Tag Archives: first novel

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

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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!

Can a writer’s anxiety suffocate their chance of success? How learning to back yourself is crucial…

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So you’ve written a book. When do you decide to tell not just agents and publishers but stand up and shout proudly from the nearest mountain top that you have written a book in all its glory for anyone and everyone to hear?

Whether we recognise it or not, the moment we decide to send it out on submission, its begun a journey, albeit a very long, lonely one but one filled with surprises along the way and soon that book begins to eclipse your worries of failure and your need for re-assurance and become something separate to you, away from the anxiety – for you and your book are not one and the same. The book is fine, its the unpublished writer that’s the mess.

We talk to people in quiet voices, half in embarrassment as they ask how the book’s going and I answer truthfully that I’m still knocking on doors but perhaps its not until you can get over yourself that your book can set sail under its own steam.

‘What’s it about?’ they ask politely and you die inside, judging them judging you before you’ve even finished. You stumble out the word fantasy, then say horror too, then regret that cause it’s not really and then you say, “Well it would be similar to Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles.” While this has lots of meaning to me, I imagine them stumped – not fans, not interested. Isn’t the whole vampire thing done already? Always knew she was odd, I can almost hear them say.

And so, you keep your book to yourself, tell people on a need-to-know basis to save yourself those conversations. And then something happens. Perhaps tired of feeling this way, tired of waiting for answers that could quite frankly change your life, you decide that you will put your head above the parapet, take a little peak around. You breathe the air in at an agent workshop and think, hey, there’s enough oxygen up here for all of us . You take the feedback. You realise that maybe you’ve learnt a few things from the rejections in the rear view mirror and that what you have might just be okay.

I sit in the front row at a ‘how to get published’ panel during the Dublin Book Festival and take notes – brazen as you like! I even wave hello to the agent I met the day before. Jeez, hold yourself back there girl – you’re in danger of behaving like any other normal person in the room. And though I skulk off afterwards instead of chatting to the publishing folk hanging around (my gumption only lasts so long), I can feel something different in myself. Gone is that helpless feeling of sitting around, being shy both for myself and most dangerously for my book.

I even attend a seminar the following weekend on self-publishing. Something which at the beginning of my journey seemed like a last resort, an oh-well-if-all-else-fails-I-can-shove-it-out-there, ashamed that I couldn’t get any real publishers to take it. I’m not proud of my small town view of e-publishing but the dream was a traditional one. And then in the course of one day, my perception changed totally. A complete 180. Control. Self-publishing means you have control and that notion swims even now in my mind a few weeks later. I now know that this journey is actually a hell of a lot more exciting than I’d anticipated and while I continue to chase traditional submissions, I know that there is no way that my book will ever be a throw-it-out-there thing. The skies of the year ahead suddenly went from grey to blue, even just at the thought of taking its fate into my own hands.

And so I stand proudly over my book. I’m not the sort to rant about its merits, quite the opposite but I know that the feedback I’ve had from my chosen readers has been abundantly positive and so I’m ready now to stand up and own it. So here’s what it is and here’s to not choking on my words when someone is kind enough to ask, ‘What’s it about?’

OUR DESTINY IS BLOOD

New York. 1847.

An Irish girl with a murderous secret. A vampire out for revenge.

Brought together by a powerful force…their destiny is blood.

Seventeen-year-old EVEYLN MOONEY has just burned a man to death with her bare hands. Now she has to run, keeping it a secret from her protective brother MICHAEL, until she can figure it out. Together they flee their famine stricken homeland, crossing the Atlantic to New York and into the household of Russian aristocrat VLADIMIR DERMATOV. But their new master has a secret of his own and when his dead brother makes a miraculous return, the stage is set for a reunion unlike any other. For SASHA is now a vampire, seeking retribution on the brother that left him in the hands of a monster. Their fates will be decided in the mansions of Fifth Avenue and far below them, for a dark force lurks beneath the city who would bring them all together.

