In the few years since I began this last adventure of mine, it occurs to me I have done nothing but learn. Here are a few lessons learnt:
1) Writing is the easy part. Really, it is.
2) After that comes ‘editing.’ Is a quick read through should be enough? No. Be prepared to read, re-read, put aside, read, re-read. Despair, look again, line by line, word by word, read, tinker, eliminate, add, change. Despair and begin again. When you are sure, very sure, all is well, send it off, received the proofs, be prepared to find a glaring mistake on the first page!
3) The first time I had ever tried to write a book was 20+ years ago. I ignored all advice about writing what you know. I had an idea, set it on the east coast of USA (I had never been there, and it was before Google Earth), using the Police Force as its setting. I know nothing about the police here, let alone across the pond. Still I did get some great holidays over there doing my research. That story lingered in a box in the attic as a mistake! With Ellen’s Tale, at least I was writing on a subject I have some passion for and knowledge of. It is a good piece of advice, write what you know: it is amazing what we all know.
4) This old lady was brought up with a strict understanding one sorted problems oneself. You did not seek or accept help from others. Yes, well, maybe. Twenty years travelling the world alone I learnt the limitations of that upbringing. Sometimes one needs help. Sometimes others enjoy helping. It is no different in writing. Hours spent living in another world, speaking only to make-believe folk, is an isolating experience. What cyberspace has allowed is for all of us isolated people to make contact, and to receive advice, support and counsel. I found it scary at first but, so much generosity was offered. Ask and receive graciously, give willingly. “Writers rock” as they say.
5) The second book is harder than the first! But surely the third? Nope, no easier. Maybe as time goes on the editing becomes easier, but after the first, there are expectations. Dreadful word that. It hangs like that confounded sword, poised and ready to strike. If one is lucky and people enjoyed that first book, the sense of foreboding grows like a pernicious weed. Failure! Possibly.
6) Be prepared to have Despair come visiting. An unwelcome guest who never seems to know when to vanish. Have a deadline? “You’ll never get there,” Despair whispers. Read a fantastic book written by someone else? “Yours is rubbish,” chuckles Despair. Write a steaming love scene, a heartbreaking death scene? Despair rolls on the floor laughing at your attempts.
Sometimes one need to be firm, to be strong! To banish said Despair stamp your foot, point your finger and in ringing tones declare, “darken my door no more, you misbegotten cur.”
7) You will not be master in your own house. Characters are renown for taking matters into their own hands, if they are not satisfied with the author’s attempts. Plots have been known frequently to vanish and be replaced by changelings, who romp home with the glittering prize. Master of your novel’s fate: think on, poor deluded one.
8) Be prepared for long hours hunched over the machine, into the small hours. The deadline is a a few days hence. The manuscript polished to a shine which will blind. The hours of muttering, of sorrow when heartbreakingly beautiful words are deleted. The boredom of checking spacing and font sizes. The anguishing over which cover A or B or would a C be better? The desperation when a satisfactory blurb eludes you. All that remains is to upload to Lulu or some such site, convert to Kindle, upload to the Smashwords meatgrinder. No problem. Sure? The transition from one software to another can cause earthquakes, tsunamis or maybe just cracks in your baby. Check, check and tear your hair out.
9) There will be times, when you ache to hurl machines through windows, howl at the new moon, chew edges of carpets and generally ‘lose the plot’. Stress points include:
- Blank page, blank mind: this is common.
- Computer crashes, loss of the last 10,000 words of perfection.
- Unexpected, unwanted guests arrive, complete with chocolates and schemes of days out with you.
10) Enjoy, enjoy, enjoy. Finishing a book is the most amazing, addictive feeling. Your name is in print, your book is on bookshelves, in the library, on reading groups lists, It is exhilarating. There is nothing quite like it.
Holding the first ‘proper book’ in your hand is like childbirth, the pleasure and joy of it, drives all thought of pain, anguish and despair from your head and heart.
Time for a second go?
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