Wednesday, November 28, 2012

On The Road To Publishville # 9 - "Try, Try Again... & Again!"

# "All possibilities are landing at my feet... There's nothing I can see but possibilities..." - Badly Drawn Boy

So it's been about a year since I last made a pit-stop down "The Road To Publishville" to recap on my efforts in getting myself into print and attached to a book agent, and it seemed at this point in the year, as winter is finally making itself felt, that it was about time I pulled off the road for a much needed breather and take stock of things again.  Over the last 8 posts of this occasional blog post series I've gone through the various processes any wannabe author might go through in their scribble adventures, heading towards that mythical town of print and ink that's always looming on the horizon... From initial drafting, to agent-hunting, to perseverance and new beginnings I've tried to document here on my online journal the trials and tribulations of an amateur writer facing the looming cityscape of "Publishville" and all of the fears and foes that might be faced along the way...

Over the course of 2012I've been overhauling the last draft of my first book - a long-needed exercise which I hadn't exactly put off but knew it was going to take the best part of a year to complete, but I'm glad to report that the newly-retitled 3rd major draft of Novel #3 is complete...


I decided to make this part of my ongoing occasional "Getting Published" series of blog posts which carry the subtitle "On the Road to Publishville" and which hopefully help to pass on some advice from my own experience so far for other wannabe authors, in case it's of help (a trouble shared is a trouble halved, and all that!)

So I said this was the 3rd big redraft... There's been a lot more tinkering along the way but my 1st draft was a "Write Up" back in 2007 and was the first major push to get all the ideas out of my head and onto a printed page in a complete novel form (but this ran to a whopping 120,000 words!), then the second "Type Up" as I called it was pretty much just that - a tightening of things across the chapters but also format uniforming and moving plot-points around...  2013 actually marks 10 years since I put proper finger to keyboard and typed the first full chapter (there had been other outlines and planning going on since 1999, however, when the initial idea for the book first came to form in my mind...) so I knew that by the time the new year rolled around, my biggest resolution would be to have the best draft yet of my "MC" novel...

So what exactly can you change in yet another draft of a story you're already so close to and arguably can't have an objective view about?  Well, for every writer, there'll be different and unique things that they know (but won't necessarily admit) are problem areas, but I thought in this post, it might help other amateur writers reading this if I set out the top 15 things I found I changed (and changed for the better!)...

  1. First, I took a second run at the openings and cliffhangers of my chapters, improving them and making them more of a "hook" for the reader than they had been before...
  2. I began to concentrate more on varying the lengths of sentences (using shorter ones for action and also choosing more punchy words for these scenes too).  I love writing flowing descriptive scenes, but have realised I tend to allow myself to write in that style a little too much...
  3. I double-checked the fixed POV of my book, having decided once and for all not to mix the perspectives (that style will be saved for another story...)
  4. I've particularly targeted how I use dialogue markers, for example not just typing "he said" or "she said" - there's a whole dictionary of stronger verbs out there, so I've attempted to insert more of these
  5. I've been careful to get rid of unnecessary words - for example, I have a habit (in speech as well as writing of using what I term 'double-qualifiers' in sentences like, "He raised his eyes up" - the 'up' there isn't needed, because by using 'raised' the action of looking up is already communicated.
  6. I've made sure to keep an eye out for repetitions of words within a sentence which are jarring simply because they're repeated - often they're there because of earlier edits and misreading - but they just disrupt the flow of the narrative for a reader, so they have to go...
  7. I've also cut too-often-used words or phrases (every writer has their own unique 'favourites' that they unconsciously use over and over and know are problem areas...)  - my particular no-nos are: "sometimes", "suddenly", "seemed", "appeared" and "quite" (this final one I use quite(!) a lot, and again is reflected in my speech - I often wonder if it's a feature of my Tyneside dialect creeping in...) 
  8. If a character "smirks" a lot, I've changed this to smile or a scowl or something very different, because I realised re-reading the text with a fresh eye, after a few years away from it that 'smirking' just gets annoying in a character you want the reader to be on the side of (at first, I thought it'd be endearing but there was just too much smirking going on!)
  9. I've attempted to eliminate all of the instances where I "tell" the story and hopefully now the narrative is "shown" to the reader via dialogue and action, rather than plain narration and convenient plot devices...
  10. From the beginning my book has made creative use of text boxes (not illustrations), and I've actually come to love these in my work, so with this draft I've actually refined these and made them an essential part of the plot development (in order to rationalise their use!)
  11. I decided to make each chapter 10-pages long - an equal, uniformed length is something I'd resisted on preceding drafts but I've come to realise that this does gives more structure (I've finally listened to the advice of a fellow writer (Celia Bryce), 10 years after it was first given!) 
  12. I've gone on a mission of key-word targeting and termination (getting rid of the kind of words that show you're a first-time and, let's be honest, lazy writer) - there's no concrete examples of these I can give you - the best advice is to try reading your story aloud and your own unique set will begin to emerge as you listen to the flow of the sentences...
  13. I've gotten rid of boring adjectives (again, like the verbs above, not just using "said") - some          examples of these are "suddenly", "seemed" etc.
  14. I've made sure I've had my thesaurus and dictionary at hand at all times to triple check Word's spellcheck, which often makes me sound American without realising it) - flipping through an old-fashioned heavy dictionary can be inspiring in itself as you begin to notice new words you've never come across before!
  15. I feel like I've truly made a difference by doing all the points in this list above, because from Draft 2 to Draft 3, I've actually ended up cutting around 12,000 words, which helps for the target audience I'm keeping in mind for the novel...
 
I've always maintained that I'm a good "ideas" man, so the struggle for me as an emerging writer is to keep practicing my art and work at it, treating it as a day job (not just an after-hours hobby) and being willing to put the hours in... My true ambition in writing isn't to make a million with my first book or set of books but to earn an honest living writing full-time - that's the only way I know that I'll get better as a writer...

But as I've said, the BIG plus to come out of 2012 for me and my writing is that I've at least got what I consider to be my best version of the book yet in front of me... I believe in the story and the characters I've create, and that's all that a humble scribbler can hope for...

I'll round off this latest leg of my "On the Road to Publishville" with something I've been working on since the beginning of the year - my "Story Starts" page over at my Official Writing Website.  The idea with this page is to pass on some tips and pointers to fellow budding authors, taking into account my experiences from my writing life so far... (including the advice I've just passed on in this post!) so it seems a fitting time now to launch the page proper...

(but be sure to watch the teaser below first!)

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