Monday, April 18, 2011

What I think I've learnt: Part 1

Way to sound super confident, hey? But the title of this blog post is true, at this stage all I have is a list of things I *think* I've learnt through the process of rewriting, and rewriting, Secrets & Speed Dating. I think I need a few (lot!) more books under my belt before I'm vaguely confident I've learnt anything at all :)

But, as some of you seem to be interested in this (*waves at Autumn!*) this is the first in a series of blog posts that I'll write over the next few months, covering "the list" (which I emailed to myself a few days after my book was accepted while it was still fresh in my mind). I won't pretend that anything I'm about to share is particularly ground breaking, but for me, it was a combination of all these things (and sheer bloody mindedness) that got me over the line.

So...Part One:

a) Trust my instincts. If it doesn't feel right, it's not. 

b) This isn't the same as it being hard to write.

See, I said it wasn't ground breaking :) But here's the thing, even though I've always known this, I somehow managed to win New Voices even though I didn't think my Chapter Two was "right". It was quite literally the best I was possibly capable of at that moment in time (it went through MANY rewrites!) but deep down, I wasn't happy with it. Yet I got through to the Final 4, and then I won. 

So, my subconscious went...AWESOME! and started to let other writing through that also wasn't quite right.

This other writing is otherwise known as "Version One" of Secrets & Speed Dating, that made it to about 19,000 words before having to be scrapped.

Version Two was much better, it got rid of some of the "not right" stuff from Version One, but I still knew that something wasn't right. Like I'd make excuses for it while describing the story to my family and friends. It wasn't a bad story, it just wasn't the right story for me to be writing. But I was so obsessed with meeting my deadline, and there was quite literally no time for me to go with anything else. So I soldiered on.

When Version Two got dumped, I dumped it properly. ALL of the "not right" stuff went. Any line of dialogue, or piece of back story, or ANYTHING that I didn't like... even if it had been in the winning chapters, went. Even if I knew, logically, that there was NOTHING wrong with what I was deleting... if I knew it wasn't right - for me - I trusted myself.

And that's how I wrote all of Version Three. And yes, some parts were really really hard to write, and I stared at a white screen and flashing cursor and whinged, and cursed, and typed, and deleted... but I never let myself get past a page of "not right" without stopping, going back, and starting again.

I know there is a lot of advice out there about writing a discovery draft, or "you can't fix a blank page" and so on. And this is all perfectly valid, and I'm sure works for millions of people. But for me, it doesn't.

What do you think? Do you agree? Disagree? I'd love to hear your thoughts!


  1. I agree! I do write a rough first draft after a fashion. But I expect the bulk of it to survive editing. Just writing to fill the page isn't helpful in the long run, at least to me. If a scene is off, the next one is so much harder to write.

    Which isn't to say that sometimes I change my mind and decide a scene that I adore needs to go. Or that it needs to be written in a different POV.

  2. I disagree. This is mostly how I write. I've heard so many people say just plod on cos you can fix it all in the edits, but that just doesn't sit with me. Great post! Can't wait for more.

  3. And that was supposed to read "I AGREE" and then all the rest! Teach me for posting the minute I wake up in the morning :) Sorry

  4. I had to learn this the hard way but it was a great lesson. I'm looking forward to the rest of your posts, Leah =)

  5. Great insight, Leah. I've just tossed all the plotting for my latest ms because it didn't feel right and I think rwiting it wouldn't have felt right. Nice to know I'm not the only one :)

  6. Julia - Yes! I'm very similar. My "draft" certainly needs revision, but the bulk does stay... at least it did in Version 3, when I finally got it right :)

    Rach - Ha! Yeah, I was a bit confused :)

    Lacey - Thanks Lacey! After being AWOL for ages I do plan to post this series without a six week gap, promise! :)

  7. Hi Leah, that's why it takes me so long to write a first draft! I can't move on until it is 'right' and i agree with Julie, i expect most of my draft to be there at the end, because i worked so hard to get it out/right the first time!
    But i have to learn to do this quicker - 10 months to write a 50,000 novel is insanely long!

  8. Oh whoops, we were posting at the same time Anita :)

    Yay for trusting your instincts! It feels good to let go of the "not right", it leaves space for the "right", I reckon :)

  9. Sorry Kerrin, I missed your message, too!

    Yeah, it's great having your draft pretty close to the finished version - even though it may take longer initially, I reckon it is more efficient in the long run.

  10. This is really interesting! My WIP is now in it's third version for pretty much the same reasons. My first version reached 14k, the second 10k, and each time it just about killed me to start over again, yet each version is better than the previous one (I think!). As you say it's about trusting your instinct but for me it's also about finding your voice and writing your way and not the way you think others might think it should be written (if that makes sense). Congratulations on your book being accepted. :o)

  11. I'm glad you found it interesting Alexandra, and thanks for the congratulations!

    Yes, totally agree with your voice comment. I find I start off truly in my voice, and then get so caught up in plotting and meeting the series guidelines etc etc that it's easy for me to lose it. Sticking to your voice is definitely the best way to ensure you are truly writing the right story for you... I think :)