A Writer Writes – October 2016

The Highs and Lows of Being a Writer

This month has seen the completion of the first draft of my new novel, and it’s an exciting – but nerve-wracking – time. Now I have to wait for feedback from my agent and editor. Do they like the story? Do they like the characters? Is the pace consistent? Do I give away too much too soon? Do we feel that the narrator is intentionally withholding information from the reader?

Before I started writing, I had no idea what an editor does. I thought that they read a book and made some corrections, perhaps rewrite paragraphs that are badly written. I was so very wrong. They read it, of course, with great attention to detail. Then they add comments: ‘this bit is too slow’ or ‘this character sounds wooden’ or ‘this exposition it too complicated’. And then the rewrites begin, until the second draft wrangles its way into this world. And then it’s round the circle again, although hopefully this time with fewer comments.

The first edit – putting right any major issues with the structure of the story and the understanding of the characters – normally takes me about a month. Every page has to be read, modified, made consistent in terms of characterisation, before draft two is complete.

The number of iterations depends entirely on how clearly the writer understands the editor’s points and knows how to fix any problems – but a book can go around this loop several times. Sometimes, it’s nearly perfect from the first draft. Other times it might be draft four or five that finally ticks all the boxes and then it’s all done. Or is it?

After that comes – for me, at least – the reading out loud stage, when I discover any places in which the dialogue sounds clunky. There’s a huge difference between reading it on the page and actually hearing the lines spoken. The final version eventually goes off to the copy editor, who will pick up on inconsistencies (for example forward or forwards?) and repetitions (you’ve used the word capacious twice in the last one hundred words! For the record, I’ve never used that particular word – but I’ve just read a book, published, that uses it twice on one page!). They even check that the timeline works and you haven’t changed somebody’s name part way through the book. The marked up manuscript comes back once again, the changes are made, and then it’s off to the proof reader.

So – when people ask me if I’ve finished my next book, the answer is a very tentative ‘yes’. I’ve got the story down, but oh boy, is there a lot of work to look forward to in the coming months. This is the bit that I love the most. It’s like taking a canvas that has the outline of a picture and then filling the gaps with colour and texture.

And also, when I get to this stage, I know that I am not that far away from publishing my new book – always a thrilling time.