Tag Archives: first draft

The Advice You Didn’t Want To Hear From An Agent & How It Can Change Everything…

For the past three months, I haven’t given my little drawer in the internet much attention. It’s grown dusty and well that smell is not going to take care of itself, so I feel I should explain my obvious neglect. I have written a new book. For those of you who’ve read my previous writing posts, particularly the one about my trip to the London Book Fair ( So my Date With An Agent at the London Book Fair 2017 went like this…) you’ll know that I’ve been hitting a regular brick wall with my first novel (more to come on that), but suffice to say the most frequent advice agents have given me, is to write something else.

When I eventually stopped hyperventilating, I did just that, but not entirely of my own volition. The decision was made for me, by a detective I had encountered only in passing. Let me explain. I’d had the idea for a supernatural crime thriller two years ago. Then in February 2016, I wrote a chapter and left it to one side. I just wasn’t feeling it. It was like putting a dish into a cold oven – it was never going to cook and so I took it out and put it back in the freezer, in the hope it would last until its sell by date.

When I went to London, I shook the icicles off it, in case I was asked what ideas I might have for other stories. I had no plan to write it. I was busy writing the sequel to my first novel. I was sticking to my guns and my vampires – digging my heels in – that my book deserved to find its audience outside of market trends. I met a fellow writer friend for coffee, filled her in on my semi-disastrous London trip and told her my pitch. She liked it a lot and from the moment I left her, the notion started to thaw and with it came a charging horde of ideas.

I didn’t want them. I was driving home, blaring the car radio in an attempt to distract my brain. They couldn’t come now. The first book had taken me years to write and I was knee deep already in another. But they wouldn’t be ignored. By the time I got home, I knew all sorts of random things about my detective – my very own detective – and I knew I had to do something. I could hear him in my head – the way he spoke, his American accent. I could hear the pain and regret. He was prodding me from the inside, forcing me to listen, happy to drive me insane if I didn’t let him speak.

So I set myself a goal, beginning the next morning:

First draft – 1,000 words a day, seven days a week = complete in 3 months

I started it on April 1st and finished it July 1st. 80,542 words of a first draft. I had given the Scrivener app a whirl (thank you Bestseller Experiment!) and it proved to be a great tool. Goals work for me and Scrivener allowed me to track progress as I worked towards 80k words and also set a daily goal. To see the bar fill up each day gave me a daily sense of achievement and soon the progress bar on my novel was half way across. It’s amazing if you’re writing every day, how quickly that will happen.

Manuscript

I didn’t know if I could write a modern supernatural mystery – I have lots of procedural detail to add and sculpting to do from here – but I think the story is pretty solid and I’m completely taken with my new cast of characters. My detective is going to be with me a long time.

While ‘write something else’ was the last thing I wanted to hear in London, it may have been the best advice I’ve ever received. Will I find success with this one? It’s anyone’s guess, it’s early days, but I know that I can write faster now and better on the first draft than I had before. So what happens next? Well it goes to rest in a darkened room for at least a month, maybe two. I already know most of the things that need tweaking in terms of plot and I’m looking forward to diving back in but I need a little distance from it so I can do it properly.

What’s surprised me though, is how it has reinvigorated my intentions for my first book. I wondered whether it would be the one I consign to the bottom drawer – the doomed first novel – but that’s not the case. Only last night, my head was spinning with ideas for the rest of my partially written sequel, so I shall go back to that. And the first? Well lets just say I have a few campfires lit in various outposts. I will share news when I can.

Knowing that I have more than one book in me is amazing and empowering. Could I write a book every year? I certainly like to think I could. By this time next year I could have three books ready to be picked up or indeed published myself.

So fellow writers, hold onto your ideas. They will revisit you when you least expect them and when they demand your attention, listen to them for they could just be the one you’ve been waiting for.

Three things you need to STOP DOING RIGHT NOW if you’re writing your first draft

letters

I should preface this post with the fact that no, I’m not yet a published author but I have learned some stuff along the way and as I rocket through the first draft of my new book, I realise what a completely different experience it is to the first. So, here we go. Here’s the things you need to stop doing right now on your first novel:

1. Panicking about whether it’s any good

Yes, easier said than done but press that release valve, breath out all that stress and tension you’ve been holding in between your shoulder blades. Truth is, it doesn’t matter if its rubbish. It’s your rubbish, your search for the truth and even if its not clear or apparent in the first draft, you will find it later. You have to write the unsophisticated words before you find the elegant ones  (and often they’re the best anyway). So breathe deep and just get on with the business of the words. You’ll get to the end a lot quicker than you thought.

2. Researching

It’s endless. How will your brain remember it all? Not sure of court procedure for your legal thriller or just how many tablets would trigger an overdose for your troubled heroine? Save the Google search for draft number two. When I started my first draft, well before I even wrote a word, I read copiously for weeks. How was I going to write about life during the famine in 19th century Ireland without it? I drilled it into myself that even though it was fiction (and supernatural at that), it had to be authentic  – on the first draft. I hadn’t the writing confidence to just dive headlong into the murky waters. I attached myself to the research, clung to it like a lifebuoy.

What I didn’t realise was that it was actually drowning me. When I started to write, my mind became bogged down in historical accuracy and I lost the soul initially of what I was trying to say. Research feels like a very writerly thing to do and was fun to begin with, a look into the past, but it has a way of making you second guess yourself that holds you back. As a result, when it proves difficult to produce the work you want to, when fact and fiction become a tug of war, you start doubting if you should be writing a period piece at all. You ask yourself if this is just too big an undertaking and you lose confidence. Your research and your intense grip on it, starts to gnaw away at you.

Write the facts as you think they are, they can be checked later. Or leave them out altogether to be carefully inserted in the second draft when you can look at your whole story and see what it needs to be brought to life. Your first draft should be a complete fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants experience. Fact check later. You’ll get to the essence of what you want to say an awful lot quicker.

3. Worrying about Character

Before I started my first book, I not only researched my subject matter but I also researched how to write a novel in the first place. What were the secrets? How to develop your plot and of tantamount importance, create good characters. Again advice is all well and good and while some of it was useful, (such as a thinly sketched plot outline which of course did change but got me started), I also clung to the idea of writing character profiles before I put pen to paper. I felt I had to know who they were. Everything. Right then. But that’s not how we discover people in real life. You don’t get handed a character resume for each new person that enters your life. Time discovers them and you will as you go along. The notes did help to open the doors to my imagination but in the finished first draft almost three years later (yes it took that long) those people were barely recognisable from the traits I’d bestowed on them when I barely knew them.

What you realise only after you get to the end of your first draft is that you need to trust yourself more and let them off the leash. Discover them as you write. I think I was so scared of them, intimidated by the pressure of making them – good – believable – relatable, that they were stuck rigid for the first draft. When I got to the end I realised that my heroine, was a passive spectator in her own story and immediately needed to get back in there and let her loose. Let her to the surface. So let them fly. They will surprise you and that’s half the fun.

So whether you’re stuck at the 30,000 word mark or were psyched out about what you didn’t know or how long the journey is to the end, learning to care less and just write whatever comes into your head will get you there quicker. Be impulsive. You don’t need all the answers, not yet. And most of all enjoy it. It can be a hard slog but its worth it, every bit, every draft.

Good luck! Now, go write!