Peter Jones – Author & Public Speaker

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Finished?

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redpen
I’ve just finished writing the first draft of How To Start Dating and Stop Waiting.

Some explanation is needed.

When I say ‘first draft’, I mean the version of the manuscript that came into being, whilst I sat here, bashing away at the keyboard, with one eye on my outline. I can tell you now that it’s the very best thing I’ve ever written, and that there’s probably only a couple of minor things that need fixing – perhaps the odd smelling mistake, or formatting error – and then it’ll be ready to be released to the world. Part of me wonders whether I should skip my usual editing process and upload it directly to amazon, once I’ve cobbled together some sort of cover.

Another part of me knows that what I actually have is a nothing more than a collection of loosely associated words. And by words I mean a letters arranged into groups, because many of these so-called words won’t actually appear in any dictionary known to man. Where a genuine word does appear there’s a very good chance that it’s not the one I actually meant to type, or that it appears several times in the same paragraph, or it’s part of a phrase that I’ve used over and over and over again. There will be punctuation and grammar mistakes everywhere. Jokes that don’t work. Formatting errors galore. In short – it’ll be a train wreck. A disaster. And I realise yet again that ‘finished’ isn’t a word that should ever share a sentence with the phrase ‘first draft’.

My mate Vikki Thompson is in a similar position. Having taken part in NaNoWrMo this year she’s looking at a 50,000+ word ‘novel’ and wondering what to do next. And whilst there’s a whole host of writing advice out there, here’s what I do to take my manuscript from first to final draft.

  1. Let it rest – This is a luxury that I can’t always afford, but the truth is getting a little distance between you and your WIP (‘work in progress’ – I hate that expression) helps you to lose the rose-coloured spectacles you were wearing when you found yourself thinking, “hey, this is pretty good stuff.” And by you, I mean of course, me.
  2. Print it. Read it. Mark changes – for reasons that I’ve never been able to fathom errors are easier to spot on the printed page. Once you’ve invested paper and ink into something those stupid swelling mistaks will leap out at you and blow raspberries. But more than that, it’s easier to navigate through a printed document. I take a red pen and start ringing words, striking through whole sentences (and paragraphs), and putting wiggly lines in the margins (which is short hand for ‘meh – probably needs a re-write’).
  3. I make changes.
  4. Print it. Read it (aloud this time). Mark changes – Oddly, reading something aloud is the only way I know to find out if the ‘rythmn’ of the piece is right, whether my sentences are too long, and whether it’s clear who’s speaking. Sometimes I’ll even take a chapter to my local writing group and get someone else to read it whilst I follow along on another copy and mark where things don’t sound right.
  5. I make changes.
  6. Give it to Jules – my assistant Jules is usually the first person (after me) to read anything I’ve written. Having worked together now for many years I know I’ll get a brutally honest opinion. Gone are the days when she’d write a long diplomatic note about how she got a little lost, or “perhaps it could be better still”. Now she’s more likely to strike through an entire page and scribble “bit poncy” in the margin. Often Jules won’t be able to tell me what’s wrong with a particular piece, only that it doesn’t work for her. And that’s fine.
  7. I make changes.
  8. Give it to first readers – I’ll print a couple more copies and send it to people I’ve identified as my trusted ‘first readers’, a crack team of operatives who will give me their honest opinions on anything and everything. For this book that’ll be Wendy Steele and Della Galton. Together they’ll pick up on anything that Jules missed; jokes that still don’t work or can be misinterpreted, bits that ramble on too long, are hard to follow, or simply don’t make sense. Like Jules both ladies know better than to spare my feelings. I’m not looking for encouragement – I’m looking for things to fix!
  9. I make changes.
  10. Send it to my agent – finally, my lovely agent Becky will cast her beady eye over the book. If I’ve done my job well she’ll complain that she couldn’t speed-read the manuscript because she kept slowing down to read it properly. She’ll then send me her changes which are usually more structural in nature, moving elements she feels a publisher would particularly like to the front of the book, and generally making the book more commercial.
  11. I make the final changes.
This entire process will usually takes me longer than it took to write that initial draft, but what I’m left with is usually something I can feel mildly proud of. And for the first time I can finally say, it’s ‘finished’.

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Now what?

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please wait
Having sent the second draft of my novel back to the agent, here’s why I’m not prepared to wait one moment longer

So, a while back you’ll remember I was sharing with you the challenge of having to bring a 115,000 word manuscript to under 90,000 – whilst shoe horning in another couple of chapters.

