It’s Not Done…Until It’s Done!

I often get asked how I know when the book I’m working on is finished. If you’ve been following my struggles with The Tree of Rebels, you will know that I have now lost count of the amount of drafts I’ve done of this book. It’s got to be up to ten, at least! The same applies to The Boy With The Thorn In His Side. There were so many rewrites and drafts of that book that I lost count completely, but at a guess, I would say it easily passed twenty.

This is not true of all my books however. I think there were five or six drafts of The Mess Of Me, only three of Bird People and Other Stories, and probably around five or six for both This Is The Day and This Is Nowhere. For some reasons, those books were just all kind of done by the third draft, and just needed proofreading and polishing after that.

So, how does a writer know when they are done?

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Well, I sort of have a system. If you can call it that.

I’ll explain it using my current work in progress, Elliot Pie’s Guide To Human Nature. As you may already know, Elliot Pie has been written almost alongside The Tree Of Rebels, with me jumping back and forth between the two novels. If one was with beta readers, then I was working on the other one. If I needed a break from one, then it was the other one I’d stick with. Well, it now looks increasingly likely that Elliot Pie will jump past The Tree Of Rebels and become the next release. This is because I’ve decided to stick with it until it is done, and stop jumping between the two books. I also feel it is very close to being finished, much closer than The Tree Of Rebels, which requires a bigger rewrite, with added storylines.

But back to Elliot Pie. How do I know I’m nearly finished? Why is it likely to have a  lot less drafts/rewrites than other books? And how will I know for sure when it is truly ready?

It works a bit like this;

The first draft; ugly, clumsy, galloping, mad, hungry and glorious. An outpouring of ideas with a basic sequence of events, a strong theme, developed characters, all held together by an accompanying notebook of notes, dialogue, bios and so on. While writing, I constantly added items to a list in the notebook; things to add, (extra scenes or dialogue) things to question, research, embellish and so on, or things to reword or cut out. In other words, things to sort out on the second draft!

The second draft; in this case, a read through with a few minor corrections here and there with my list to help me. I was actually surprised by how happy I was with the first draft and at the time, figured I only needed to polish up spelling, grammar and maybe cut out a few bits here and there.

Beta readers; feeling exceptionally brave and over-confident, I made the unusual decision to send it out to two trusted beta readers at second draft. I wouldn’t normally do this so soon, but there were two important things I needed to get their opinions on before I proceeded. One, the tenses change. Elliot is written in first person POV and everything is in the present tense. The adults of the story are written in third person POV and past tense. Don’t ask me why. No decision was made! It just happened this way and I liked it. A lot. Luckily the readers didn’t actually noticed the tenses, but they did have feedback on other issues, such as the middle part dragging and certain bits feeling repetitive.

Third draft; scary, self-conscious, tail between legs, unsure what to do or how to do it. Slowly I came to terms with the critique offered and realised how true it was. I did a lot of cutting out, rearranging and rewriting. I also made a list as I went through, plus I was already using the list I’d made from the readers comments. Things got ticked off the list as I went, so I knew I had answered various questions, or researched particular parts in more detail. By the time I got to the end, I had a new list. I still hadn’t set up a timeline, and one was needed, due to the main character’s disappearance at the end of the novel. What day and time was he last seen and so on?

Fourth draft; list in hand, questions in mind, I tackled it again. Obviously I was correcting typos, spelling and grammar issues as I went through, as well as removing repetitive phrases or words. I had things to add and things to change, for example, I realised too many of the characters were only children, so I had to add a sibling here and there. I also added the timeline and made a list of the exact times and dates the events took place. I needed to exaggerate certain things, leading the reader a particular way, for example, making certain characters darker than they had been. I also added a new scene to the ending and rewrote the first chapter, tightening it all up and hopefully creating more impact. In fact sharpening things up and cutting things out went on a lot!

Fifth draft; (where I am now) another read through, this time on my Kindle. It’s amazing how many more things you pick up on when reading in a different format. Spelling and grammar for example are far more noticeable on an ereader! I’m making another list as I go through, advising myself to reword certain parts, cut out words here and there etc. In fact, quite a lot of my notes this time around involve just cutting words out that do not need to be there as they add nothing to the scene. There is also a separate list above my correction list, which I add to any time something springs to mind. So, for example, while out with the dogs today I realised that a certain object needed to be found and mentioned in a certain scene, as it would add impact and credibility. So far I have seven items on this list; things to add to dialogue and events, things I simply thought of while going about my daily business.

