Thursday, 7 February 2019

New Release and Thoughts on the Writing Process

With the release of Lab Rat tomorrow, I've been thinking about my process of writing, and how much writing a book is like writing an English essay (and it's been a long time since I've written one of those).

For me, writing goes in phases. Sometimes it flows and I can't type fast enough, my heart speeds up and live each moment with the characters. At other times each word is torn painfully from my fingers and I count and re count on average about every fifty words, disappointed there aren't more. It's like writing an essay at school when you take to rambling, repetition and filler words. Then again are the periods when I can't write at all.

Thankfully I have emerged from a pit of black despair to the point where the words are flowing again. I almost worry about how easy it is and wonder, am I waffling and filling for word count, or are the descriptions a riveting and the conversations as witty and meaningful as I think they are?

This brings me to the second part of the process - the revising. This is where the magic happens. The first time through, the story is fresh, the characters are talking and there's a flow that will never come again, at least not with this book. This time you're looking at every word, the construction of every sentence, everything the characters say or do. Like that English essay you're revising and reviewing (a phrase my old English teacher drummed into us and I, of course, ignored as I was lucky to finish the essay in the time alloted, let alone have time to revise and review) It also brings some unwanted friends to whisper in your ear. It's not good enough. The characters are wooden. The plot is too thin. It will never be good enough. You will never be good enough.

However, by the time you get to the end, when you've rewritten chunks, deleted chunks, got bored, got scared, got depressed, you come up with a masterpiece. This work is polished until it's shiny, with the best characters, speaking the best dialogue, in the best situations. The writing is smooth, the characters are well rounded, the grammar is perfect. You hand it fearfully over to a publisher who accepts it, thereby confirming it's the best thing ever written.

Then the editors get their hands on it, once again tearing down those oh so carefully constructed walls of faith and optimism. Yet again you're plunged into the pit of despair and are sure you're the worst writer ever. The very nature of edits means they generally point out only the flaws, and just like that English essay, it comes back covered in red.

You read the comments and come to the conclusion the editor just doesn't "get" you or your characters. You dig in your heels because how dare they criticise your work after all the sweat blood and tears you put into it. They don't understand your characters like you do. They don't understand the context like you do. They don't understand the way you work, the way your voice sounds. They're trying to change you. They don't know what they're talking about. You blow off steam, rant a bit, then realize they're probably right and get on with it.

The very best editors are those who suggest, not demand, who explain themselves when they make a suggestion--it was at least three books in before I knew what "show not tell" actually means and I was tearing my hair out by then because what the hell else was in that scene I could show you? I described everything down to the colour of the tablecloth--and who intersperse the occasional positive remark. Amongst all that red it is a HUGE relief to see a smiley face after a piece of dialogue or a significant paragraph, and comments like "This made me laugh" or "I needed a tissue here" mean the world

After three rounds of edits and the galley, you start to hate the damn book, and then you're presented with the cover and told "this is it whether you like it or not." Sometimes they'll change the font, if you beg, or tweak something a little, but they leave you wondering if they ever actually read the Cover Information Form. or actually know anything about the content of the book Okay that doesn't always happen but this is one of the most stressful parts of all for me. I've been known to have a full autistic meltdown ater a first glimpse of a cover.I'm a very visual person, and the cover is the most important part of the book for me I've hated more than one, like this one.

And I have loved many, like these,

and of course, Lab Rat

Finally, finally the book is done, finished and out there. But that's not the end of the process because then comes the marketing and promotion. From my point of view, the least said about that the better and it's matter for another post. I'll leave you all with a parting thought.

Why the hell do I bother? Because at the end of the day writing is in my blood and despite everything, when I hold that book in my hand and see my name on the cover, every painful second is worth it.

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