The journey so far – part 1

Since the intention of this blog is to document my hopeful journey to publication, I’m going to start with a bit of background.  This is just in case I happen to receive a publishing offer tomorrow (in my dreams – la la la) and you think: Wow, that was fast!  How easy was that?

When I left high school – other than dabbling with a few first chapters, scripts and short stories – I didn’t write for a while.  The ideas were always there though.  Once a week, I would meet a friend for dinner and between our usual topics – relationships, the meaning of life and how cute the waitress was – I would often run through different plot ideas I’d had.  One day (probably when I was blabbering on about my book when he could have been flirting with the waitress) my friend put down his fork and said: “Well, what are you waiting for?  Start writing.”

And so I did.  That was seven years ago.  Many plot ideas, drafts and fumbled elements of style later, I feel like I’m very close to where I need to be.  I’m not going to lie.  I really envy those writers who wake up one day, get a great idea for a book and have a publication deal six months later.  But truth be told, I don’t think that happens for many people and there are definite advantages to playing the long game.

Here’s what I’ve learned about myself and my writing since getting down to it seven years ago:

1) You don’t know what you don’t know – when I first started writing,  I thought it was good stuff.  I blush every kind of colour when I reread it now.  It was overstuffed with adverbs, purple prose and flashbacks.

2) Every writer has strengths and weaknesses – It’s helpful to know what they are. I realised fairly early that my main strength was character development and my weakness was the writing itself.  Also, I always thought I was pretty strong on plot development but I’ve recently discovered that my love for the characters can hamper my ability to know when to cut scenes (and characters).

3) You can fill the gaps and work on your weaknesses – This is the most important lesson I’ve learned so far.  If you can identify where your style gaps are (even if you only have a vague idea), and you know your weaknesses, you can use resources to improve your writing in these areas.

4) You have to be brave and take a holistic approach – It’s almost inevitable that some of the characters and scenes you love, may not be in the best interests of the story itself.  The old “kill your darlings” concept is nothing new, but it hurts less to make the necessary cuts when you take the big picture view.  It’s like a bandaid – hold your breath and rip…

5) Listen to your instincts – if something doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t.  If that first chapter seems stilted or info-heavy compared with the easy flow of the other chapters, your readers could feel the same way (and you risk losing them).  It’s worth spending some time on the things that nag at you.

6) When you hit the wall, seek expert advice – this goes back to point 1.  Sometimes you don’t know what you don’t know, and the best person to give you a fresh perspective is an expert.  For early drafts, I found that sharing with my big-reader friends was really helpful.  They picked out things straight away that I couldn’t see.  For my latest draft, I went with a freelance editor –http://www.thegirlwiththegreenpen.com  – because although my friends and I knew there was a plot problem, we were out of ideas as to how to fix it.  Taryn got straight to the heart of the problem and more importantly, had good advice regarding what to do next.  Acting on that advice will come with its fair share of pain but going back to point 4 – sometimes you have to be brave.

 

 

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Alison Whipp

Lawyer. Writes Middle Grade and YA. Known to cackle raucously at 13 y.o. boy-humour. Partial to baked goods of the sweet variety.
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