The Rocky Road to Publication – (1) Writing the Novel

This is the first post of a series about getting a novel published in Australia, based on personal experience with my upcoming book, Brumby’s Run.

First you must finish your story. Agents and publishers will usually only consider completed fiction manuscripts. It is enormously useful to join your state writing centre. They offer great on-line support for regional writers. I’ve completed two novels through Andrea Goldsmith‘s Year of the Novel program at Writers Victoria. Here I honed my craft, networked and gained  invaluable friendships. Writing a 70,000 – 100,000 word manuscript takes single-minded dedication, and nobody understands this like other writers. It also helps to have a routine. I aim for at least 500 words a day, but often manage many more. It’s  vital to keep reading, in and out of your genre, fiction and non-fiction. Reading fills up the creative well, and is just the tonic for a mild case of writer’s block. (I don’t believe in writer’s block per se. It is a malady that generally strikes when you’ve written yourself into a corner, and don’t know where the story is going next.)

There are an infinite number of ways to construct your manuscript. Some people write the end first. Some people write chapters out of order and tie them all together later. Some use programs like Scrivener to help keep the threads together.  I begin at the beginning and write in a linear fashion, with only a vague plot outline to go by. This allows the narrative to surprise me, and is a lot of fun. But whatever method you choose, writing a novel takes time and hard work.

Finally, after a great deal of hair-tearing, wine, chocolate and some sublime moments of inspiration, you type The End on your first draft. You put it aside for a few weeks to get a bit of distance. You celebrate. Catch your breath. For the real work is about to begin.

You have your painstakingly manufactured canvas. It’s time to create some magic. The legendary Peter Bishop, former creative director of Varuna Writer’s House, once said to me that the first draft is the writer’s draft. It is essentially the writer telling himself the story. You need to revise it within an inch of  its life – cutting, adding, polishing and shaping, until you have a reader’s draft. Only then should you contemplate launching it into the world.

I’m interested in finding out more about the process of other writers. Do you use Scrivener or something similar, for instance? Do you have any writing rituals? I have a Snoopy toy on my computer. It holds a tiny typewriter with It was a dark and stormy night… written on it. What about you?

Next week – (2) Landing that Elusive Agent

6 thoughts on “The Rocky Road to Publication – (1) Writing the Novel

  1. I wrote my ‘writer’s draft’ on Word and then bought StoryBox [very similar to Scrivener but for pc only] for all the restructuring, re-writing etc. Knowing a story in your head or even having it down on paper is not the same as having a story that a naive reader will /want/ to read. They have to be lead, gently, without any jarring so they can step into the worlds we have created and stay there until the very end.

    Looking forward to the next installment 🙂

  2. This last ms I am (almost!) finished with was the first time I plotted. I used to swear pantsing was the way to go and it had served me in the past, but I had to do many, many drafts to get to the point where I was happy with the story. So this last time I wrote six pages of backstory on my characters and a 9k outline. Yes, you read that right! I swear it has saved me doing an extra three drafts! So now I plot. Funny how the world changes.

    • A 9k outline! That’s amazing. I’m a pantster, and have been toying with the idea of becoming a plotter. My only problem with that is I might not be open to surprising new directions. Love the idea of less redrafting though.

      • Oh don’t worry, you’ll get new directions if you allow yourself to stray from the outline but the thing is, with an outline you’ll have a clear understanding of your characters and the big picture so when you decide to stray you’ll know straight away if it’s going to work or not. Does that make sense?

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