What I’m learning about writing a novel

My blog has been a bit static of late – it seems that online editors don’t always practice what they preach when it comes to keeping up with social media. Oops. So why is this? As well as working as a copywriter and journalist, I’m also turning my hand to writing a novel for the Young Adult (YA) market.

It’s said that every author uses their own experiences to tell a story, adding in a good mix of fabrication and creativity, so that’s what I’m attempting to do – ‘memoir-based’ fiction. Is the real story ever the best story? We shall see…

Developing a novel

It all started 12 years ago when I lived on my own in a town called Howden. Anyone who has worked for the Press Association will know what I mean about the place – beautiful and historic, but time ticked slower than ever before and I only lasted six months before moving back to somewhere that was a bit more, well, lively. But during those months in my funny little Yorkshire pad I wrote every single day and developed something that resembled the skeleton of a novel (and was almost 60,000 words long).

Life moved on and I parked it for 10 or so years, until recently when I sent my husband up to the loft to drag it out. I was reassured that there was something to work with, but wow, how my writing has changed over the years – and how newer experiences have shaped something completely different.

In the past few months I’ve been:

  • squeezing in as much writing as I can into my spare time to get it up to scratch
  • reading and scanning countless books about how to self-edit fiction
  • listening to people’s conversations!
  • finding out what makes a great YA novel (or ‘new adult’ novel), but at the same time trying not to be put off by what is already out there and to remain focused on my own ideas
  • keeping a notebook on me at all times or writing notes into my mobile when I come up with ideas
  • benefiting from being a member of a secret Facebook group for budding writers who are in a similar position or have already become published authors
  • planning how I will spend a writer’s day retreat in May where I can dedicate a whole day to uninterrupted writing. Bliss.

Filling in plot gaps

I recently took myself off for three days to France where I stayed with a friend. The journey there and back gave me the perfect time to load everything I could onto my Kindle and start to go through the process of working out exactly where the gaps are in my book.

What have I learnt from this process?

  • Writing and editing your manuscript are two completely different things – you can’t just edit as you go along (well you can try, but it isn’t easy when you are working with around 160 A4 pages). First you need to get the story into a good structure, then you need to go through and edit, then edit it again, and again, adding colour, detail, correct grammar and punctuation, hone your tone of voice and make sure nothing is defamatory!
  • That I am far less self-conscious about writing from the heart than I used to be – I know that emotional honesty will be the making of the book.
  • My friends are all super supportive and happy to be beta readers, but that I may also need to get some impartial advice from an editor who can spot any errors or room for improvement.
  • I am slowly learning how to write dialogue, create conversations that never happened and strengthen my characters and plot. And that it isn’t easy – ideas often come first thing in the morning when my little one comes running in to the room with a soggy nappy that needs changing, or late at night as I am trying to fall asleep with thoughts swirling around my head.
  • I have new-found admiration for authors who manage to write book after book. I also think I will probably be a one-book woman, but that’s okay because apparently there are many authors (surprising ones too) that only wrote one book.

When it’s ready, or as ready as it can be, I will submit my synopsis and opening three chapters to literary agents and hold my breath. It’s my ambition to get my book published and inspire other young people through a story of love, humour, grief and hope. Oh and yes – if you are old boyfriend-type thing – you may end up in the book. Sorry.

Wish me luck!

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