Sixth draft; I will go back to the laptop with this current list in hand, and go through the manuscript methodically correcting the issues, cutting out the words, adding the things I’ve thought of, and so on.

If by the time I get to the end of this draft, there is yet another list on the way, then I will know a seventh draft is needed. Of course there will also be an even more thorough grammar and spelling check, and a proofreading, which will involve sending it back to Kindle to pick up errors.
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So basically, I’ll know the book is as good as I can get it when there are no more things being added to the list! When the list is ticked off and stays ticked off, it will be done. But it also more than that. I have to have the right feeling about it. And as I have mentioned before in other posts, I have yet to have that feeling with The Tree Of Rebels, hence it being held back for now.

I have to feel completely happy, completely satisfied, not just about grammar and typos, but about the actual story. Are all the characters doing what I need them to do? Are they fully alive and realised? Could they walk off the page and into my house to converse with me about anything? Is the beginning interesting and powerful enough? Does it raise questions and curiosity? Is the middle doing its job; developing the story, but keeping a steady pace, keeping the reader coming back for more, making promises? And does the ending satisfy, as well as tie things up if need be? More importantly than all of this, does this book make me smile? When I read it, what is my face doing? I’m pleased to say that at this stage, it is making me smile a lot, and I simply cannot wait to share it with you. I hope all the hard work will be worth it and that you will fall in love with Elliot as much as I have!

Now, over to you! Please feel free to comment and share! Do you ever worry that your book will never get to see the light of day? How many drafts is too many? How do you know when it’s done?

 

I’ve Slowed Down A Bit…(and that’s a good thing)

For the past few weeks, I’ve felt a bit like I am on holiday. This weird, and decidedly naughty feeling has crept over me every day since I handed The Tree Of Rebels back over to my top beta reader. For those that have been following the whole saga, it was meant to be the final, final, draft, but I then decided to hand it over again, and attack it one more time once I get it back. This was meant to be a moment of relief; I’d hand over one project, (the one that’s been driving me crazy) and jump straight into the next one. The next one is the second draft of my novel Elliot Pie’s Guide To Human Nature, a book that was consistently calling to me and generally interrupting the flow of things while I worked on The Tree Of Rebels.

You’d think I was gagging to finally, really get my teeth into that one, and you would be right. I was, and I still am. But something made me stop. It’s been two and a half weeks now since I parted company with The Tree Of Rebels, and I have still not dived into the next book, despite how much I want to.

You see, normally I would have. I would have started that second draft the very next day. I would have divided up my time and my attention, between that, and the million other things I constantly need to do, just like normal. I would have split my time in half each evening; half the time for Elliot Pie, half the time for ‘other things’, such as my short story collection, proposed articles for Author’s Publish, my preparation for the kids writing workshops I run, reviews for Underground Book Reviews, and not to mention, the big fat ugly elephant which sits and reeks constantly in my room. Promo stuff.

Promo stuff; like sorting out my websites, like finishing the process of getting all my books re-available in ebook and paperback after my indie publisher went bust in February, like researching and submitting to review sites, like building an email list, like figuring out how to best ‘sponsor’ a post on my Facebook author page, and so on and so on…

Basically, I have a constant back-list of ugly things to do, and I am constantly putting them off. Why? Because the characters in my head are so totally real, vibrant and alive, that I actually feel physically sick and guilty if I ignore them. Add to that, the very real and crawling in the pit of my belly panic that I have that I will die before I ever get time to write all of the books I want to write… I mean, really, there is just not enough life…

Anyway, I don’t know what, but something happened. Maybe common sense invaded my fucked up writer’s mind and beat the characters over the head with a club to make them shut up. Maybe I just got really tired of juggling lots of balls, and lets face it, seeing very, very little financial reward for any of it. It’s time to get real. It’s time to grow up…well, just a little bit. I love writing. I love it with every fibre and essence of my being. It is completely and utterly who I am, who I have always been, and all I ever want to be. But I can’t just sit and write my books. I have to figure out a way to sell them. I have to give the right amount of attention to other income streams.

So that’s what I’ve been doing. Grown-up stuff. I’ve finished the short story collection and at some point this week I fully intend to upload it to KDP. I’ve set up my email list, and the very lovely subscribers to it will be getting a new and exclusive short story very soon, and many other goodies and sneak peeks in future newsletters. (If you are interested you can sign up here ) I’ve been adding bits to this site  and to my Chasing Driftwood site. I’ve submitted some articles, drafted a review and proposed an author interview. I’m all prepped and ready for my next two kids workshops and my adult writing group.