©Clare B. Daly 2016

Why Rejection Is An Essential Lesson For Every Writer

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Rejection is the bane of every writer’s life – that soul destroying moment when you see the agent/publisher’s email in your inbox and a brief moment of hope flickers before you open it and your eyes quickly scan through the words….‘after careful consideration’…’unfortunately’…’not right for my list’…’another agent may feel differently’…’good luck’. Instantly you wonder if the off-license is still open or if there’s chocolate cake in the fridge cause you’re gonna need something to get through yet another knock back.

Having gathered more than my fair share, I’ve realised that those ‘no thank yous’ could be the best thing that ever happened to my writing. Allow me to explain.

The more the merrier!

Gather rejections. As many as you can, for some hidden gems may lie within. Keep sending out submissions but when you get to double figures on the rejection pile take stock. Is there a similar vein to each one? Casting aside the form rejections, did any offer feedback or insight and if so, are they of any use to you? We are too quick to let the disappointment in and you wouldn’t be human if you didn’t feel deflated and not good enough but later go back, read it again, for there are nuggets to be gleaned.

Consider the market stall you’re setting out

One agent (whom I admire –that’s important) told me that while he liked my writing, he couldn’t place it as a historical novel right now (it’s set in the 1840s). Initially I was horrified. That’s my story, it’s not something that can be altered. Head explodes! BUT when I thought about what I had said to him in my query letter, what my title may be suggesting, what my synopsis was saying I realised that perhaps I was highlighting the very thing that is in fact putting agents off. Yes, my story is set in harsh historical times but it’s a fantasy, a swirling gothic fantasy. A good story should shine through no matter the setting.

His words forced me to look at my book with a marketing eye. I may have written a book worthy of release (I have to believe so) but I also needed to re-check what my market stall was actually selling. Are the two things the same? If that agent in question found the setting a daunting one, then I would need to convey it to agents in a different and more commercial light. The first part of that was looking at the title. I thought it was perfect but perhaps only had true resonance after the reader had finished the book. My new title, which I shall keep under wraps for now, is much more enticing and tells the reader what to expect in simple terms from the outset, from the bookshelf. In following my gut, I know it’s the right move.

I re-shifted too the focus on my synopsis. Play down the setting, play up my heroine. What she’s capable of, what her fight is. What the true hook is. Think, think and think again. What am I selling? Agents are so busy and see so many manuscripts that they are rarely going to take the time to break down for you what needs to change. They will reject and move on so you must learn to read between the lines. Rejection, in forcing you to take a long hard look at what you’re selling, helps you see more clearly. You are getting a taste at last of the literary world as it repeatedly slams the door in your face. You want in? Yeah well you’re gonna have to work that book and that pitch like you never thought you would.

Silence can be a lesson in itself

Earlier this year, one agent asked me for exclusivity in considering my submission. A writer friend had introduced us personally and so I put all those fragile eggs in one basket and waited. And waited. And waited. Six months and still no response but after three, when I had dragged myself from the pity pit of panic, I took up my manuscript for a little read and immediately saw ways to improve it. So I wrote another draft, a better draft. Without floating in that limbo, I never would have done that. I took apart my book forensically. Wrote out new chapter cards, stuck them all up on my notice board without the chapter numbers and just looked at the plot laid out before me. I was like a miner striking gold when the contents of old chapter 29 became new chapter 3. When 53 short chapters became 27 more meaty ones. Again an exercise I would never have done without rejection. Comments of short chapters from agents, were now dealt with. I saw my book in a way I never did before I started submissions and it was better.

Without rejection, you won’t realise just how much your work means to you.

Want to find out how truly deeply invested you are in writing? Try some rejection. It’s the most telling signal as to how you will feel about your book and how hard you are willing to work it until someone somewhere finally says yes.

So get it out there, take the rejections, take their lessons, bury the ones that hurt and move on. There is much to be learnt and we as writers have nothing if not time on our hands. Remember you’re in it for the long game and perseverance is key. Me? I go back now into the abyss, with hopefully a stronger book, a better title, a sharper synopsis. More rejections will come, for that is the way, but I’ll keep learning from them and sharing the lessons learnt along the way.

