The Pointy End - Getting that novel DONE!

1:36 PM



Excuse me but it's March. March! Who is responsible for this rapid advance of 2018? Please slow it down. I need to catch up . . .

Anyhoo now that it is, in fact, March, I thought it was high time for an update on My Little Novel.

Let's pretend you're a journalist, say with a publication entitled The Dog Ate My Novel, and your job is to grill tardy writers on the whereabouts of their novels. Begin . . .

So you got the Highly Commended award for the Richell Prize back in November and won a 12 month mentorship with Hachette Australia. Have you started your mentoring sessions yet and what do they involve?

Yes! I've had two official mentoring sessions with Robert Watkins who is the Head of Literary at Hachette Australia. (Do not let his title fool you into thinking my fiction is literary! I'm more in the commercial fiction camp.)

The sessions have been wonderful. Robert is professional, kind and bloody good at what he does. I delivered my full manuscript to him in mid November and he read it over the summer.

I can't begin to tell you how nervous I was about our first session in January. I had no idea what to expect! I had awful phone reception at our holiday house in Mollymook so I'd driven into Ulladulla, parked under a shady tree with four bars of Telstra's finest 4G and girded my loins!

Of course, Robert made it easy for me. Instead of giving me a long detailed critique, he posed a series of questions and asked me to take a month to think about my answers which we would discuss in the next session. Some of the feedback was hard to take, especially when I realised I had another massive rewrite ahead of me, but in amongst my copious notes from the session I made myself circle back to the positives. He liked my writing style and most of the plot was in place (not necessarily in the right places, but mostly there) Phew! Okay . . .

The upshot was that I needed to beef up the emotional responses from my characters and differentiate them a bit more. Oh, and rewrite the Hollywood-wrap-it-up-in-a-big-bow ending! I already knew I'd have to redo the ending. I like tying up loose ends in neat packages, but I'd taken it to a whole new level - Disney on speed with credibility issues!

My homework was to write detailed character summaries of my three protags and write a new synopsis that plugged up the various holes which I duly did (after weeks of procrasti-cleaning and emotional eating!)

In our next session, Robert accepted my responses and solutions to the questions he'd raised so now I have a new deadline of 6 April for the next draft. Basically I need to get my butt in the chair every day for the next month and WRITE, WRITE, WRITE, EDIT, EDIT, EDIT!!

It's hard. It's really hard. Going back to the same story and the same characters and doing more, more, more. I have a feeling there will be more loin girding in my immediate future!

So the journey continues. What are you learning about the craft of novel writing through this process?

Oh the learning! It never ends really. I feel like I'm going deeper and deeper into the craft with every piece of feedback, with every reader, with every draft.

The feedback from Robert about my characters' emotional responses really floored me. I thought I had nailed them and of course in my head they are fully formed. But now that I'm re-writing, I can see all the ways in which they need to be fleshed out even further.

The most helpful resource on character emotions has been The Emotional Craft of Fiction by Donald Maass. This was a book suggested by the wonderful Pamela Cook and I can't tell you how inspiring it's been. The book has now been completely defaced with revolting orange highlighter and notes in the margins. So much of what he says had a direct correlation to one or more of my characters.

Here's a great example . . . one of my characters, Clare, has suffered a terrible loss and is grieving. Donald Maass suggests we go deeper into the layers of emotion. So Clare is sad that a person she loves has died. Okay, sad. I can write sad. What else? Is there another emotion beyond that? Well yes, the loss has led to a sense of abandonment. Aha! Okay, I can see how that could manifest itself in some scenes. What's beyond that? Okay, let's see . . . she doesn't want to feel that sense of loss again so she is overly independent, keeping people at a distance. So from this analysis of the character, I can introduce some scenes where Clare is being a bit spiky with people and the reader is made to wonder why.

Do you see what I mean? Go into the layers people. It's gold!

What will your writing process be for the next four weeks while this deadline looms?

