Ten things I needed to know before I wrote my novel
My debut novel, Fox Halt Farm is nearly finished and due out at the beginning of November but I am travelling an unfamiliar road, which I never expected when my husband said to me, ‘If you want to write darling then you must. Don’t live on regrets. Just do it.‘ If Paul had known what would happen to our life, he may not have encouraged me at all!
Here are the 10 things I wish I had known back at the start. I don’t think it would have stopped me writing but maybe I would have approached it in a different way. Please let me know if this rings true with you too… I would love to hear that I am not the only one who set out on a dream and discovered such a lot along the way.
1. Nothing else will get done: Writing was all consuming and hours sped by as I frantically typed up the story. I knew exactly what I wanted to write but the actual time it took to type all those 120,000 words was astounding ( I guess well over 600 hours). The cobwebs and dust built up around our home and the garden turned into a safari park!
2. The story and the characters consume you: My life was the book. I went to bed thinking about the characters and how they would behave towards each other, I woke up stupidly early most mornings with them still in my head – and I would get up at three o’clock to write down everything I was thinking about. My writing went well past midnight most nights and even when I was trying to have a normal conversation in my everyday life, I was really at Fox Halt Farm and thinking about the next part of the plot – and the best way to convey it.
3. Writing ‘The End’ was only the beginning: I dived into writing my book. My idea for the novel arrived in my head one day and wouldn’t go away. I decided not to procrastinate with hundreds of hours of research about how to write a novel and how to publish it successfully – My limited initial research showed up a consistent message that I must write my novel in full before I took it any further – no publisher would look at three chapters of a book that a new author says they are going to finish. Publishers know how hard it is to complete a book and I certainly don’t blame them for their caution.
‘I have finished the book darling,’ I remember those lying words so clearly. I didn’t know I was lying because I really thought I had but there was so much more still to do…
4. Ask for help and you get it in spades: The amount of help and quality of the advice I received from my two author friends, Beth Webb and Jessica Redland, still knocks me sideways. I know they are so busy and always working but as soon as I approached them, I received emails, texts and messages answering every question I could throw at them and both talked to me for ages on the phone telling me all about their experiences with getting published and self publishing their books. They are shining stars!
5. Getting feedback is the hardest thing: The people I asked to read my first draft were all enthusiastic volunteers and I sent them my ‘finished’ novel brimming with delight at what I’d achieved. I sent it and then I waited but nothing came back. My volunteer readers were not well-chosen. Firstly, few of them read much at all, and secondly, they were friends who were too kind to say, ‘Celia, you have to be joking! This is unreadable!’
When I spoke to Beth Webb she suggested that a novel of 120,000 words was probably too long for a for a publisher to consider from a novice author with no track record. I cried, ‘But Beth, I need every word to tell the story I can’t cut anything out!‘ So after two whole days with no feedback from my readers, I started to look again at what I had written. Oh my God, what a shock. I wanted to suck back all the manuscripts I had sent out. This was embarrassing, I realised my novel was not finished at all, it was a diamond just unearthed by a sweaty prospector; it needed careful cutting and polishing. I needed to go through the whole thing again and check the value of every word and the relevance of every sentence. My only slight consolation was that the volunteers readers’ first copies were all entitled ‘first draft’ but getting any of them to relinquish their original blemished version was another exceptionally difficult thing to do – no-one seemed to want to give their copy back.
6. Professional help is worth every penny: Melissa Eveleigh of the Honeycomb Literary Consultancy was a Godsend, that is all I can say. My friend Beth recommended her to me and after I thought I had finished editing my first draft, I sent it to Melissa for her advice. Two weeks later I received the most insightful and positive criticism. Melissa provided a list of things that needed either expanding on, cutting back, explaining, re-ordering and general comments about how to write bits better. Her advice, and the feedback from my volunteer readers, led to further hours of re-writing. .
7. Writers, authors and bloggers are a real community who support one another: Beth Webb told me about a fantastic Facebook group of bloggers and writers – and yet again, I am blown away with all the help and encouragement provided by the wonderful people in this group, where everyone loves writing and reading and just wants to support others with the same interest in every way they can.
8. Self publishing is as hard as writing: The list of things I am learning about goes on and on. I now know how to format a book to put it on the Amazon website, I know how to upload it to Kindle and I know how to write descriptions and an author bio. I am dipping my toes into social media platforms so that I can make as everyone aware of Fox Halt Farm . I am reading about how to promote my book. It is mind-boggling but I am enjoying learning new things… and I have started my Celia’s Cosmos blog too, all about my writing experience.
9. A Book is judged by its cover: I hate to say it but sadly, I think we are all inclined to make judgements on appearance. I don’t want to be led by what something looks like but, deep down, I know that I am.
It has taken me nearly six months to sort out my book cover and find the right people to help me. I am nearly there – the wonderful ‘From the Nook‘ are finalising an amazing cover for Fox Halt Farm, which I can’t wait to reveal soon.
10. And when you think your novel is finished, it still isn’t! I thought I was over the final hurdle and heading for the home straight but then I had some timely advice from a wonderful lady and blogger called Anne Williams , who kindly offered to review my book – she so carefully suggested to me that perhaps Fox Halt Farm needed more editing and through her and Brook Cottage I have found the most brilliant professional editor.
My editor, Amanda Horan, has shown me so many ways to improve my writing. She has opened my eyes to really important changes that were needed. I didn’t realise how my writing and my story needed to be refined – and now, I know that when Fox Halt Farm is finally published it will be the best I can do. There will be no compromise and I will be so happy with how my journey turned out.
And it is all thanks to so many people along the way who have gone out of their way to encourage and help me – THANK YOU ALL!
If you have a book to write – I don’t want to put you off. This has been a fabulous experience and I have entered a brave new world that I don’t intend leaving. So many ideas and characters are still living in my head and I know I have to keep doing this.