 

Writing competitions: Running the endless race…

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Epiphanies are rare. That moment when the right thought finds the right cubby hole in your brain in which to nest and nurture itself. This morning I realised after much anxiety this week that writing competitions just aren’t for me. What was I torturing myself for? How I’d goaded myself into believing that there’s a path and if you want to be a successful writer you must follow it to the letter. Given I’m a bit of a newcomer and have had my head wedged in the pages of my first book for the best part of four years, I told myself that I really should be writing some short stories and entering local competitions. Get yourself noticed. Get yourself heard. A chance to shed the invisibility cloak for a while. Sure look at this writer and that one who started out winning competitions and so on until my brain wrote one just to shut the voices up.

I should have known really that competitions weren’t for me for I am an eternal optimist. I do the lottery rarely but when I do I get a little tingle at the prospect that yes – it could be me and I have it all but spent by the time the draw comes round and someone in Belmullet has won it again. Unlike the lottery you’ll be surprised to find writing stories requires a bit more effort than a Quickpick and so time and energy must be exhumed in order to bleed the right shade of blood that a particular competition is looking for.

Don’t get me wrong, I see their worth, their value to those that win but what of those that don’t. Eight hundred people entered the competition I agonised over this week and twenty-four were shortlisted. Brilliant for those writers and fair play to them but what of the seven hundred and seventy-six writers bereft of any words in the pool of disappointment, not knowing if they came close or were the first to reach the recycling bin. Did I think I could win it? No but God I hoped. It’s the lottery all over again and so I found myself all week refreshing the relevant website for news. Again and again and again. I care a little too much and that scares me because its damaging to me and its also distracting me from the actual joy of writing. I have enough to be thinking about with my novel currently out on the hunt for an agent and that I have discovered, is all the anguish I need right now.

Compare if you will a writer to an athlete. Always writing, always training, breaking a mental sweat versus the physical one. Now imagine that athlete running a marathon, urging every last cell in their body to get them over the finish line, pushing themselves until they can no longer breathe, the finish line the only thing keeping them going as it appears in the distance, growing nearer and nearer. Perseverance is needed but they reach the end and have the beautiful satisfaction of recording their time, checking if it’s a personal best and if they’re lucky enough maybe even picking up a record and a nice medal. Now imagine that marathon runner is a writer and they have secreted themselves out onto a page and entered a writing competition. Their mind will run that marathon for months waiting on the result for they can’t enter that same story in another race while still running this one. They have cut loose a piece of themselves to be judged, only in the end satisfaction is not forthcoming. Only silence. Now the two are melding, the athlete running among his peers but he is invisible, like a ghost moving one foot after another as other runners jostle past them. For the invisible runner, the finish line just keeps moving further back into the distance and they may never ever reach it and if they invest themselves as they do in all things with 110%, they will end up forever exhausted and unable to do what it is they so loved in the first place.

Having taken my short story from an anecdote told in my novel, I do realise that it comes down to personal taste and maybe my tragic notes are not for everyone. Hell I get that, I do. Completely. And so rather than torture myself and burn my energies finding more competitions, I shall leave it to the pros. There are so many talented writers in Ireland and so I bow to those of you who have what it takes mentally and the physical arsenal of material to keep firing at these deadlines all the time.

I’m not an athlete (I spend far too much time sitting at this computer) but I fully appreciate that training is a huge part of finishing races and achieving goals. But there is a pressure out there, probably self imagined that mirrors my I’m-a-mother-I-should-be-able-to-do everything to I’m-a-writer-I-should-be-able-to-do-everything that is just not realistic and for the foolhardy among us leads only down a road of further torture.

I’m not afraid of showing people my work (if I was my novel would be sitting in a drawer right now and I wouldn’t be writing its sequel). It is what it is. I do what I do. Like all forms of creativity it speaks of the individual who made it and one story, song, painting, poem is not going to speak to everyone in the same way. And so I have decided that writing, much like the film reviews I write should be expressed and sent out to float into the atmosphere and find their own natural home. So no more competitions, no more judges, no more waiting. I shall post it here and continue what I love best.

 

 

 

 

 

Is it wrong as a writer to dream about film rights?

