Friday 13 March 2015

My two favourite words

I’ve just written the best part of my latest manuscript. Well, my favourite part. It will never appear in any published version of the novel, but that doesn’t make it any less rewarding.

What am I rattling on about? The End. Two words, centred, which you type to indicate that you’ve made it. You’ve completed your first draft. Phew.

So what have I finished? It’s a novel with the working title On a Clifftop, although that will probably change before it sees daylight. I’ve been writing it as a follow up to my debut novel, Time to Say Goodbye, although it’s a totally unrelated story. I won’t go into detail now, as it’s still early days. However, it’s due to be published by Avon HarperCollins early in 2017, a year after the previous one. I know, ages away, isn’t it? But there’s still plenty of work to do.

Believe it or not, despite the warm feelings generated by completing a first draft, it’s far from finished. After a short break from the manuscript, to allow me some detachment, the hard work of revising it will begin. Initially this will be a solitary process of me picking apart, cutting and polishing the text. But eventually – once I’m happy enough to share it – I’ll welcome the thoughts, opinions and eagle eyes of several other people, from trusted friends and family to my agent and editor.

I like to think of it in terms of a sculpture. Not that I’ve ever made a sculpture, but I find it a useful analogy. The first draft is like creating a basic shape: something recognisable but far from complete. The next stages are all about detail: the cutting and crafting that breathes life into that shape.

For anyone embarking on writing a novel for the first time, I think this is an important concept to grasp. Trying to perfect everything straight away is a common mistake. This will result in slow progress and greatly decrease the chance of you ever finishing your manuscript. Very few writers like what they’ve just written. So I’d strongly discourage reading it at this stage. You’ll like it better later on – or at least you’ll hate it less. Trust me.

My advice would always be to keep writing; to look back as little as possible; to ignore your doubts and fears; to reach The End no matter what. I think it’s important to have a plan first, or at least some idea of where you’re going. But nothing’s more crucial than getting through that first draft. Once you’ve done that, you have a product to work with and improve: something substantial, far more than just an idea. Then you’re someone who’s actually written a novel, not just another person who fancies having a go but never finds time.

Finishing your first manuscript is one hell of an achievement. You’ll know what I’m talking about when you type those two magic words at the conclusion. It’s a wonderful feeling.

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