83,562

Before I was published, I had several novels that got close – well, that’s what the glowing rejections suggested. However, I did feel that those novels were – in their way – reserved in some areas. I was holding back. It was intimidating to put work out there where people who knew me would be reading it, and possibly judging me through what I’d written. I’m sure lots of writers feel the same. So I wrote through a filter – I held back in scenes (be they explorations of emotional vulnerability or realisations, intimacy, etc.) where I thought somebody might think of me, I can’t believe he wrote that!

Going into 2012, I’d compiled numerous rejections (for novels, short stories, and screenplays – well, everything), I was rehabbing a badly broken leg, and had grown frustrated with the lack of progress in my writing life. I decided whatever I wrote next would be the one. I would write without fear and without inhibition. People could think what they liked.

The novel I began was Just Another Week in Suburbia.

As usual, I mapped out all the characters and lots of the locations, but didn’t know a lot about the story outside the premise. As I got deeper into the manuscript and started working things out, I charted what I thought would happen on each day, although the order of some of these events changed in the writing.

When I was done, I had a manuscript I was proud of. Much of it had flowed and tied together in a way that doesn’t often happen. Sometimes, writing is excruciating, and I have to scrap for every word, and then come the next day I rewrite scenes because I feel they’re not working the way I need them to. And, other times, it clicks. Or so I thought.

My alpha readers read JAWiS and gave me feedback. I looked at what I thought worked and didn’t work in the story I wanted to tell. Then I revised. The story became fuller, but the story itself didn’t change dramatically.

In 2013, I subbed JAWiS to the Hachette Manuscript Development Program, not expecting a lot – I submit exhaustively and never expect much. But JAWiS was shortlisted, so I flew up to Queensland for a week where Hachette, in conjunction with the Queensland Writers Centre, ran a series of workshops about all things writing (e.g. writing, revision, publishing, marketing).

The author they’d appointed to oversee the participants, Charlotte Nash (she’d been selected for an earlier Program, and at that stage, her second book was about to be published), spoke to each of us individually. Then one of the two publishers – either Vanessa Radnidge or Bernadette Foley – did the same with each of us.

Judging on the extract she’d read, Charlotte spoke to me about the verisimilitude in JAWiS – she was (rightly) big on situations unfolding plausibly. That was encouraging. Given JAWiS was my line-in-the-sand novel, Charlotte’s feedback was encouraging. (Of course, it’s always encouraging whenever somebody extremely talented, intelligent, and insightful praises you.)

Bernadette looked at the (whole) manuscript from a structural angle, and told me to go away with a pen and mark down scenes that I felt didn’t quite gel with the suburban setting and events in the book. This was her polite way of telling me, There’s some pretty outlandish scenes in there. This highlighted a concern that had nagged at the back of my head.

When I begin writing any story, I always have an idea about some of the scenes that might occur. But, as the story develops, sometimes those scenes become irrelevant, or simply no longer fit. Then it’s a case of still trying to make them work or abandoning them. For JAWiS I was big on making them work, because some of them were close to what I was feeling at the time. (More on this next week.)

At the end of 2013, I house-sat for a friend over Christmas and attacked the revision of JAWiS, marking down scenes that I could see now belonged to another story – one that was extraordinary suburbia (murder, violence, etc.), rather than ordinary suburbia (relationships, couples, etc.), which is where JAWiS unfolded.

I slashed large chunks of the story (it’s impossible to guess, but I’d say between one/third and one/quarter) and wrote in new material – I wasn’t rewriting existing scenes, but writing in entirely new scenes, so the story took a different journey and finished a different way.

When Pantera Press accepted JAWiS, I went through another structural edit. Again, the story became fuller and clearer. Characters who didn’t have them developed arcs. Subplots were resolved. But the story remained the story they’d accepted

In the next few weeks, I am going to post some of those original scenes – they’re not deleted scenes, like you might find on a DVD. Deleted scenes could still be inserted into the story so the story takes the same journey. My deleted scenes belong to an earlier draft, and one where JAWiS was a different book.

So, the first one will be next week …

 
Postscript: I’ll be appearing on 3CR’s Published … or Not tomorrow (Thursday, 27th September) at 11.30am, talking with David McLean and Jan Goldsmith about my new novel, August Falling.
 

