Sunday, 5 August 2018

How to kill your book stone dead

I've been taking my writing seriously since the mid 90s and submitting my work to agents and publishers since 1999. My first sub resulted in a call from the agent (the late Carolyn Whitaker) who asked me various questions while I ummhed and ahhed and said nothing of any value. The work I sent her was crap with a capital C but the fact she took the time to call me and offer encouragement was the coolest thing to happen to me since I got a reply from James Herbert to a letter I wrote him ten years previously.

So, that's more than twenty years of writing with an eye on publication, ten years since my first short story was published and six since the first book. And here's the thing - it doesn't get any easier. The work, the writing, the subbing stuff to agents and publishers and wondering if they will either give a shit or reply at some before I die of old age. The only real change is the ease of subbing. No more stuffing envelopes, buying stamps (remember those?) and trekking to the post box. No more waiting for the postman to stuff an envelope through the letter box, seeing my handwriting and realising it's the return envelope...then realising as it's the same weight and size as the one I sent, that means it's just the sample sent back with a cursory note to say thanks but no thanks. None of that bollocks now. These days, writers can get the same result through email either in a matter of hours (my personal record) or close to three years (also my personal record).

Sending work out has changed, but the words have not. Back when I first started, I had next to no idea what I wanted to say and usually made it up as I went along. The results were directionless, boring messes. Now, I outline and use that as a rough guide. Plotlines sometimes go their own way and characters behave in ways I wasn't expecting which is fine. It's their story, after all. I'm a much faster writer now and usually come up with a draft in about two months. Case in point, I'm working on the second draft of a book currently called Terminal State. I finished the first draft back in January but had to leave it to work on other stuff. It was thin and underdeveloped so I expanded various issues and set to work on the second draft around a month ago. I'm currently 55k in which is good going for me until a couple of nights ago. It felt like I was slogging through mud. The words just didn't want to come and those that did were flat and lifeless. I realised after a while that I had two consecutive scenes that didn't do much for the plot other than lead into a third. They were dragging the pace down to a crawl. That wasn't the only issue. I was looking at the book from a publishing point of view: would anyone like it enough to request the full manuscript based on the opening? If not, what can I change to improve my chances? On the tiny chance that someone goes for it, will they like the entire book or think it goes down the bog halfway through? All questions to kill a draft of a new book stone dead.

Even after more than twenty years, I still have days when the words don't come. Sometimes, there are reasons as I've mentioned; other days, it's just life being a pain in the arse. So, I'll continue with my new book and I won't think about how it's a little different to my usual stuff just as I won't think about the publishers who maybe, just maybe, will give me a call to talk about it.

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