You’ll be pleased to know that I did it.

Two months to the day after I sharpened my editing pencil, the novel finally weighed in at 89,532 words and was promptly shipped back to my agent.

Now – apparently – I wait.

Let me just take this opportunity to segway into a barely concealed rant about how much waiting there seems to be in the traditional world of publishing. From the moment you type the words THE END on your manuscript you actually begin a perilous journey on the road to publication – most of which involves waiting for someone, somewhere, to come back to you.

Which is quite a shock to the system for a fella like me, when up til now the only person preventing me from moving forwards – was myself.

It doesn’t help that I come from a Credit Card Banking background where hard-nosed, money-minded gentlemen want everything this time last week – earlier if at all possible – and I hate to admit it now, but that suited me just fine.

You might have gathered that I’m not a patient person. In fact, in the words of Charlotte from The Importance of Being Earnest – “I hate waiting even five minutes for anybody. It always makes me rather cross.” But what makes the waiting even more torturous (for me at least) is that I’m acutely aware that there are no guarantees. In my head, every second that ticks by is just another moment when my manuscript might be buried under something else, never to see the light of day.

So what’s to be done? How can I prevent myself from gnawing off my forearm as I sit and stare at my empty email in-box? The answer – so I’m told (thank you Wendy, thank you Della – two ladies who have said this very thing to me many many times over the past few weeks) is to start writing my next book.

And that – you lovely, lovely people – is exactly what I’m going to do. Consider this a formal announcement as such, if for no other reason than I’ll look pretty silly if this time next month I haven’t actually done anything about it.

A few gems to whet your appetite. It’ll most likely be another non-fiction book. It’ll most likely be another self-help book. It’ll most likely be written in a similar style to How To Do Everything and Be Happy. And here’s where I really lay my head on the block – it’ll be finished, proof read, formatted, and on-sale (for the kindle at least) by next April. Ish.
Because… I wouldn’t want to keep you waiting.

In the meantime though feel free to torture me with your writing-related-waiting-experiences (I think I’m going to regret asking that) OR any pearls of wisdom you may have re the publishing process and how to survive it, in the comments box below.


Originally written for Amwriting.org

5,497

4 Comments

redpenBack in July you may remember that I told you how, after six years, my novel is almost finished.

Oh my god how wrong you can be.

Let me bring you up to speed on a few things: At the time of writing I had an agent, who, having read the first three chapters, liked the book and wanted to see the rest. Which would have been fine if the rest was just sitting around ready to be sent – but, it wasn’t. Hence the flurry of activity to finish it, and the aforementioned blog post.

A few weeks after typing the words THE END, the agent got back to me and invited me to ‘pop into her offices’ for a chat. There I sat, surrounded by books written by her other clients, whilst she told me that she really liked my manuscript – but she’d like it a whole lot more if I made some changes – namely;

  • lose a character,
  • add two more chapters,
  • bring the word count down to 90,000 words.

The first two items were achieved within a few days, but the third… well I’ve been struggling. As my novel weighed in at 115,000 words I was faced with having to cut 25,000.

This is what I tried first

  1. made a list of every scene in the book (actually I had this already – a great tip that I picked up many years ago)
  2. identify any scene that didn’t move the plot on – cut it
  3. identify any scene in my heart of hearts I didn’t actually like – try and cut it
  4. identify the wordier scenes – trim them agressively.

Two weeks ago I was down to 103,000 words. Still 13,000 left to cut.

Out of desperation I printed off the entire manuscript (something that my friend Wendy told me to do from the off), sat down with a red pen, and read the whole thing looking for anything that could go by the wayside, and a weeks later I was down to 97,000 words.

I’d be depressed if it wasn’t for the following
– I have an inch thick pile of pages covered in red pen that I’m working through (probably another 1000 words in there)
– I have a list of seven scenes that I could cut (though god help me I really don’t want to)
– the book is actually better.

And that’s the bit that’s really taken me by surprise.

Weeks ago my friend Della Galton told me my book would be better for the level of cutting I was embarking upon – and by golly she was right. Somehow, the very act of taking out the weaker words, scenes, and in a couple of cases whole chapters, has distilled what was left, and made for a much stronger story.

But please God I hope my agent doesn’t want me to lose any more. As of this morning I’ve still got 5,497 words to find.