82,116

Lots of people – usually inexperienced writers, or those who know very little about the publishing industry – have lofty misconceptions about being an author. I can admit to having them, when I was a young, inexperienced, and naive writer. But now I’m older and wiser.

Well, older.

This week, I thought I’d look at some of the misconceptions that commonly do the rounds.

    Being an author is lucrative.
    I heard a joke yesterday:

      What’s the difference between an author and a pizza?
      A pizza can feed a family of four.

     
    The top-end authors – JK Rowling, Stephen King, Lee Child, etc. – would be rich. But most authors are working full- or part-time jobs, and writing on the side. Now that’s most. Go look at the books in a bookstore, and determine how many of those authors would be rich. In Australia, it’s harder, since we’re a tiny market.

    So you can ditch the dream of marching into your job and telling your boss to stick it. You could have a huge hit. It could go international. Be turned into a film. Etc. It could happen. It could. You can’t rule anything out, because it does happen.

    But it’s rare.

    And if you think you’re the one, well, damnit, think about how many other writers have had that exact thought – because they have.

     
    I have an idea for a book, and it’s going to be a bestseller!
    Well, it might be. It just might be. But there’s no guarantee.

    Plenty of great books go unsold, and plenty of bad ones sell well. Publishers can market a book. You can hustle relentlessly. But you’re still left to the whims of the public. Sometimes, it’s just about timing. The market might be saturated, or another similar book might’ve taken the limelight. Sometimes, it’s just bad luck – for whatever reason, a book doesn’t capture the public’s imagination en masse.

    Your idea might be unique, your writing brilliant, and your book the best thing ever published, but that still doesn’t guarantee that people are going to buy it.

     
    Writing is easy.
    I would like to embark on The Les Zig Tour 2019 (dates and venues to be announced), where – using a cold, wet, mackerel – I slap everybody who believes writing is easy.

    You might have a brilliant imagination and a fantastic story idea. You still have to articulate that onto the page. That takes structure, voice, prose, plotting, characters, arcs – well, this list can go on.

    Consider this if you’re likely to be on my tour: go and paint me a masterpiece, and see how well you do with that if you have no or little background in art. Writing is about that easy.

     
    My first (or second) draft is brilliant – I don’t need to work on it anymore!
    Your first draft will never be brilliant. It might be filled with brilliant potential, but it takes a lot of work to realise that potential.

    Both Just Another Week in Suburbia and August Falling came out what I consider ‘easy’, in terms of writing. They flowed and developed and evolved.

    Yet both were revised extensively – around thirty drafts of manuscripts that were just in excess of 80,000 words. Both books also had two major structural revisions, in which lots of stuff (especially in JAWIS) was cut and new material was written.

    I hope reading my books is effortless, but it took lots of work to get them there.

     
    Publishers are infallible.
    Well, Pantera is, because they picked me. (← Joke.)

    Publishers aren’t. There’s plenty of tales about manuscripts that have been rejected umpteen times, are finally picked up, and become bestsellers or win literary prizes. And books that have been bought for huge sums, only to flop.

    The literary landscape is a subjective and capricious market that’s impossible to consistently predict.

    Publishers are taking educated guesses, but they’re still guesses. Nobody truly knows what will be a hit. If they did, then all they’d have are hits.

    It just doesn’t happen.

     
    Only good books are published.
    There’s plenty of bad books that have been published. There are plenty of bad books that have done well. Surely, you, as a reader, would’ve read a book (or two) and thought, This is terrible – how was it ever published?

    Reading is subjective. What I love you might hate. And what you love I might hate. But I think there are also misfires – just like the film industry.

    Even with all their expertise and money, Hollywood still churns out bad movies. For whatever reason, they just don’t work. Some go on to become cult classics (e.g. Plan 9 from Outer Space). Some do well based on branding or the franchise (i.e. existing fanbases) supporting them. Others get masked in hype. But it doesn’t change what they are.

    I think the same applies to any artform, be it film, music, art, sculpture, books, etc.

Lots of these points overlap and intertwine and tangle you up, but they’re worth thinking about.

As far as TFSoLY goes, I’ve just made some massive cuts again – about 5,000 words worth, although I hope I’ll be able to reseed some of it back into the new material I write.

But, again, the story wasn’t working well enough for me to move forward.

So back I go again.