Hopefully, I’m on the downhill run with this novel. I’ve finished the latest draft, draft #12 at least (but who’s counting?), and I feel as if it’s ready to send out to agents and publishers. Please note, I also felt it was ready after Draft #4, which it certainly was not.
Along the way, I’ve shared bits and pieces of Ida’s Children with various readers. Way back in 2012, I shared excerpts from the first draft. Thank you to those listeners who sat through the passages I read and then gave me smiling encouragement. Had you been heavy-handed in your criticism, most likely I would have run for the shredder. (You’ll be pleased to hear that many of those passages have since been dumped.)
Before applying for Varuna, I asked Iris Lavell (author of ‘Elsewhere in Success‘) to read my first fifty pages. She gave me valuable feedback, which not only helped me edit those first fifty pages, but taught me lessons that I could apply when revising the rest of the novel.
My husband was the first reader of the complete novel. I knew he was somewhat biased, and maybe he just said he liked it because he valued his marriage and felt an urge to protect my ego. However, he gave me some constructive tips and, given women’s literary fiction isn’t really his genre, the fact that it held his interest gave me more than a little hope.
I went to Varuna in April and whilst there had a formal manuscript appraisal by a consultant. On the first day at Varuna when we introduced ourselves, I told the other writers I was at Draft #4 stage and was ‘tweaking’ my novel—tidying up the words and making sure each sentence was the best it could be …
The next morning, I met with Carol Major, the writing consultant. First up, she told me she enjoyed my writing (whew!), that it had energy (fantastic!), she loved my protagonist (I’m quite fond of her, too), and she liked that the action began on the very first page (great!).
After that, she asked me a bit about myself and my background, and about my novel and its theme.
‘Okay,’ she said when I’d finished talking. ‘You need to go back to your theme and delete any scene that doesn’t develop it.’
I nodded. Of course. That made sense.
‘Why does Nora marry Alf? I don’t see the two of them together,’ she said.
‘Umm … because she can’t do what she really wants to do so she gets married instead.’
‘You need to build up to the point where she makes that decision, show the reader the trigger …’
I scribbled that down.
‘And these scenes, the ones with Jesus’ head, how do they develop the story?’
‘They’re light-hearted moments …’
‘They’re not needed.’
‘But they’re funny …’
She shook her head. ‘And Pa,’ she continued, ‘what role does he serve in the story?’
‘Umm … I like him.’
She shook her head again. ‘He has to go …’
‘ … But he’s my Dad.’
She patted my knee. ‘Save him for your next novel.’
Back in my room, I didn’t hesitate before I got stuck into the next draft—everything she’d said was right and I already knew it. It meant another major edit and a lot more work, but it would be worth it because I wanted this story to be the best it could possibly be.
That night at dinner, I told the other writers, ‘You know how I said, I’m here ‘tweaking’ my sentences and paragraphs. Well, I’m not …’
I took the theme and used it as the backbone for the story, paring everything back. Anything that branched from it got the chop. It tightened the story and made the theme stand out more. I had to kill a few darlings—Pa went (sob!), the scenes with Jesus’ head went, too (sigh!), and I wrote a few new scenes so the triggers for characters’ decisions became obvious to the reader.
Then I handed my story over to my writing group. They were gentler in their criticism, but still managed to give me constructive feedback, and once again I took to my story with the clipping shears.
I then set it aside—I was a becoming sick of reading and re-reading it—and didn’t pick it up for a couple of months. When I did, my eyes were fresher and wider, and I could spot mistakes more readily. Serendipitously*, I found Jennifer Kremmer at Book Anvil, and she currently has it. She’s a freelance editor, mentor and writing tutor, and no doubt will have a few more tips …
After that, I’ll start sending my baby out. It’s been nearly three years’ in gestation and although I’ve loved creating it and carrying it everywhere I go, just as with a real baby, I’m ready to give birth. I don’t know how it will fare, and I’m crossing my fingers and my toes in the hope that someone, somewhere will like it …
Don’t worry, you’ll be the first to know if they do!
*Update 13.11.14: My apologies for not acknowledging Frances, the kind follower on Facebook who let me know about Jennifer.
I read this with horror. Seriously. It only underlines my belief that there’s no relationship between fiction and poetry. It takes a year-usually no more-to finish a new collection of poems. Each poem is submitted to journals as it’s produced, and you can judge how successful it is by how quickly they respond. No serious poet wants a “critique” of their work; it’s appeared from the depths of the poet’s unconscious, and its value is immediately apparent. For the closing poem of my upcoming third book, I wrote in the voice of Sappho. It took hard-acquired skill, but I was- a rare thing- nervous in submitting it. Verity La, an Australian journal snatched it at once and I tucked it into the manuscript.
My hat is off to all novelists who struggle with draft after draft to get it right, and have to run the gauntlet of editors and consultants. I’d punch them in the nose.
