Coming up for air

Second round done, and I’d forgotten how obessive I can get over punctuation. I’ve nipped, tucked, expanded and binned, and even found the time to keep a record of my progress:

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Okay, so after 36 days (morning and evenings mainly), I cut 4700 words from the book and I applied a lot of the stuff I learned from writing the previous two novels:

  • Read every note your editor has left you, and then read it again. She represents your potential audience, so don’t dismiss anything she says without thinking carefully about it first.
  • Characters should never go anywhere and do nothing. No one wants to read about a couple of days spent sight-seeing. The character has to learn something or find something or kill someone or have sex wth someone else. The point is they have to do something other than just look around.
  • Characters should not return somewhere they’ve been before without a bloody good reason; keep the story moving forward.
  • Characters should not have sex just for the sake of it. Again, the act should move the story forward or tell the reader something about the character they didn’t know before.

About halfway through the edit process, I thought a graph might be interesting:

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And this proved something I’d always suspected: I waste a lot of my time doing stats when I should be writing.

So how’s the book shaping up?

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Not too badly, if I say so myself. Still some fine-tuning to do, and then the copy-edit. Right now, I’m thinking about the cover design.

Some things are hard to spot.

Spelling mistakes are the obvious ones, and dodgy punctuation comes a close second. I’ve run into so many books that made me wonder if the author had ever heard of a spell checker.

Some problems are a little more subtle because they’re caused by familiarity, not laziness. You’ve been working the same scene for several weeks and you’re telling yourself that it’s better for it.

But is it really, or do you want it to be because you’ve put so much work into it? Worse, are you focussing on the fine detail because, deep down, you know that there’s something fundamentally wrong with the piece as a whole?

The key to fixing this is dispassion, and that only comes with distance. Once you suspect that you’re falling into this trap then it’s time to take a break from the piece. And I do mean a complete break: don’t even look at it, perhaps for a few weeks, perhaps a month or two. In the meantime – and I know I keep saying this – but for the love of God get someone else to read it: not family, not friends.

And while you’re on a break from one piece, you can work on another. This is very important: don’t stop writing. The aim here is to gain fresh perspective, not to give yourself a writing holiday (because there’s no such thing).

When you return to your novel, it’ll be like reading a book written by someone else. You’ll be less emotionally attached to it and so will be in a better frame of mind to save it.

Book #3 is at the cleaners

A few weeks back I finished writing my third book. I say ‘finished’ but what I really mean is that I’ve completed the second draft and now it’s with the editor.
The first run from the printer was a bit of a shock: it weighed in at about 700 A4 pages, which is a bit of an epic, as well as being a bit of a worry. I’m not sure if today’s reader has the appetite for long works.
Anyway, for the time being it is what it is.

The book is called The Quisling Orchid and at its heart it’s a story of two very different women: one who lived during the Nazi occupation, and the other dealing with the aftermath some twenty years later.

Like most of my work, it’s going to be a very hard sell as it doesn’t sit comfortably in any particular genre: it’s a historical novel; it’s a work of erotic fiction; it’s a dark comedy. It was so far out of my comfort zone that I sometimes thought about stopping. But then someone reminded me that whole reason for writing is to constantly challenge oneself.

Take a risk, and if it doesn’t work out, take another.