 

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I work in the imagination, my mind is my office, the daydream my work. At the moment it’s a volunteer position where I put in the hours for the pure joy of doing it and the dream that one day perhaps I will see my book in print. Every unpublished writer’s dream. But is it wrong to dream about the film rights and one day seeing my story in cinematic form? Purists might thing it crass to say such a thing out loud, the writing is key and true writers don’t write to make movies, they write to write but as Emma Donoghue proved so successfully with her book and film adaptation of Room, you can do it and do it very successfully.

Now, I don’t envisage my tale winning any Oscars by any means but since its inception I’ve allowed myself to clear out a little cobwebbed corner of my mind and allow that notion to tap its feet and hum a show tune. I work in film; so why can’t I have that dream? It’s a big part of who I am and I allow myself to hallucinate that one day I might venture to its World Premiere in Dublin, standing alongside the actors playing characters that I created. Me. My characters.

If dreaming were an occupation, I’d wrack up some serious overtime but I don’t think it harms my writing process – if anything if enhances it and so what’s the harm? When I write, the spools of film run through my mind, a succession of flashing images that I translate to the page. I see my characters, I hear their voices, their laugh, their cries, the texture of their clothes and the ground underfoot…they are real to me. Is it normal to then conceive that someday I may see that to fruition, taken from the reader’s mind, the personal made public for all to see?

Well then why not write a screenplay, I hear you say? Perhaps but my story has come together in novel form and the road to publication is one with many possibilities. Screenplays it seems to me, brilliant ones, stay on dusty shelves awaiting funding and making films is a much more expensive business and a bigger gamble with lots more players with money at stake.

The inflated ideas

I can hear the voice of a cynical agent as they throw my manuscript in the nearest bin at such a notion, berating me for thinking that a film deal is an easy conjuring trick for any agent to make happen. I’m a dreamer but I am not without the practicalities and logic that go with putting your trousers on one leg at a time.

The money

At the moment I have nothing to lose and so I state my dream proudly. Tell me an author doesn’t feel that tingle of being on set when that scene is being shot that they worked so hard to perfect years before, or the joy of sharing that first trailer on their social media. It’s about the money you say! I mean film rights, come on, doesn’t Hollywood pay the big bucks? Don’t all writers want to be Dan Brown or Stephen King? Isn’t that the penniless writer’s dream? I’d be a liar if I said it didn’t matter (you should see my bank balance at the moment) but it’s not everything. You certainly won’t see me in a Ferrari. [as my husband weeps]

The glory

As a film publicist I’ve worked a lot of red carpets and it’s been a terrific experience but I do not possess an ego that wishes to step into the limelight and grab some of that celeb glory for myself. A peasant who wants to sit on the iron throne. Nope, not my style. So, the kudos doesn’t interest me. The vision does.

How it may be transferred? Who will write the screenplay? Me? Who will play my characters? There’s a merry game on a rainy afternoon. One day I know I’ll get my book out there in one form or another – if I have to sell it from a pram door to door or over the fabulous interweb or shout the words to passers-by on the street, I’m ready for whatever route that comes. And a film, well that would be a special and personal gift especially as I’m in this for the long game.

So laugh, begrudge, call the men in white coats but a gal can dream and dream big. For what are we without them?

Five things I’ve learned on the hunt for an agent…

So the writing posts have been quiet of late and as usual its not for the want of trying but rather I feel like the car I was travelling in has temporarily ditched me at the side of the road, as the driver (possibly Satan, possibly just a surly guy with long unwashed hair and a lot of denim) pulls the door to his mini shut and speeds away up life’s highway without me, his cackle still audible in the smoke filled air. I’m on a road I’ve never been on, with no idea where it goes or if my destination actually exists.  The regular asphalt has crumbled away, unearthing the scorching hot gravel that I must navigate in my bare feet with my lowly manuscript (sorry I meant magnificent, see No. 4) under my arm. Yes, agent hunting is a new world to me but I’m learning a few things as I go.

Here’s my top five:

1. You need a time machine.

No really – if there is ever a hope of getting an agent before I turn ninety, I’m gonna need one of these. With an average 12 weeks for a reply and a prevalent wish for exclusivity with each submission, this is going to take forever. I may have grandchildren by then, even a great grandchild. How nice it will be for them when their wizened old nan has her first book published. You may venture for multiple submissions but I learned very recently that some may put yours to one side if being read elsewhere. I can see their logic. Hence the time machine. Honesty has always been (perhaps to my detriment) the best policy. I may need to re-consider.

