I Confess…I Write My Books For Me

I think it’s time to admit the truth. Who am I aiming to please when I write and publish a book? Well, mostly it’s me. I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. 2018 was an endless round of editing and revising for me, as I prepared Elliot Pie’s Guide To Human Nature for release in October, and revamped and released The Boy With The Thorn In His Side Parts One and Two, and edited Parts Three and Four. Because of this amount of editing, and the fact I was taking part in a reading challenge, I didn’t get a hell of a lot of reading for pleasure done last year.

Which made me think about a few things. One, I really, really enjoy reading my own books, no matter how many times I’ve edited or read through them… Eek, I know, sounds big-headed, doesn’t it? But it’s true. I love my characters and my storylines have me hooked so much they keep me awake at night. Every single book I’ve ever published has a sequel bubbling away inside my head. I just can’t fully let any of them go. I’d miss them too much.

So, when I edit, revise, read through, proofread again and again and again, I enjoy it. I genuinely do. I become immersed in these characters lives. I enjoy the drama and the twists and the turns, even though I know how it ends! Weird, right?

Well, maybe not. After all, why do writers start writing in the first place? I’ve been thinking about this. Now, I’m sure for some it’s the dream of money and fame, of making it ‘big’, becoming an international, award-winning bestseller, who has all their books made into films. JK Rowling or Stephen King, in other words. I mean, it sounds amazing, so who wouldn’t want that?

And I’m sure for some, it’s the urge to entertain, to spin tales, to amuse, to awaken, to entice, to deliver a message.

But for others, I think it’s something different, something they’re not entirely in control of. And I think reading sparks it off. Reading a good book at a young age, then reading more. Becoming utterly drawn into a made-up world that holds your attention, keeps you amused, enthralled, or terrified. The kind of book you don’t want to end. The kind you want everyone else to read just so you can talk about it with them. The kind where you want the characters to be real, and almost believe that they are.

And then, because this is just so exciting, you start to wonder. I could do this myself. I could entertain myself. Then I’d be in control, and it need never end! I can create worlds and lives and people just how I want them, and I can make it funnier, or scarier, or sadder, whenever I want to. Forever!

'If there is a book that you want to read, but it hasn't been written yet, you must be the one to write it.'-Toni Morrison.jpg

And thus, a writer is born. A writer who originally set out to please only themselves.

That’s definitely how it was for me. Throughout my childhood and my teenage years, I was totally addicted to writing. I wrote early versions of some of the books I have since published or are working on. I wrote short stories, poems and endless, endless diaries and outpourings of words, thoughts, feelings, and dreams. My writing kept me sane, and it kept me entertained. I was never lonely or bored. I absolutely adored this game of make-believe, and I still do.

I write what I want to read, and I don’t think there is anything wrong with that. Maybe this is true of a lot of writers, I don’t know. It’s no coincidence that the kind of books I write are the kind of books I am always searching to read. I long to read books with amazing, complex characters, the type you never forget, the type you love and loathe in equal measures, the type you can empathise with and root for. I love realistic dialogue and prefer that to too much exposition. I like to read about characters I can relate to, which is difficult as so many books contain middle-class characters. I like to read gritty, hard-hitting storylines. I like realism.

So, there you have it. When I write a book I am mostly writing for myself. I want to write something for me to read. That’s not to say I don’t then spend years trimming it, honing it, revising it, proofreading and editing it until it becomes something I am proud to put out into the world. That goes without saying. I do want people to read my books. Desperately. I do want those reviews and those messages. Without a doubt, I would like better sales! And of course, my ultimate dream is to have all my books made into films or TV series! You got to have your dreams, right?

But in the beginning, it’s me I’m trying to please.

And I think that’s okay. At the very least, it means I will never stop writing!

 

 

How My Writing Habits Have Changed

I’ve never understood the type of people who refuse to change the way they do things. You know the type. Even if what they’re doing is not going so well, they’ll hang onto the adamant belief that it is the best way to do it, simply because it is the way they have always done it. It’s even worse when it comes to opinions and beliefs. I have strong beliefs and opinions, but I like to keep my mind open and accept that knowledge and understanding are open to interpretation and change. If some new piece of knowledge comes along, I am always happy to admit I was wrong and change my way of thinking. I think the refusal to ever change your mind or admit you were wrong, is actually very dangerous. Anyway, in that spirit, I’ve been thinking lately about how I write now, and how I used to write. You see, over the last few novels, things have changed. And with the WIP I am on right now, and the book I have planned after that, I feel they are changing even more. Here’s how, and why…

  • I edit as I go…Not word for word, not every paragraph, but I do now go back over what I wrote at the start of the session. And I always read what I wrote last before I start writing again. I used to do things quite differently. I would rush out this clunky, crazy first draft. It would be this desperate measure, this way of getting this thing out of my head once and for all. I’m not saying that’s wrong, and I think with some books it’s totally the right way to do it! But I have noticed lately that I’m slowing the process down. I’m going back over what I last wrote and editing out mistakes and typos. Previously I would not care about these in a first draft. I just wanted it done. Now I think I am probably saving myself some time later on, and it is also helping me get to know this story and its characters, to feel and breathe with them as they develop and take form. Reading over and checking what I just wrote is helping me to make sure everything stays on course.
  • I plan more…I used to plan as I wrote the book…so as ideas came to me, I would jot them down and the novel would often change course and follow twists and turns as I wrote it. I would start, not really knowing how to finish. Now, I try to plan the whole novel before I start writing, chapter by chapter if possible. Not in too much detail, and always allowing for change and development and the surprises which will inevitably pop up. But now I like to be able to see where I am going…I like to know the general destination of my journey.
  • I’m aware of my potential audience…This is not to say I am writing anything and aiming it at a certain audience. Doing this with The Tree Of Rebels caused me untold problems (see Did Choosing An Audience Ruin My Book?) so I won’t be making that mistake again. But I do have a better idea of the genre I am writing in before I start writing, an idea of the type of person who would pick this book up and want to read it. I never used to consider this at all, and had a very hard job picking genres and categories for my finished books because of it.
  • I write the log line and synopsis first…Now, to be honest I am only just getting to grip with loglines! They are actually quite hard to do. The idea is you should be able to write a one to two sentence paragraph which explains your book, and if you can’t, you may have a problem. The logline can then help you to shape your synopsis. With early novels, I always left the synopsis to last and found them nothing short of utter hell and torture. How to condense a massive novel down to a paragraph or two? What to cut out, what to leave in? How to lure people in without spoilers? How to pick the right key words? Hard, hard work. With the last two books I penned (The Tree Of Rebels and Elliot Pie’s Guide To Human Nature, both still not quite finished) I wrote the synopsis first. I’m not sure why. It just seemed like a good idea, and I had a general idea of what to say, so I went for it. Neither is perfect and both will need tinkering, but overall, I think they both say what they need to say. Lesson learned. From now on, I work on the synopsis first!
  • I research as I go…This is another thing I used to be quite lazy about. I was in a hurry. I just wanted to get the book written. So I would make up stuff as I went along, noting down that I needed to properly research it later.  Now if something comes up that needs looking into, I do it there and then before I write another word. Again, this saves me time and stress later, and if what I research ends up changing the story in some way, it’s much better to know this early on! Plus it’s fun. I used to put off research of any story because I thought it was boring. Just detail that needed throwing in to make it all sound better. But now I look at it differently. It’s important to the story and I’m also learning new things all the time!

So, over to you followers! Have you always done things the same or have your writing habits changed through trial and error? Does it all depend on the book you’re writing? Let me know!

 

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?

yuno

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.
patience.jpg

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?