Your First Draft Will be Terrible, But That’s Ok

Once, I wrote the first draft of a short story that stank so bad; I had to open up a window while reading it.
I felt like ripping it up or pressing delete and then beginning again.
I spent a long time to discover the job of your first draft is to be, and it’s ok if your writing is lousy and unedited.
It’s a good thing that my first drafts are for me alone, and yours should be too.
You will sit down to write the first draft; you will likely lack self-confidence or feel indifferent to what you’re about to make.
You may likely feel that you’re writing and feeling stupid.
Most successful authors seldom experience a white-hot flash while working on their first drafts. A lot of writers question themselves and think about pressing delete.
They don’t do that though.

Alternatively, there’s a determined (and coffee caffeinated) person plugging away at his or her manuscript one word at a time, looking at their word-count and all the while thinking:
“It’ll do for now”, “I’m almost there”, “I can fix this later.”
You can fix it later too, but wait, you’ve got to finish your first draft.
You’ve got to reach the end and stop reorganising your outline or having the ‘Shiny new Idea syndrome’.

Feedback or a Critique is Not Easy to Hear, But Necessary

I used to show my early drafts of my short stories to friends and family, and they’d tell me:
“It’s great Phil; this is outstanding work.”
And I’m like, “Oh wow, thanks. Writing a book is going to be a career move.”
Their kind feedback wasn’t practical, and honestly; useless.
Here’s why:
The first time I received a response from an actual professional, like a Judge in a competition or a tutor on a writing course, I was flooded with things wrong with the story structure and grammar.
This feedback is not intended as a disparagement but as assistance in order to become better and achieve publication.

Never give your work to friends or family to critique as their empathy will cloud their efforts to find problems.

There’s More to Writing a Book than Just Writing

With non-fiction books then the learning and expressing the subject of your manuscript would be essential. A fiction book is more or less the same. Wheather it’s in present-day or a few hundred years ago or in the future, then you need to be aware of currency, eating and drinking material. Off-world Sci-fi or fantasy also needs to be checked as you don’t want characters in a fictional world going for a chicken evening meal and paying for it in Dollars. You must spend time reading outside of your comfort zone, reading the work of authors you admire and the novels of authors you detest.

You must take notes, write down and learn to arrange your ideas before you start your book. I was asked on a writing course to study poetry. My first thoughts were, “Yuck, I hate poetry and will never write any.” But, I considered Shakespeare and looked into his work and discovered he was the Iambic Pentameter master (which is poetry and sonnet material), and that may be a reason his work is still loved 400 years after his death.
If you fail to feed your mind, then don’t expect it to serve you quality ideas when you next sit down in front of the blank page.

Handling Time in a Novel

  1. A character’s interior perception of time passing may be the fact that a role has an internal sense of time. He or she is waiting for something to occur, is in the middle of a busy activity, or is idling around doing not very much. Write a scene in which the character goes from resting quietly to frantic action and pay awareness to how you make the time knowledge speed up. What happens to the length of your sentences? – They shorten as the pace picks up.
  2. As an exercise in building setting details which evoke time: Time could be a season of the year, like Autumn or a time of the day. Details are a fabulous way to make these time points clear: is the sun or the moon rising during the day and setting? Are there Christmas ornaments on street lights or are the daffodils just growing out of the soil?
  3. Shifts from scene to scene. An ultimate way to register time is by use of the time word in your scene changes. It can be as easy as, “The next day. . .” Or, perhaps you want to be specific: At precisely 8:20 am, Brian opened the front door. The time words at the beginning of scenes orient the reader to exactly when the event is taking place. It’s good to keep the reader familiarised. This means you are thinking like a writer.

Writing a Story Takes Time…

1. Writing Should Be Learned

I’m not, or ever have been, an insatiable reader. In my youth, I loved James Clavell’s Shogun. Our family had little capital, though, to spend on books, and I infrequently thought about using the school library for entertainment reading. The library was only a place to inquire, copy out of encyclopedias.

I’ve been a storyteller my entire life, though, so when someone proposed I write a book, I thought, Why not? (in the words of Jeremy Clarkson) How hard can it be?

Um, it’s kinda hard, and it surprised me) to learn that you don’t just sit down and fluidly pen a story. There’s a craft to it, something a practised reader knows intuitively from the many hours spent with a book in their hands.

2. Writing Does Take a Lot of Time.

Pick up a book and look at the page. See those words? Yeah, they made it into the final novel. For every one of those words, there were lots of others that didn’t make it into the book. Someone wrote all of them. That took time, the one thing a lot of writers lack.

