Famous photograph of Nancy Beaton, taken by Cecil Beaton in 1929
Sigh. Of. Relief. The second novel’s been handed in – about a month ago, actually – and I feel lighter already. Not quite, but almost, ready to consider writing another one(!)
A while back I wrote about the pathway to publication for my first novel, Precious Things, which appeared in The Collective Hub’s online magazine here. You’d be forgiven for asking why I’d ever want to go through that again. But the truth is, I’ve felt fairly relaxed throughout the process of writing this second book. It’s been easier from the start, and I really let myself enjoy the journey for a change, despite all the false beginnings, re-working of the plot (essential) and the moments of self-doubt (unavoidable).
The thing is, writing fiction for the first time can be such a fearful process. With Precious Things, I had such big hopes for bringing that story into being because I felt like I’d been dreaming it for so long. But a niggling voice kept on inside my head throughout those years, telling me I was wasting my time. That my book might never make it into print. And what was the point, if it wouldn’t ever be read? I was petrified of people laughing at me. I almost had to grit my teeth to get through it. In a lot of ways, I think I embedded all that fear and anxiety into the writing of Precious Things.
But something’s shifted with book two. I knew that I could do it again because of the simple fact that I already did it once. And I genuinely stopped caring about how it would be received. I had so much fun working on novel two (which I’ll share the title of soon), and it’s with the editor now after a massive structural edit.
This is what I did differently:
One thing I decided early on was that I wasn’t going to waste as much time as I did with Precious Things. I sat down with my writing partner (we bounce ideas off each other and share our work) and told her my idea first. I’d seen a TV series in the UK about a crumbling old manor and the penniless aristocrats who lived there – cobbled together in two rooms of a hundred-room mansion to save cash on the heating bills – and I wondered, what would it be like to inherit a place like that? And what if, over the centuries, your ancestors and relatives had built really famous reputations for themselves by being fabulous and glamorous and generally a hundred times more successful than you in the current day? That was the seed of my idea.
Together we bashed out the rough plotline, starring someone who found herself in this predicament. We mapped out a chapter-by-chapter story following her journey from angsty young woman into something else, and quite clinically placed a number of obstacles in her way, giving the plot its fair share of ups and downs and inserting a mystery to drive the reader through.
In those early days, I wrote in a really paint-by-numbers way, starting at page one (rather than bouncing around to whichever part of the book took my fancy, like I had before) and thought of it like getting in the car to drive the shortest distance I could from A to B. I didn’t feel much love for the characters, but the real thing spurring me on was the confidence that I could get through to the end if I just put one word in front of the other. I remembered that moment in the writing of Precious Things – the one where I really started to believe in my characters. When they were no longer just something I’d made up but people who felt alive inside my head, clamouring to deliver dialogue and do all those clever things you just don’t expect… I had faith the love would come.
Life got in the way for a bit. We started renovations on our house and moved into a friends’ while the back part of our home was demolished to make way for a new kitchen, bathroom, living area and courtyard. Project managing the build every day, I stopped writing for six months. But when I finally got back to the manuscript, it was quite clear what was working and what wasn’t. I had the bare bones of my manuscript, and when I finally sat down to write again, it felt a little like re-reading someone else’s work (which is always easier than reading your own).
There’s been a few periods like this throughout the writing of book two. I took a maternity leave cover position at an audiobook company, acquiring print titles to turn into audio. We went overseas for the English summer. We had some ups and downs on the home front. But each time I returned to the manuscript fresh, with a clear idea of how to make improvements.
This novel is still very much in the works – it won’t be out until sometime in mid-2018. I have another big edit coming my way, I know, but I can honestly say I feel good about how it’s tracking, and I never really had that conviction during the writing of Precious Things.
If you’re feeling the way I did during Precious Things, stay strong. You can do it. One word in front of the other, remember. I’m cheering you on – it gets easier from here!
More to follow soon.