5 Things I’ve Learnt from Writing my Debut Novel

strasbourg-90012_1280Now the euphoria of having sent my debut novel ‘From Here to Nashville’ to the proofreader has died down a little, I have no more excuses to stop me from starting the rewrite of book two. Just to refresh your memories, this is the book that I wrote for NaNoWriMo 2013, yes, nearly 14 months ago ūüė¶ After NaNoWriMo and a few more¬†writing chunks some¬†months later, it stood at 80,000 words. Not bad for a first draft, I hear you cry!

However, when I got to that point and read it all through, I could see that the story had veered off in the wrong direction and that I was¬†really going to have my work cut out to get it back on track. So it has been really easy to put off doing anything to move book two forward, especially as I’ve been so busy with finishing my first novel and getting it ready for publication next month.

This weekend, I decided I had to get on with it at last. I have been thinking about it on and off for weeks and adding new thoughts to my outline so when I went back and reread it, things didn’t seem so bad. By the end of the day yesterday, I had almost finished my first rewrite of chapter one and I was buzzing with excitement for my new story, which was a great feeling. I could also see that I’d grown as a writer since the very first rewrite of ‘From Here to Nashville’ and it was a pleasure to implement some of the things I’d learnt from that experience as I was actually writing.

So¬†here¬†are some tips I’d like to share with you today.

1. You don’t need to write your characters’ names into every single line of dialogue. As long as it is clear who is talking, your reader will be fine without the reminder. When you think about it, you hardly ever say the name of the person you are talking to because it’s not necessary. I only use my husband’s name for example, if I’m calling him from afar. I certainly don’t use it in texts or on the ‘phone but my writing was littered with names. I have been really brutal about cutting them out and the result is much more realistic dialogue. Similarly, don’t put in too many examples of ‘er’ and ‘oh’ etc because they clog up the dialogue.

2. The reader does not necessarily need to have the timeline spelt out for them, even if you need to know it to make sure it’s consistent. I had put in dates for all my scenes in ‘From Here to Nashville,’ partly to help me keep on top of the timeline but also to show the whirlwind nature of the romance. I have now taken them all out because I could see that I had explained the timeline in other ways so the dates weren’t necessary. I have also put days into my second book which I’m going to keep there for now but as I progress through my drafts, I will finally remove them. As well as¬†this, my scenes often started in the morning and ended in the evening to give me a structure to work through and to show time passing so I had to work hard to¬†vary this and not start and finish the same way all the time.

3. To help with pace, it’s a good idea to check the length of your sentences and your¬†paragraphs. A shorter sentence every now and then moves the action forward and keeps your reader reading and if you start a new paragraph every time a new action occurs, it makes reading easier and maintains the pace and excitement for the reader. You don’t need an empty line between paragraphs either, you just need to go to the next line. This formatting issue took me ages to put right. An empty line signals a new scene.

4. As a new writer, it is very easy to fall into the trap of over-describing physical movements. By this I mean, the ‘then I did this, then I did that’ style of writing. More often than not, you can cut this and jump straight to the action because that is what your reader will do and if they’re skimming your words, not reading them, they’re going to feel disappointed when they get to the end of the story. This is especially useful at the start of chapters, which don’t need to be bogged down with interior monologue¬†like ‘The next day dawned bright with another beautiful blue sky,’ for example. Instead, jump straight to the action and draw your reader in.

5. Even by the time I sent my book to be professionally edited, I still hadn’t included¬†enough detailed description of people and settings. Even my hero, Jackson needed to be better described the first time Rachel saw him. I think that I’d made it a glimpse for the reader like it was for her but the reader wants more than that so I had to rewrite that first sight of him to include a lot more detail. Similarly, I needed to develop some of my descriptions of settings, from quaysides, to weddings, to apartments and much more detail about Nashville and its iconic sights.

These are just a few of the things I had to deal with when I got my final edit back but they are all things I’m taking on with me to book two. The new book is set in France, in the picturesque region of Alsace which is near the German border (see the photo above). It is a story about self-discovery, as well as being a romance and I look forward to telling you more about it as I progress. I hope you find these tips helpful and I would love to hear your comments on them. Thanks for reading as always and have a good writing week ūüôā

Editing procrastination for the unpublished writer

Like most people, I expect, this past week has been absolute madness and for me, it won’t stop until I reach the end of term on Friday. This week, we have our KS2 Music and Drama production at school and today, we had our dress rehearsal. It didn’t go well ūüė¶ but everyone kept telling me not to worry because it would all come together on the night (tomorrow! eek!) I should know this by now because I ¬†have a fair few productions under my belt but I still feel very nervous at this point every year. This is simply because after all these months of rehearsals, I want everything to go right for the children, as well as for me and the other people involved in bringing this together. The two performances this week are the culmination of a lot of hard work and I would like everyone to go out on a high.

This got me thinking that this must be how it will feel when I finally finish editing my first novel. I am still soldiering on with it, hoping that what I have done so far will be worthwhile. However, I know that I haven’t even begun to deal with the really nitty gritty editing yet. I am really just proofreading because I know I am skilled at this and I find it very easy. I have been bookmarking all the other editing advice I have seen over the past couple of months, to use later when I do the REAL editing. This is procrastination at its best. I have nearly 100 such articles bookmarked so far! I have posted on this before but I really think that there is just so much advice out there about editing, amongst other things and yet, no definitive guide to the whole process. As a new writer, this is what I feel I really need in the absence of an agent, let alone a publishing contract. There are many people blogging about the poor quality of some self-published novels but even if you are fairly literate, if you’ve never written a novel before, you really won’t know the first thing about how to edit it on anything other than a superficial basis.

I will start to work my way through these articles over the holidays and because I’m a methodical sort of person, I know the job will get done but whether it will be to my satisfaction when I finish working my way through, is another matter. Still, all part of the learning curve, I suppose.

Has anyone else got any experience of editing for the first time that they would be willing to share, including any book recommendations? I really would love to hear from you ūüôā

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

© Julie Stock and My Writing Life, 2013 Р2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Julie Stock and My Writing Life with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

At last, I am editing and rewriting!

Wow, I have finally broken the back of this in the past couple of days after a lot of procrastination. I started by importing my manuscript into Scrivener and then I split it up into parts, chapters and scenes. This took a bit of time but it also allowed me to move bits around much more easily and I knew I wanted to do this. I have also written a synopsis for each scene I have edited and/or rewritten and I have kept all the bits I have moved in a separate ‘scene’ to fit back in later.

Perhaps I should explain that I had received a comment from an Authonomy friend that my two main characters fall in love a bit too quickly and after some thought, I agreed that this was probably true. I also felt that this might be part of the reason why I didn’t know how to finish the story.

So once I had everything set, the editing part seemed much easier. I have also been rereading my first draft, making notes on a hard copy about the edits I needed to make, as well as looking at comments I have received from Authonomy reviews. It has therefore been hard but nevertheless, rewarding work and I feel like I have made tons of progress today. This wasn’t what I had planned to do today actually but on a rainy day, it seemed like a good plan and now that I have almost finished the first five chapters, the sun has come out ūüėČ

If you are putting off editing, using a software package like Scrivener can really take away that daunting feeling. I would recommend it and it’s such good value. The lesson I have learned from this though, is that I need to write my next book (!), including an outline, in Scrivener first to save myself an awful lot of time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

© Julie Stock and My Writing Life, 2013 Р2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Julie Stock and My Writing Life with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.