What I wish I’d known when I started out writing

When it ain't right, it's gotta go!
When it ain’t right, it’s gotta go!

This week I’d like to take a look at the things I wish I’d known when I started out as a writer. I’ve written on and off all my life, but for the most part without any hope of ever being published, although that was my dream. I only began to think seriously about writing in 2008 when I sat down and started what became my first full-length novel. Like many beginners, I’d read writing guides that said ‘do this’ or ‘do that’ and I didn’t really take them seriously. It was only when I began telling people about my writing and then finished Book Two that I realised I’d have to walk the walk as well as talk the talk and actually produce this work I was talking about.

Then in the last year or 18 months, the idea of self-publishing has come closer and closer to being a reality. That’s a scary prospect and this seems like a good time to reflect back on how far I’ve come since January 2008 and share with you some of the things I have learned:

  1. Planning / outlining – for me, planning a novel was once a dirty word. When I began the first book, I just started writing. I got a bit lost in the middle but somehow managed to pull it all together to an ending. Now, I wouldn’t start any project without an idea – usually a written version – of where I’m going and how to get there. Believe me, it makes the job so much easier!
  2. Be brave in editing – when it came to editing I was a bit of a coward. I hated the idea of hacking chunks out of my work, but when it just isn’t right it has to come out. Last weekend, I cut and rewrote two pages in one swoop of my red pen because a character had changed allegiances and the scene no longer made sense. It was painful to do it, but I believe the story will work better for it.
  3. The benefit of editing properly – Book One’s opening section has been redrafted several hundred times as I sent it out on submissions, but I never got around to editing the rest more than about once. As a result there’s a lot still to do on it. But by taking the time to go back through it, looking for mistakes and inconsistencies, you make your story that much stronger.
  4. Taking time / not rushing things – this is the one that I really wish I’d learned! When it comes to writing projects, I’ve always found that things take so much longer than you thought they would. When you work full time and write in your spare time, you have to contend with distractions like housework, television programmes and family and friends. I’m in the process of cutting out the second one in order to make some more time in the day. By taking your time – and following the other steps above – your work will be so much stronger. I took the time to plan Book Three more than I planned the other two and it’s coming together much more easily, despite the fact my work on it has been a bit sporadic and I’m writing all the right scenes but not in the right order, to coin a phrase.

So you see, there’s been a lot to learn in the last 5 years, as I’ve worked my way up from complete novice to a somewhat more intermediate position. I do wish I’d picked up on these points a lot sooner – especially point 4 – but I can sometimes be a bit of a ‘throw yourself in and see what happens’ kind of person. So, I’ve thrown myself in and have two-and-a-bit novels, a novella and a selection of short stories for my trouble.

Well worth it you might say, and I’d agree. It’s not worth having regrets, so I’ll just learn from this, reform my sloppy ways and go from strength to strength.

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