You have to scrape time out of the day to do it. You may have a day job or a family. This time devotion can be problematic to find the time. You might need to lose sleep, lunch hours. Eventually, your loved ones will complain, and you’ll need to figure out how to balance your real life with your dream. When you do, email me your secret. My husband is starting to complain about the scant fare at our establishment.

Synopsis, and What is One?

1. WHAT NEEDS TO BE IN A SYNOPSIS?
You only need four things in your synopsis: your working title, the genre of the book, the word count and your extended pitch.
The genre should merely be several words, using a publisher’s language, i.e. rural romance, modern women’s fiction, historical fiction. If you’re not sure precisely how to describe your genre, go to a few publishers’ websites and then look up titles within your type of heading. In the description on the site for each of the books, there will be a statement of the genre.

2. WHAT IS AN EXTENDED PITCH?
It’s a review of the story. It’s commonly around 200-300 words. Bear in mind; your synopsis shouldn’t be more than a page.
The key here is the word “story”. A synopsis isn’t a summary of the themes of the novel; a publisher should be able to work that out if you’ve explained the story well enough. People don’t read for topics; they understand the story. Your plot is what will catch the attention of the publisher. A synopsis shouldn’t tell the publisher how to read the book either. It’s just about the story.

3. SO HOW DO I REVIEW THE STORY IN 200-300 WORDS?
Good question! Apparently, you will have to leave a lot out. That’s the point that most people find the hardest to do. You want to concentrate on the main plot and maybe one or two subplots.

4. THE SIX SENTENCE METHOD
I find the six-sentence method helpful. Try to review your story in six sentences, then expand a little on those six phrases in the synopsis.
The six sentences that should be in focus are:
* what life is like for my protagonist character at the beginning of the novel
* what is the characteristic that sets the protagonist off on their journey and that is the inciting incident, described compellingly
* what is the mission or the intention of your character and why is it so necessary to them
* what is a couple of obstructions that get in their way
* what is the most significant barrier of all (doesn’t need to be fully described if it gives away too far, but the drama needs a hint)
* end with a question/hook
Then, in my synopsis, my first two paragraphs will be about points 1-3 above. The next two articles will tackle a couple of the obstacles. The final section will be the significant obstacle, and the question/hook.

Delete Exclamation Marks!

I once read a blog post with an exclamation mark at the end of every sentence. I would have liked to read the whole post, but I couldn’t—the exclamation marks were distracting me from the content and making it a painful read.

How to fix it:
Proofread your work. Then ask yourself: Does this sentence need an exclamation mark? Am I going to lose anything if I replace this exclamation mark with a full stop? If the response to this question is ‘no’, then please, please get rid of that exclamation mark.

Learn Your Confusable Words

The grammar-controlled community makes so much noise about confusable words that I’m always surprised when I see them misused.

What do I suggest by confusable words, like the following:
It’s/its
except/accept
their/there/they’re
practice/practise (for the UK, American and Australian writers among us)
The list goes on.

How to fix it
Proofread! Know what your weak words are, maybe list them so you can be extra aware to check them.

The Use of i.e. and e.g. correctly

I.e. indicates that is, and, e.g. means for example.

How to fix it
Whenever you write it, reread the sentence in your head with the full version, that is where the shortened version (i.e.) is. If it doesn’t make sense, then change it.
Additional tip:
While not a universally used convention, I recommend punctuating like this:
e.g.,        i.e.,

Why? If you were writing for example in a sentence, how would you write it?
For example,        that is,

You would include commas, right? So why wouldn’t you contain commas in the shortened versions? Plus, you look like you know about grammar, and that’s always a positive.

The Use of ‘Few’ or ‘Less’

Getting less and fewer correct is not easy—unless you have a know-how up your sleeve to memorise which one is which.
Here’s how to fix the problem:
You may use two different procedures to get less and fewer correct. The first method is less precise, and the second is a tiny bit more tricky.
First strategy: If you can count it, just use fewer. If you can not figure it, then use ‘less’.

E.g., less desire; fewer hugs

less cash; fewer coins
Second strategy: Less and fewer describe names. If you are representing a singular noun (i.e., you can use ‘is’ after it), then use that a less amount. If you’re calling a plural noun (i.e., you can use ‘are’ after ‘it’), then use fewer. (This way is a bit more tricky but much more reliable.)
E.g., affection is; less affection;

hugs are; fewer hugs

money is; less money;

coins are;  fewer coins