6am - Make a very large pot of Melbourne Tea and commence drinking copious cups, get lovely son up, scrabble around for clean uniforms, make his breakfast and lunch, drink more tea.

7am - Drive son to bus stop while he digs around for spare change for the canteen and puts his shoes on.

7am-9am - Make lovely daughter her usual three course breakfast (fruit, cereal, egg), iron more uniforms, make another lunch, coax daughter to read very boring year two reader (which completely puts me off my own writing, just sayin'), coax daughter to complete spelling homework, coax daughter into uniform, deal with sock meltdown ('there are bits digging in!!') discuss pros and cons of ponytails versus pigtails versus plaits and perform feats of hairdressing magic which tempts me to add a slosh of whiskey to my next cup of tea, do the school run.

9.15 - GET COFFEE from Trev and Ursi at the local cafe. Chat to friends. Think about novel waiting for me at home. Chat to friends a bit more . . .

10am - Sit down. Edit. Write. Edit. Write.

10.15am - Eat toast. Put on load of washing.

10.30am - Sit down. Edit. Write. Edit. Write.

10.45am - Crack open son's fundraising chocolate box and pull out a bar of Marvelous Creations. Vow to make it last all day. Hang out load of washing.

11am - Sit down. Edit. Write. Edit. Write.

11.15am - Polish off rest of Marvelous Creations bar.

Midday - Sit down. Edit. Write. Edit. Write. Wonder, is it too early for lunch?

Repeat for the rest of the day until school pick up at 3pm.

As you can see, it's not the most productive way of working but somehow it gets done. I'll try to squeeze in a chunk over the weekend and occasionally have a blast at night after waking up in one of the children's beds at 9pm.

Did I mention I also run a business? So there is the juggle of admin and marketing and those bloomin' BAS statements that roll around far too quickly . . .

Michelle, come on, it's been nine years since you started this novel during NaNoWriMo. When, for the love of God, do you think it will be published?

Alright MUM!! Steady on. I'll send you a pdf if you really can't wait. Sheesh . . .

Seriously though, I have no idea. So much needs to happen between now and the appearance of a real actual book on the shelves. Possibly more drafts after this one to the satisfaction of editor and agent, then a possible sale to a publisher, then in-house structural editing, then in-house copy editing . . . the list goes on.

Put it this way, I think this will be one of those decade books. At least I'll be in good company. It took Margaret Mitchell ten years to write Gone With The Wind!

So why are you writing this blog post. Shouldn't you be getting back to the novel?

Look love, it's already 1.30pm and it's been ONE OF THOSE DAYS. But guess what, 'tomorrow is another day!'

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8 comments

  1. Love you darling - stick at it. I'm still relatively young so should survive to read your published work xxx

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    1. God I hope so Mum! Have you taken your multi-vitamin today?!? ;)
      Thanks mama - love you too xxx

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  2. Thanks so much for writing and sharing this Michelle. Your sessions with Robert W. sound so useful (even if a bit confronting!). I love that he poses questions for you to mull over and answer through your writing. It does sound like you are working very hard on your novel, but I have no doubt with each edit, each new draft your book will become even more wonderful. I for one can't wait to read it when it's cooked!

    I'm editing at the moment too and I have a different set of issues, mainly gaps in the plot that need further filling in.

    Good luck with it, and keep us posted! Sarah S. x

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    1. Thanks so much Sarah - it really means a lot to share this long rocky road with other writers like you. Good luck plugging up those pesky plot gaps :) (I have a few of those too!!) xx

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  3. The anticipation is just as much as I'm sure the final product will be

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    1. Oh Clare, the anticipation!!! Oh well, if it all goes pear shaped, it's only me with egg on my face ;) Thanks for your constant support xx

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  4. You go girl. The whole time reading this I had that young girl from grade 6 in my mind. Trotting away from the teachers desk, paper in hand and a big fat red A+ headlining the paper. All grins. Keep going chick. You know you love it!!
    Xx

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    1. Mary you are such a champion in the true sense of the word! And with a very long memory bless. Thanks chick xx

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