Monday, 2 February 2015


Following on from my fun post The Home for Redundant Characters last week, I thought I'd tell you a bit about what I've been thinking/doing since the wonderfully useful editorial meeting with my editor and agent.

Many of you will know that this novel, my third, has been a struggle from day one. I know there's something really good in here, but I'm struggling to pin it down and I'd got myself in a bit of a mess. After discussing it in detail at the meeting, I have a clearer idea of what needs to be done. The downside is, it ain't gonna be easy!

Before I talk about that, it's worth mentioning an interesting point that was made in the comments on my post on 19th Jan: If I didn't already have a publishing contract and submitted this draft to an agent,would I be taken on? The honest answer is, I doubt it. The draft shows I can write, but as Ernest Hemingway said, 'the first draft of anything is shit'. One of the many joys of having an agent and an editor is that I have their support and expert editorial advice on hand to help me make it less shit.

The thing is, I have a track record, so they both know I can do it. If you're a new author seeking an agent, you may be a far better writer than me, but if you submitted something like this, which really is a first draft, the agent has no evidence that you'll be able to make a decent novel out of it. Also, of course, you wouldn't actually send a first draft out to agents (though some people do).

So what does a new author do at this stage? I'd suggest doing what I did with my first novel – pay for professional editorial advice. It wasn't easy for me to find the money – I was on a low income – but the feedback I received was excellent and I'd say it was money very well-spent. Make sure you check the credentials of any organisation or individual offering this service, though.

On to my writing life: as I've said, the editorial meeting was incredibly useful and productive. The biggest problem by far (which I knew) is the structure and timeline, and with three of us discussing it, it became clear just how complicated it's going to be to sort this out, especially as re-jigging the order in which things happen causes all sorts of other problems to rise to the surface. It also became clear that there were a couple of scenes that weren't really convincing, and one or two characters that just weren't pulling their weight.

So, how do I approach this? First, I listed summaries of every single scene in the existing draft. Then I went through with a pen and made notes on which scenes I know will be cut, which need significant changes, and which can stay – with some rewriting.

Next, I moved all the 'to cut' scenes to a different list. They need to be cut from this novel, but there might be little character details, little bits of description or something else that will come in useful at some point. Tip: never discard anything completely!

I printed the list of scenes that I'm keeping for the moment. Of course, more may go, and I need quite a few new ones, too, but I'll worry about that later. Then I gathered the essential equipment: index cards, glue, paper cutter, ready for a 'sticking' session.

And then I settled down to stick the scene summaries onto the cards, ready to shuffle into some sort of coherent order. Two things occurred to me: the first is that 'sticking' is not as much fun as it sounds, (and it takes a fecking long time). The second is that finding a coherent – that being the operative word – order is going to be, shall we say, challenging.

Still, there's always coffee, and there's always cake. (And wine, but I'd better not start on that until later!) I have absolutely no idea how long this is going to take me, and as I write this post, I'm wondering where I'll be up to when I post again. I've booked a few days away at a writing retreat in a couple of weeks, so I'll do a brief update post next Monday 9th Feb and I'll post again after the retreat.

Doing a major redraft on a novel is, I imagine, a bit like climbing a mountain in that it's hard work and it looks insurmountable, but it's worth it in the end. On that note, I don't usually talk much about reviews, but I was delighted to see this in an Amazon review of The Secrets We Left Behind: "I fell in love with the character 'Eve' – I will miss her now I've finished the book." How lovely. That's the sort of thing that makes it all worthwhile!

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  1. Really interesting post, because I'm at about this stage with my second novel. And, perhaps you already know this (or if you don't I'm sorry I'm only telling you this after you've done all your cutting and sticking) but Scriveners' corkboard does all this electronically...

    1. Thanks, Claire. Amazing how it all seems so simple in your head, and then you start writing it and everything changes! I use Scrivener's corkboard quite a lot, but I thought I'd try physically moving things around a bit this time. Once I'm properly into it again, I'll definitely go back to Scrivener, but at the moment I'm still very much in a thinking and notetaking stage. I'm wondering whether to open up a whole new projects in Scrivener and just move stuff over, rather than going back to the existing draft. I think Scrivener's wonderful, but I'm a bit thick in the IT department, so I have to be careful! Good luck with yours – it's such a difficult stage, isn't it?

  2. It's a really interesting way of doing it - I find structural edits the most daunting as it always feels like starting again. I look forward to hearing how it goes!

    1. Yes, that's exactly how it feels! Like chucking a 10,000 piece jigsaw up the air!