Don’t Be A Writer …

Don't be a writerI’m deep into structural edits for my new novel, Billabong Bend, due out next year. The deadline is next week. I’m too busy to blog (already missed last week’s post) so my brother Rod Scoullar has sprung to my rescue. He writes terrific young adult fantasy as a hobby,  and has written a guest post. ‘It can be about anything,’ I said. This is what he came up with … (Love ya Rod x)

“Don’t be a writer.

A writer’s life is hard.  Oh it’s not hard to write – putting words on paper is easy.  It isn’t even that hard to put well written words on paper, words in well structured sentences, words that flow, words that evoke mood or place or situation.  I can do that.  You must do that if you are to be a writer.

Words are not enough though, even well written words.  The reader will weary of the sweetest prose if the plot is inadequate.  Poor characterisation will undermine any story regardless of the beauty of the writing.  Those are areas in which I fall down.  I’m not destined to be a writer; yet it isn’t for that reason.

I see how hard Jenny works.  I see the notebooks, constantly added to, dozens of them, full of words and ideas that might be useful, someday.  I see the effort that goes into the research.  I see the discipline that requires so many words must be written before day’s end.  I see the redrafting, the effort to fashion a scene just so.  I see the frustration when things don’t come together.

Then, when the manuscript is complete, as best it can be given the timeframe – professional writers have to work to deadlines – and sent to the publisher, back come the edits.  “Character X needs greater development early in the manuscript; the relationship between Y and Z should build more slowly; the resolution of the conflict in chapter seven seems contrived, etc.”  Those aren’t comments relating to Jennifer’s current manuscript in case you’re wondering.  Oh, and don’t self-publish without a professional edit.  Professional editors know what they’re about.  Ignore them and their advice at your peril.

I’m not prepared to put in the effort required to be published.  Writing something is easy.  Writing something worthwhile may be possible, but writing and rewriting and rewriting again is too much for me.  I don’t want to be a writer, not desperately.  It might be fun to try but, well, for me it’s all too much.  If you want to be a writer, want it because you can’t imagine yourself as anything else, then go for it; but understand – a writer’s life is hard.”

 

BB2013_Nominee

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

Line Editing

Edit RuthlesslyEdit Ruthlessly (Photo credit: Dan Patterson)

I am up to my neck in line edits for Brumby’s Run. The deadline is 5th March. Thank God it’s a leap year! I might end up being very grateful for that extra day. Line editing looks at the style of the manuscript – ensuring it says what it’s meant to say, making it more readable, effective and interesting.

I’ve already taken on board the list  of suggestions contained in the structural editing notes, and have completed a redraft. The story is in place, the characters set to go. My editor has now shone a bright searchlight on the manuscript, looking not only to refine the voice, but to point out any inconsistencies that may have been brought about by the redraft. Are any scenes out of context? Is the chronology right?  Has a plot trigger disappeared, or accidentally been repeated because the narrative had been rearranged?

Following the advice of Nathan Bransford (wise author and ex-literary agent), I allowed the edited manuscript to sit for a day or too, while I mulled it over. Then I read through the changes, and accepted all the obvious ones. Now I’m tackling the tricky ones, and the controversial ones that I might not agree with. Line editing is not meant to interfere with, or change an author’s voice. It is meant to clarify plot and character, and ensure a polished end product. I have every confidence in my lovely editor, and I know the process is improving the story. But I must confess, at times over this past week, I’ve felt like tearing out my hair!