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So, how's your book going?

If you’re an aspiring author, this is a question you’ve been asked, possibly a thousand times. You’ve said that you’re writing a book, you’ve written it (presumably) and it a matter of just pressing ‘send’ and it’s live, right? What’s so hard?

Not quite mate; hold your horses. 

There’s no sarcasm in that statement; people are eagerly waiting for your book and supported you through the process. They’ve promised to buy it and tell all their friends. They’ll come to your book launch and holler from the mountains how good of an author you are. They have a right to ask. If you’re like me, you’ve kept them waiting, and waiting. In my case, about five years. You’ve had to change all you promotional material beginning with “coming in…” to a new year for the past five years. 

Different authors have different ways to write their books. There’s the old “plotter” versus “pantser” theory that, as the name implies, pigeonholes a writer into either plotting his or her novels, or just flying by the seat of their pants. I’m in the middle, like most. To be entirely honest, I’m not sure what other writers do to get their novels completed. I guess that the process becomes easier the more experience you get actually writing. But here’s how it goes for me:

  • Research is completed by hours upon hours of information gathering from open sources. Collecting newspaper clippings, photographs, talking to people, even visiting places. Getting in the environment of the character is what I need to write the protagonist well. This research continues through the writing of the novel.
  • The planning for me is basic (I’m a ‘pantser’ remember). I know the general theme of the story and where it’s going to take place. I generally have an idea of the problem the main character has at the start, but that’s about it. I’ll see where it goes. 
  • The first draft is a machine-gun spewing of words into a special writing program called Scrivener. I use this because it helps break the components of the novel up into flowing parts. I used to think (before I started learning about how to write fiction) that you would just sit at a computer and knock a story out. It doesn’t work (try it). If it has worked for you, you’re a freak. A novel of 100,000 words would take no less than ten weeks full time. That’s five days a week without any interruptions, And, of course, if you can write full time you’re way ahead of the pack.
  • The next stage (second edit) is breaking up the words into further manageable parts that look like something readable. It’s at this time that you realise how badly you have written. But that’s okay. Words on a page can be easily fixed with more introspection and thought that you put into the first draft. Crafting and massaging the narrative is the goal here. 
  • During draft three I transfer the words to a Word document. Why? I really don’t know. It just seems easier for me. The existing scenes (I write in scenes) are converted into chapters, with editing done along the way. At this time it’s easier to make any structural changes, like changing characters, adding characters, killing characters, more research on places. It’s also a chance to tidy up the flow of the words and things like grammar, spelling and the like. The goal of this edit is to get the manuscript ready for an editor to read and not vomit in their own mouth while reading it. 
  • When you click ’send’ to your editor (probably six to twelve months after you started) you’ll likely have a good wait on your hands. This edit – referred to as a structural edit – will basically tell you everything that’s wrong with the story, the characters, the plot. Everything. Even if you’ve done a good job, your structural report will contain a lot of issues. This may also be the first time someone independent has cast their eye over your story. Considering that an in-demand editor may have dozens of projects he or she is looking at, and the fact that your structural edit could take them in excess of fifty hours, then don’t hold your breath waiting. But it will be worth it. 
  • When you get your comprehensive structural edit report back you have a choice; throw in the whole stinking towel or wait for the magic story-fixing fairy to come along and do the 100 plus hours that the manuscript needs to get up to scratch. Alternatively, I guess, you could labour away at fixing all the problems. But by now, your ego has taken a giant whack in the guts. It is this period of time that was the hardest for me. 
  • After finishing the structural edit, you can sniff success and worldwide glory. Electrical impulses flood your veins in excitement as you await the return of the structural edit you’ve attended to. Again, unless you’re some type of freak, you have another one to do. Then another one. This could go on for months.
  • Finally you may be in a position to have a copy edit done. This is where your editor will go through the manuscript line by line, fix up all the spelling, grammar and typographical mistakes. And, if you’re lucky (or not) also point out ongoing issues with plot. Do I need to fix them again? Yep. 
  • The last task is to do all the formatting, book covers, administrative tasks like book registration and organising printing. All this time trying to either get an agent to represent you, or a publisher to publish your work of art. That’’s a whole other story. 

So how’s your book going? Don’t get me started. 

If you’re wondering where the award winning, spectacular debut novel Bordertown is at, well… let’s just say it’s between the penultimate and last above point. The large majority of the hard work is done and in the next few months I’ll have that bad boy in my hands. 

And so will all of you, hopefully. 

Bordertown. Coming March 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019

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