I’ve been turning the laptop off at nine or ten pm each night. I’ve been curling up on the sofa to watch old X-Files with my kids while they are on Easter holiday. I’ve felt calm and unpanicked, and like I am on holiday! And all because I have pushed the novel writing aside…the thing I love the most…

And yes, all of this time, Elliot Pie has been there. Dear, sweet little Elliot. Who has waited so long to get my full attention, who is there whenever I set foot on my beloved wild common with the dogs, chatting away, thinking his thoughts, writing his lists, trying to think up ways to convince his mum that the world is not such a bad place… He has whispered, and he has giggled, and he has sighed sadly and wandered off again to leave me to it. I am mental, because I really do love him. He is real. Like they all are.

But slowing down has been good for me. Elliot will still be there when I am ready. I am trying to convince myself that I am ignoring him in order to build a better future for him! (See…? Totally fucked up writer’s mind.)

 

 

Final Draft? Patience is the key…

Last Friday I finally finished the final draft of my YA novel The Tree Of Rebels. Yes, yes, yes, it is done! It is finished at last! Or is it? I’ve lost count of how many drafts and rewrites it has been through now. I’ve blogged about a fair few of them! I decided to change the tense from present to past, and I also added some new scenes. Then I went through it all again, with what felt like a very gentle and enjoyable edit. Correcting typos here and there.Small corrections. Nothing major. And I finally liked it!

As I may have mentioned once or twice before, I’ve had a love/hate relationship with this novel since I first got the idea for it. I ignored the idea for a while because it would mean writing a book way out of my comfort zone. When I finally started it, I suddenly got another really good and important idea for another book, which wanted to interrupt this one. I didn’t let it, and forced myself on, which in hindsight, was probably the wrong thing to do. I do wonder if I ought to have listened to the loudest voice, put Tree of Rebels to one side and gone with Elliot Pie when he was at his most demanding…

But anyway, I didn’t. I wrote this book, and then started a second draft, sent to beta-readers, drafted again, hated it, drafted again, loved it, left it for ages while I wrote Elliot Pie…drafted it again, hated it even more and so on, and so on. It was like having a constant argument with myself. This book is brilliant! No, it’s not, it’s a total waste of time!

I’m pleased to report that during this last, final, never to be messed with again, draft, I really and truly fell in love with this book. I got the feeling I had been waiting for. Everything clicked. I knew what it was and I was proud of it. Changing the tense worked wonders, and the extra scenes I added seem to work really well too. I was so into this book by the time I finished it, I even carried on and drafted the synopsis of the sequel, and wrote the first two chapters of this!

So when will I be releasing it then?

Hmm, not yet. Because I still don’t think it is finished! I decided that after so much doubt, it would be worth sending it back to my top beta reader/editor for a final read through. I know she will be honest and scathing if she needs to be. I am curious to see what she thinks of the change in tense and the extra scenes. Waiting for her to read it will give me some head space from it, and a chance for the book to breathe. I thought this was a sensible idea. If there are any lingering typos or things that don’t make sense, they will be picked up and sorted and being patient will help me decide if it really is finished.

The problem is, I am already getting more ideas. Just little bits here and there. Just bits of dialogue, and brief scenes or moments that have suddenly popped into my head. I really didn’t think this would happen! I really did think I was done…

But I’m glad that it has, even if this does mean once it comes back, it will be getting another going over by me. You see, it’s all too easy these days to write something, do a few more drafts and then self-publish it and move onto the next one. Believe me, it is very, very tempting to do this. I have so many other books to write, but I have to resist the temptation to rush things. Patience is the key. A book is done when it is done, and not a moment before. I could release this book now and see if you like it, or I could wait to see what my favourite critic says first. I could release it after that, after any last lingering mistakes have been mopped up, or I could wait a bit longer, see if it can be any better. It’s surprising how you feel about a piece of writing if you leave it alone for a while. You might think its the best it can be, but give it a few months, during which hopefully your writing skills would have improved even more, and quite often you can already see that it can be made better. And if it can, then it should.

So, apologies folks. The Tree Of Rebels is done…but not done.

The really good news is that I have finally fallen in love with it, which is how it should be in my opinion. I’ve had a strange relationship with this book, and I’ve nearly given up on it several times. It never felt quite the same as my other books, like the connection was not quite right. But this feeling has well and truly gone now. I’m even writing some more of the sequel tonight!