quick. If it’s not going to happen. It’s not going to happen.

But that’s OK, because there’s always tomorrow.