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While most people would think that a book is the product of one person – the author – it’s actually the sum total of a number of people, i.e. the author, definitely the editor, as well as an assortment of alpha readers. Unlike a movie, which’ll finish with four or five minutes of credits acknowledging everybody from the actors to the director to the caterers, a book has only the acknowledgements to (this may be a surprise) acknowledge anybody who’s had any input into the content.

So there’s some people I would like to give a personal shout out to – people who read early drafts of August Falling (well before it became August Falling) and whose contributions helped shape the book’s development.

Let me begin with Blaise van Hecke, who tirelessly reads everything I write – sometimes, she reads several different drafts. Blaise always puts herself in my headspace (and yet she’s still sane) and tries to help me get my stories to where I want them to go. This is pivotal. I’ve seen feedbackers who take over and drive the story in a direction incongruent with the author’s vision, so it’s a special talent to sync to the author’s wavelength.

Then there’s Kim Lock, who I met in Queensland during the 2013 Hachette Manuscript Development Program (for which Just Another Week in Suburbia was shortlisted). Kim always provides a perspective that nobody else has, and – moreover – it’s gotten to the point that if she’s scribbled on a hardcopy suggesting cuts, I cut unquestioningly.

Bel Woods is another who not only always offers fantastic feedback, but has such a great understanding about publishing trends and what’s hot and what’s not. We’ve repeatedly talked about publishing for hours on end. Given the breadth of her knowledge, some publisher should snap her up as a commissioning editor.

These three have read lots of my manuscripts. They must groan when they hear I’m working on new book, knowing that at some point I’ll ask them to read it. (I hope when they groan it’s not because of the book’s quality.) They’ve also offered encouragement and assurance through the journey – invaluable when rejections have battered me around.

For August Falling, I would also like to thank Helen Krionas, who read an early draft on her phone. She suggested the elimination of one character (which I was toying with at the time) and also helped me query pacing issues and the depth of the relationships involved. (You’ve got to really appreciate somebody who reads an early draft on a phone.)

Also, to Tom O’Connell; I think he read it the mundane way – on his computer. He helped give me another male perspective (especially on some of the emotionally rawer scenes), and helped me understand what was working with August and what wasn’t. Tom’s another talented editor who should get snapped up by some publisher (although he’s asked me to play the title role if the book is ever adapted, so he may be looking for a career change. No problem, if I have that power.)

All these people are talented authors in their own right with their own unique voices. Blaise and Kim have already been published, and I know that they will continue to produce books that will be widely read. For Bel, Helen, and Tom, it’s just a matter of time, and I eagerly await seeing their books on shelves.

Finally, thanks to my editor, Lucy Bell. Although we had some robust discussions on August Falling, I appreciate her keen eye, detailed feedback, and patience. While we didn’t always agree, I did consider all her suggestions (although I might have attacked some of them laterally) and August Falling is an infinitely better book than the draft Pantera Press first accepted.

You’ll read about these people in the acknowledgements (← hint to buy the book), as well as others who helped me.

I appreciate you all, and thank you for helping me with my writing.

 
Don’t forget! My launch is this Sunday – 2.00pm at Buck Mulligan’s!

Postscript: Still slow going on my work in progress, thanks to co-facilitating a weekend writing retreat at work, picking up a nasty bug, having that nasty bug develop into Erbola or something on Tuesday, and some unexpected computer problems.

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Lots of people think writing is easy, or should be easy.

If you have an imagination, you can tell a story – right?

But that’s like saying if you can imagine a house, you should be able to build one. Surely there’s nothing too involved there? Dig a foundation, lay down some bricks, build four walls, throw a roof on top – what could possibly go wrong?

It annoys me (I’m easily annoyed) that people think that writing is easy, like writers can sit at the computer and hammer out 9,000 words in a single sitting. No problem.

Unfortunately not.

Writing is painstaking. Whatever’s in your imagination has to be articulated onto the page. You need to find the right words to build the right sentences. The right sentences need to construct the right paragraphs. The right paragraphs need to evolve into a narrative that makes a cohesive chapter. Each chapter has to contribute to a compelling story. And within all of these constructs – even the smallest ones, like finding the right word – there’s so much that could pojssibly go wrong, e.g. a lack of clarity, overwriting, repetition, etc.

As a writer, you’re always evolving – at least until your mind packs it in. But as you’re evolving, you’re learning. You discover new ways to do things. You also learn where you’ve been doing things wrongly, e.g. you might have an over-reliance on exposition, or have favourite phrases and words that you use (every writer has them – I used to love ‘ominous’).

As you learn, the filter through which you write changes, so you curtail these habits – not all the time. Early drafts should be a spill. The filter can act as a net to catch some stuff, but you should always just aim to get everything you need onto the page, and that doesn’t mean stopping to check every keystroke.

With TFSoLY, I’ve bullet-pointed a number of things that I’ll have to either go back and revise, or write into the story. They’re not small things, either. If they were, I’d do them right now. These are big, BIG things. But, right now, it’s important I get the rest of the story down, so I’ll know how those earlier parts will need to work when I do go back and attend them.

Something I’ve found extraordinarily helpful is what I call my Shit List. This is a list of words or phrases that I overuse.

Once I’ve finished the early draft, I’ll run a FIND & REPLACE, highlighting every use of these words or phrases.

Some examples from my Shit List:

  • eyes / gaze / glance / stare / look: an easy habit to fall into, connecting the characters to other characters and/or the environment.
  • turn: my characters are always turning – turning to or away from other characters, or to look at things.
  • spun: my characters are always spinning – dramatic flourishes and all. How can you not love a dramatic flourish? It’s a reason we should still wear cloaks in today’s society.
  • seem: I’m often writing that something seems [fill in whatever comes next].
  • just: my Pantera editor, Lucy Bell, picked up I overuse this – I’m unsure why. I think it’s just become ingrained.

There are others, but these are enough as examples.

When I worked as an editor, I found a lot of these common – especially the eye action. Writers love eye action. (And the word ‘suddenly’, which I refuse to use anymore – it’s such a melodramatic way to inject urgency.)

Just Another Week in Suburbia is approximately 80,000 words, and went through about thirty drafts – including some sizeable cutting of things that didn’t work, and writing in new material (including a whole new final act). August Falling is approximately 83,000 words, and went through at least twenty-five drafts – including writing in some new complementary scenes to round-out the story

Now, by drafts, I mean I read them from the first word to the last word (and some scenes and/or chapters repeatedly). That’s a lot of reading and revising. In the case of Just Another Week in Suburbia, that’s reading roughly 2,400,000 words to get those 80,000 words as right as possible (with help from feedbackers, and my wonderful editor Lucy).

People who aren’t writers or editors see only the final product, and don’t realise how much work goes into getting it as good as it can be.

Writing’s not easy.

(This was actually meant to be a post about mental health – well, I guess that can come next week. Sounds ominous, hey?)

 
Last Week’s Lie: I claimed I’d been bignoting myself. I’d never do that.