GO, STOP & LISTEN – part 2 of how to write a novel and get it published in 14 easy steps
Updated: Oct 30, 2020
This article about making my dream come true, writing and publishing my debut novel is based on 14 easy steps listed in a WikiHow article of the same name, this part looks at steps 4 and 5.
'Step 4. Stay diligent'
By 'stay diligent' I think the article means keep going and don’t give up when it's all too easy to be distracted and frustrated with the slow process or even bored. The article says, ‘put yourself in the chair… make writing a habit so you can’t quit. Find that unique place to write and do it every day at the same time.’
I did stay diligent, sitting in my chair and typing, determined to get my book finished, motivated by my overwhelming desire to tell my story in the finite amount of time I had to complete my mission.
However in the final stages of self publishing, quitting felt like the easiest option. I had to face the thought of my potential readers not liking my novel. I needed to get to grips with social media too which was something completely alien to me.
In a way, I enjoyed facing up to social media – I learnt new things and relished the challenge and I found people online who shared my passion for writing but it was also daunting, scary and hard. I tried to imagine that I was talking to someone in the passenger seat of my car – friendly and open banter but it wan't quite the same, mainly because I was communicating but I never knew what response I'd get. I couldn’t see their facial expressions as I talked, there was no nodding or shaking of heads, no interjections, no spontaneity and no giggling. I just had to hope that I was on the right track and my foray into social media was where the discipline of getting in the chair and just doing really helped me.
‘ Step 5. Get early feedback ‘
Seeking early feedback was in hindsight, where I went wrong but still everything worked out in the end. WikiHow said, ‘get frequent and early feedback on your writing from people you trust to be honest with you.’ and it makes two further points :-
‘1) … consider joining a local writer’s workshop. These groups will help you flesh out your ideas, give you feedback, and keep you accountable.
2) Use the internet. If you’re nervous about showing someone you know your work, find an online forum where you can get feedback…’
In contrast to this advice, my quest for feedback was a shambles but then you need to realise that I'm a person who avoids instruction manuals, diving in and wishing afterwards that I had at least given the directions a cursory glance! I'm still getting feedback, as much about how I write as much as what I have written. It helps me see my writing through someone else’s eyes and lets me know if I'm getting my story across in a clear interesting and enticing way that makes the reader want to keep on reading.
I do a lot of oil painting and it reminds me of how my picture looks so different when I stand back from it. Up close, I can’t see the whole composition or the proportions and I can't gauge the whole effect of the colours and lines. I always step away from my paintings and getting feedback from others is just as crucial when writing.
Receiving feedback has been a difficult leg of my journey. I fell into every pitfall imaginable along the way and it feels like my list of mistakes would be about the length of a novel!
Here are some of the lessons I've learnt,
STOP AND REVIEW
When you think your draft manuscript is ready to send out to your well chosen initial readers, it is best to sit on it for at least a week and then reread it yourself. I was horrified when I sent mine out and realised how many things were wrong. Your readers are precious and you don’t want to waste their time on something that you could have improved before they read it. I feel so sorry for the people who volunteered to plough through my first draft, how they got to the end, I will never know.
CHOOSE YOUR READERS CAREFULLY
Find people to read your first draft who read a lot – I asked friends for feedback and it was only the avid reader amongst my friends gave me the most helpful feedback. Everyone had different thoughts and I was left in a quandary as to where to go. My saviour was a literary agent who read my manuscript and provided feedback and from this I was able to sort out my confusion about what I needed to change. Melissa Eveleigh of the Honeycomb Literary Consultancy gave the most insightful and positive criticism. Her advice and all the feedback from my volunteer readers led to hours of re-writing.
ASK YOUR READERS SPECIFIC QUESTIONS
Eventually, I devised a list of the questions that I wish I'd asked in the first place. It would have made my readers’ feedback a lot easier to give. I'm not saying this list will work for everyone and it’s not designed as a questionnaire, it's something to use to structure their comments. I suggest your manuscript readers go through the list before they start reading your book so they can see the kind of feedback that would help – Below is the list of questions I used .
Opening: Was my first page compelling? Did you want to read more? If not, can you see where or why you stumbled? Did you grasp whose story it is, what’s going on, where and when it’s taking place? If not, what were you confused you or did you want more information about something? Did you notice a point where your interest started to drag?
Characters: Are there characters that need more description? Did you relate to the main character(s)? Did you feel her/his pain, joy, fears, worry, excitement? Which characters did you love to hate? Do my characters need to be more interesting or more likable? Could the bad guy(s) be nastier or more interesting? Any ideas about how? Are there too many characters? Are any of the names too similar? Are any characters too similar? Did the main characters relationships make sense? were they plausible? Which side characters are you curious to know more about?
Romance: How well did you think the relationship developed ? Did the dialogue or interactions make you cringe? Did anything make you feel uncomfortable? What and how?
Dialogue: Did the dialogue sound natural to you? If not, which bits sounded artificial?
Setting: Could you visualize where and when the scenes took place? Did the descriptions seem real ?
Plot, Pacing, Scenes: Was the story interesting to you? Did it drag ? Which parts? Are there bits you really liked? Which parts were exciting? Are their parts which should be elaborated ? What parts did you dislike or not like as much? Which parts bored you and should be compressed or even deleted? Was there anything that confused, frustrated, or annoyed you? What parts resonated with you and/or moved you emotionally? Did you understand every phrase / term I used? If not, which ones? Did you notice any discrepancies or inconsistencies in time sequences, places, character details, plot, etc.?
Visual: Can you SEE every action clearly? If you went there in real life, would you recognize the places? If not, elaborate. Did you have to reread any part of the ACTION SEQUENCES to understand who was doing what? List any issues lines/paragraphs that didn’t make sense and required a re-read. Could you SEE what the characters looked like clearly? If not, who?
Writing Style/Tone/Voice: Do you think the writing style fits the story and genre? If not, why not?
Ending: Did you like the ending? Was the ending satisfying? Was the ending believable?
Grammar, spelling, punctuation: Did you notice obvious, repeating grammatical, spelling, punctuation or capitalization errors?
Notes: In your opinion, what are the main strengths of the story? And the main weaknesses? Anything else at all?
LISTEN TO WHAT YOUR READERS SAY
I listened selectively to the feedback i was given, I didn’t value the comments and suggestions because I was too delighted with what I'd written and how I was so clever misdirecting my readers. It took me ages to realise that many of my precious (and long sweated over) paragraphs were superfluous. Pressing the delete button was so hard but I look at my novel now where less than fifty percent of my original draft remains – and I see how crucial it is too take the feedback seriously.
I found a local writing group late in the whole process of writing my novel and wished I'd joined earlier - their experiences and support was invaluable.