Thursday, April 10, 2008

Writers' Q&A

Well, I planned that this would start on Monday and run all week but things conspired against me.
Never mind. The Writers' Q&A is now officially open - and I'll fit in as many of the questions as I can in the next week.

In between Q&A posts there will be more of the Launch Party with more guests, more fun, and more prizes - so keep coming back! I'll be announcing yesterday's winners very soon.

So on to the first question - this one is from Jacqueline

I have been reading Mills & Boon books for nearly 30 years and have often thought of writing one. I have started several stories but often seem to get bogged down by constantly going over what I have written and making corrections. Do you think I would be more successful if I just kept on writing and edited the finished the book? Also do you think it is important to plot the outline of the book from the outset and have a rough outline of key events which will take place in each chapter?


Let's start with a very basic and obvious fact.

A story has to have a beginning a middle and and end - and so, naturally, does a book. No editor is ever going to buy any novel, however wonderful it may be, if it's not finished. No publisher is ever going to publish an unfinished novel, unless it's posthumously, and then only if you're really famous. And I'm sure you'd really prefer not to be dead when your book is published.

But if I had £1 for every person who has told me that they are going to write a book - or even more that they(anyone) could 'knock out' a romance easily and quickly, I'd be a richer woman than I am today.

But if I'd waited for many of those writers to 'knock out' their books so easily . . . I'd still be waiting . . . and I wouldn't have much money, I can tell you.

I have often mentioned that I read and critique manuscripts for the Romantic Novelists' Association's New Writers' Scheme ( and there's a title that I often think should be set as as test for how to use the apostrophe correctly! I always have to doublecheck it myself)

For this scheme, unpublished writers can submit a novel they had written to have it assessed and critiqued by a professional - usually a writer published in the line/type of fiction the New Writer is aspring to. And one of the things that I always compliment the writer on - no matter what the standard of the novel - is the simple fact that they have completed it. (Admittedly some of them only submit a few chapters, but they are rare.)

Even a short romance novel demands staying power and commitment to write. 55,000 words can look very easy to manage when you're reading a fast-paced, emotional book. But starting at page 1 and writing words page after page until you reach that 55,000 total is a long hard slog. I should know I've set out on that journey more times than I care to remember. I have 54 completed title - and a large number of unpublished - and many unfinished ones to show for it.

And each one of those books has been set out on with enthusiasm and interest. The opening of a novel is always exciting to write - there is so much to discover, new characters, new scenes, new plots - so much potential in those blank pages. But that early enthusiasm can wane, the progress towards that magical total slow . . Doubts set in. You start to edit. . .
First and most importantly, remember that you can always edit a bad page. You can't edit a blank one. So you need to fill those pages. And then you can go back and edit them. And personally, I feel that filling them is what matters. Editing comes later.

Friends of mine have different ways of describing this - Michelle Reid always reminds me (and I remind her) to 'just tell the story'. 'Don't read back' we say - keep writing, keep going, You can go back to edit/revise/rework - remove - reject - later.
Other authors talk about slamming down a 'dirty draft' and Julie Cohen has a Post-It note on her computer giving herself permission to 'write crap'.
Because even if what you have at the end of the book is indeed 'crap', at least you have a complete story, scenes and characters that you can go back and edit, and hopefully fix. But I think that it's only when you get to the very end that you can see whether what you've written is in fct crap. Sometimes, pages, scenes, chapters that I've written and even as I'm writing them I've thought 'What am I doing? Where is this going? What's the point to it? - Oh this is rubbish!', when I've gone back and reread them at the end, in context, in the flow of the book, they end up looking perfectly fine - in fact more than fine - they can be the bits that the editor and the readers love. Or, equally they can just be rubbish!
So my advice to Jacqueline is yes - keep on going, don't keep looking back, going back - keep on keeping on. 'Just tell the story'.
Too much editing can take every last drop of life from a story. Back in prehistoric times when I first started writing, I didn't have a computer, I wrote on a mclunky manul typewriter. Before that, I used an even more primitive technique - I wrote everything longhand in ink! But I always just scribbled and scribbled to get the story down. Then I typed it up - and as I typed, I edited it. These days when I can edit, erase, repeat, move, cut and paste . . . if I'm not careful that's what I end up doing. I write 'The', think no - and erase it - write It - think no - and erase it - go back to 'The' . . .
So Jacqueline - do anything that helps you keep moving forward. Yes, think ahead, work out a novel plan, rough out the events and scenes that you want to have in your book, map it out if that keeps you going. But always be prepared for that novel plan to change as you get to know your characters better - as they come alive. (this is the subject of the next Q&A actually).

When I was a beginner I created a novel plan. Probably not as detailed as one where I had notes for every chapter and every event - but I did a rough plan of how I saw the story developing, any major events - events on which the plot turned, where the characters learned . . . I didn't always stick to it. Often I wrote it all down, put it beside the typewriter - and started. And the original plan would get covered by other bits of paper and other notes and by the time I'd got to the end, and sent the book off, and I was tidying my office, I'd find it again and think 'Oh, so that's what I meant to do . . . '
These days I'm far more likely to set out and 'travel hopefully into the fog' - But planning out your book can be a big help.
Anything that keeps you going, telling that story right to the finish.
So plan it out carefully if that helps - but don't spend all your time making that plan just perfect! What matters is that you write - slam down a dirty draft - don't look back - give yourself permission to write crap - just tell the story!
And then you can go back and edit it.
(c) Kate Walker 2008
One other thing - HAPPY BIRTHDAY to one of the special people in my life - Anna Louise Lucia. Have a wonderful day, love.


Anonymous said...

Oh it's a bit of a crush getting in that door, and some hussy is chewing the ear of the BM and where's the champgane?!!! Oh there it is - lovely.
Great party Kate, this book is going to save so many writers's to you!
Hic. More champagne?
x Abby

Nature Nut /JJ Loch said...

Super post, Kate!!! I am at 43,000words on a mainstream. This time I'm letting the characters tell me the story without an outline. It's working well.

No news yet.

Hugs, JJ

Patricia said...

Kate I can't wait to get my hands on your 12 Point Guide. Thanks for the advice. I'm a write by the seat of your pants kind of girl. My stories evolve as I write but I tend to let my heroes overshadow my heroines. My heroes stay consistent. My gals start out strong and then they get bogged down, sometimes weak, in the middle. What should I do to prevent the heroine from becoming weak and wishy-washy in the middle?


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