2. Don’t suppose for a second you can imagine who they are and what they want.

You don’t know these people. You may google them, follow them on Twitter, check out who they represent but really you don’t have a clue about what makes them tick. In my short experience, no two are alike, which makes sense as yes they are humans just like you and me. They are not Sauron-like, with their big fiery eye glaring at your pitiful work. Nor are they robots, checking your words for the perfect algorithm. They are people with good days and bad like the rest of us and you will find them having both.

3. Rejection is an armour piercing arrow.

Impossible to deny but much as you steel yourself for replies, the knockbacks and the comments do get through and they do hurt. This is something you care about and its like giving your child to a stranger to be slapped as you stand by watching. Maybe you’ll get a rejection and think ‘hey c’est la vie’ but maybe the next day, that arrow will hit you right in the ticker when you weren’t expecting it.  Their words will swirl around as you try to climb over them and the only thing you can do is move to the next agent on your list.

4. Doubt will be your daily burden.

Looking for an agent? You? With that book? And you will shrink at the thoughts of actually approaching one, let alone calling one and when you do get off the phone you’ll imagine all the really good things you could have said rather than all the pitiful garbage you did. You fool! Press rewind. What do you mean there’s no rewind? Where’s my godamned time machine?!

5. Be you because you can’t be what they want, if they don’t want it.

Much as your manuscript will divide so too will you. While you think your cover email/letter may be as concise as you can, you convey a little part of you and some will like it and some won’t and you can tell from the comments you receive back that some haven’t liked you or your book. Call it paranoia perhaps but this is personal. You are selling yourself too. So don’t compromise that. Just be yourself.

So onwards on the lonely road I go, book in hand with an old saying in mind – “what’s meant for you won’t go by you”. We shall see.

I shall adjust my armour, sharpen my spear and keep hunting.

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Follow Your Giddy Gut…

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Sometimes in my darker moments I wonder what the hell I was thinking putting my professional career on hold, while I pursue writing. What a silly move, giving up my income, such as it was as a freelance film publicist. Did I have some sort of breakdown or mid-life crisis that people were too polite to tell me about? Was it the hair, its style grown out and now hiding my face or the same cardigan that looked like I’d slept in it for days, in a prickly bush beside the canal? But my gut niggled away at me as it tends to do when things aren’t right and so like Julia Roberts in that perfume ad, I broke those diamond chains of the business of show and walked out of the room. The room with all the sane beautiful people, who get paid for a living.

Most writers fit their passion around their paying day jobs and I did too for the first three years. That was me on the Maynooth train every morning and evening with my tiny laptop and headphones, furiously tapping away and I loved it. But the end of my book seemed a century away and as much as I was making progress, it wasn’t quick enough and my mind was far more at home listening to the conversations happening in my head than they were swerving around office politics.

Perhaps writing my book had finally driven me crazy, but somewhere along the line, the joy of writing morphed into an idea that took hold of me, one of having a book in the world and how special and amazing that would be – and not just any book. My book – full of the characters I’d grown to love, full of stories I’d exacavated and explored. What if someone else actually wanted to read them? Even enjoyed them! And so began the dream of making it a career and with it a restless insanity. A journalist friend remarked when I joined the film reviewing ranks (a obvious and comfortable choice to hone my skills), that I seemed different, there was a spark there when I spoke about writing. I knew it myself. It made my legs wobble and my cheeks redden with giddy delight.

Even though I’ve doubted myself since in those dark moments, I made a decision and I followed my giddy gut. It does however make the prospect of the book, now that its complete, all the more terrifying. This week was a particularly low one. The radio silence as you wait for an agent to get back to you is perhaps as crushing as you think their answer will inevitably be. Let me just check my email again! Oh God, nothing. I’ll just check my phone. Put it down. Pick it back up again and so it continues every day. It’s all part of the process I know but my giddy gut tumbles and twists in anticipation. Maybe it’s an ulcer and that’s to be the only result at the end of this project but I hope it’s not. So  for now, I’ll persevere with my amateur daydreaming job until I get a glimmer of turning professional.