I think first drafts are written in the way you describe how you write poetry—very instinctively and from the subconscious, using imagination and the creative part of our brain. I didn’t know the story this novel was going to tell when I started out, and I just wrote what popped into my head. Some scenes came to me ‘whole’ and required little revision, but most didn’t. Some came in response to prompts at a writing group, and I didn’t know where they’d fit in the novel, or if they’d fit at all. After the first draft, I had a loose and very holey (not holy) mishmash of scenes that needed to be arranged and structured to form a cohesive story—that’s when the mathematical, logical brain came in. To be honest, I really enjoyed that part of it, too—sorting and plotting, and I liked already having something to work with and not having to make it up. For me, it’s so different to anything I’ve done before and I’m really enjoying it. I like that editors and consultants are there to help—two heads are better than one and all that. Maybe the novelty will wear off over time …
Please let me know where I can buy your book of poems, Charles. I loved the one you wrote when you were twelve that was on Lee Kofman’s site …
Lots of luck and good wishes, Louise. You have a beautiful talent for writing. I wish you success. Love and hugs.
Oh, Betty. Thank you. And I love you. xx
I like the line about “Show the reader the trigger.”
Me, too. I was hoping the reader would just ‘get it’, but it helps if you show an actual precipitant!
Oh Louise, I’ll have my rosary beads out for you, big ones, praying that your beautiful novel will find a publisher! You’ve done the hard yards, and learned a great deal in the process. Congratulations on getting this far, it’s no easy feat getting a novel to publication stage.
Thanks, Marlish. Pray hard for me!
PS. There’s rosary beads in the story, too. Beautiful pearly ones.
All the best, Louise. You clearly have the commitment and dedication to make this novel the best it can be.
Thanks, Teena. I’ve tried to make it that. It’s the best I could do, which mightn’t be good enough. But if this one isn’t published, then I’ll write an even better one next time!
me and my comments again. It’s hard to leave the things/characters out of a story, that mean the most, but they will come in useful somewhere else. It’s a great topic – women, children etc, not enough can be explored here. Not sure what era the novel is set in, but for many women post-war marriage was a career path. A trigger? maybe. The most common trigger for girls was escape from an unhappy home. Marriage was a sanctuary from a bad homelife at a time when girls not as commonly went to Uni. Possibly this needs spelling out, maybe your character had a different reason. And children were what women did, part of the job description. It wasn’t a choice as it is now. Women will love this novel – very very good luck!
Yes, the character had a reason for marrying. I didn’t make it clear in the post (so I’ve gone back and edited it), but in the novel it wasn’t clear why Nora chose to marry the man that she did, as they don’t have much in common …
This part of the novel is set in the early 1940s, during the war, and yes, it’s a strong part of the novel that women were expected to marry and have a family and be happy doing that. Not all of them were, of course …
I hope women will like it. Keep your fingers crossed for me! Thanks for commenting, and I’m glad that you do! x
Twelve is supposedly a magic number = I hope it is magic for you.
Three years is a long time; twelve drafts a lot of pruning, tweaking and slashing. But look where it got you!
How wonderful that you ran into Jennifer Kremmer and that you are ready to publish.
It may sound trite but I’m wishing you the best,
Draft #13 is in the works, Penny! I got the critique from Jennifer and my story still needs some work. It’s all right—I’m in this for the long haul …
Three years has flown—it doesn’t feel as if I’ve spent that long on it. I don’t know how people churn out a book a year—I just don’t have that sort of creativity on tap!
And your wishes certainly do not sound trite—you don’t know how much your supportive comments mean to me. Thank you. xx
The talent and commitment required to write a novel is something only a few (not me) have and I am in full admiration of you Louise. It goes without saying I wish you every success and much joy from your eagerly (by me) delivery.
Oh, thank you Pinky! I’m sure you would have it in you, but you have to want to spend a lot of time on it. I like being alone, up here in the attic, just me and my characters, so writing a novel really suits my personality. Let’s just hope I’ve written something publishable, which I may not have. If not, I’ll go back to the drawing board with what I’ve learnt and start again …
I meant ‘eagerly anticipated’.
I knew what you meant! 🙂
Good luck Louise! I have fingers and toes crossed for you that you get the offer you want 🙂 Well done.
And I sympathise with the endless amount of drafts – I have lost count of the number of edits I’ve done on my first book and I’m about to give it to an editor whom I’m sure will want more changes. Still, it is part of the process… xx
Well, this post is now outdated! I have the appraisal back from Jennifer and she’s made quite a few suggestions. She gave me such thorough feedback and because I agree with most of her suggestions, I’m slowly making my way through them (when I’m not procrastinating on the internet!). I’ve deleted a couple of scenes and expanded others. There were a few scenes I’d been a bit complacent about, where I hoped the reader mightn’t notice that I’d been lazy. But it’s obvious, so I’m developing them. That will be my Final Final Draft. Then I may have a Final Final Final Draft. And that will be it. I hope … :/
‘You need to go back to your theme and delete any scene that doesn’t develop it.’ – what brilliant advice. I need to apply this to my own WIP. Keep on keeping on Louise- it sounds like you’re getting closer and closer.
It is great advice—the best I’ve been given to date—and I’ve kept it in mind ever since. Sticking to the theme and deleting anything that branched away from it has given the story a much stronger backbone.
The end is getting closer. I think …