My guest in the attic today is one of the most generous writers around, always happy to share her experience and knowledge—her blog posts, articles and podcasts certainly helped me as a fledgling writer. She’s also one of the busiest people in Australia, and somehow manages to combine writing children’s books, freelance writing, and running workshops and courses through The Australian Writers Centre, along with being a mum to two boys. (I’ve probably left out a few things from her daily itinerary!)
I’m talking about none other than Allison Tait, whose Mapmaker Chronicles series thrilled my then eleven-year-old son. I have a personal reason for requesting this post from Al: I’d planned to have the first draft of Book #2 completed by this stage of the year. However, here we are in November, and I’m barely a quarter of the way there. I’ve diagnosed ‘Second Book Syndrome’, so I turned to Al for advice, and here’s what she had to say about ‘How to Write a Book (Again)’:
‘ It’s okay. Why? Because you’ve written one book. There’s no question any more that you can get through this. You can do it.‘
Allison Tait (A.L. Tait) is the bestselling author of The Mapmaker Chronicles, an epic middle-grade adventure series about a race to map the world, available in Australia, the US, the UK, Lithuania and Turkey. THE BOOK OF SECRETS, the first book in her new Ateban Cipher middle-grade series about an ancient, coded book, is out now in Australia.
Allison is currently mulling over three new ideas, waiting for that tingle… For more information, as well as hundreds of writing tips and articles, visit allisontait.com
How to Write a Book (Again)
There is nothing in the world like typing The End on your first-ever manuscript. You did it! You wrote an entire book! The euphoria is incredible – and lasts about as long as it takes you to realise that the process has just begun.
And so you rewrite and edit, redraft and restructure until, finally, you have a polished story to be proud of. One that, maybe, has caught the eye of a publisher. One that, if you’re lucky, will end up on a bookshop shelf (and I have to say the euphoria of THAT moment is unsurpassed).
At which point, your publisher turns to you and says, casually, ‘So, what’s your next book about?’. And you realise that you need to do it ALL OVER AGAIN.
Because, really, the aim here is to have a career as a writer, right?
Which is fine, because now you KNOW how to write a book. You’ve done it once, you can so do it again.
Unfortunately, it’s about now that you realise that every single book is different. Yes, you’ve learnt a lot of things along the way while writing that first manuscript, but this new one, well, that’s a whole different ballgame.
As the author of six books for middle-grade readers since October 2014 (five out now, one coming in March 2018), you’d think I’d be all over this by now. And in many ways, of course, I am. I’ve learnt a lot during the hard graft of writing four books in The Mapmaker Chronicles series, and two books for my Ateban Cipher series.
But each time I do it, I am reminded of just how little I know and how horribly wrong things can go.
To save you from making some of the colossal mistakes I’ve made, I have three main tips for you when it comes to writing a book (again).
- Start with the right idea. Any idea is a good idea, right? When you’ve finished writing a novel and you’re sitting there, scratching your head, wondering what to right next, any idea that shows up looks good – particularly if you’re on a two-book contract and you have a looming deadline.
The published authors I know fall into two camps when it comes to ideas. Those who have lots and lots, and are often distracted mid-manuscript by a bright, shiny new idea that wanders in when the writing gets hard. And those who have to hope like crazy that a new idea appears after they finish their current WIP.
I’m in the former camp. Ideas are not my problem. Recognising the right idea for my next book, however, gets a bit trickier, particularly when they’re all clamouring for attention.
What do I do? I wait. I try to ignore the looming deadline and I take the time to mull over the ideas, to think them through thoroughly – who will read this book? Is there potential for a series? Can I sustain 55,000 words with this concept?
I wait and I watch and when I find that one idea keeps coming up in my mind over and over, I choose that one. The one that makes me tingle all over at the thought of discovering the story that goes with it.
- Plan – at least a little bit. I’m not a planner. I take that idea I’ve been mulling over and I sit down and start writing. And then, when it gets hard – usually around the 10,000 word mark – I stop. I read over my 10,000 words to get a sense of where I am, and then I write an outline – perhaps, just one paragraph long – that gives me some idea of how to get to The End.
I may not know exactly what’s going to happen along the way, but I know how the story will end. It’s about giving myself something to aim for.
I never used to do this. The first three (unpublished) adult manuscripts I wrote were completely by the seat of my pants. But writing my six (published) children’s novels has taught me that there are efficiencies in having a destination in mind.
- Be prepared to make mistakes. When I wrote book #3 of The Mapmaker Chronicles, I was in mourning. I was saying goodbye to an entire world and a cast of characters that had lived inside my brain for two years and three books. As I approached the final chapters, I wrote more slowly, savouring my last moments with Quinn, Zain et al.
I may have wept a little.
I had a little break.
Then I threw myself into another series, The Ateban Cipher, getting to know another world, another hero, another fantastic group of friends.
The break was important. I needed to get my head out of Verdania and into Alban. I needed to find my way into the heart and soul of Gabe, an innocent who has never left the world of the monastery in which he’d grown up, and out of the mind of Quinn, with his photographic memory. I needed to find Gwyn and Merry, and leave Ash, with her strong personality and burning loyalty, behind.
I needed to find a way to write a new book, taking the lessons I’d learned from The Mapmaker Chronicles without allowing those lessons to swamp a new story.
‘You will find that things that worked the first time around do not work for the new book.’
How do you do this? Time, immersion – and mistakes.
You will find that things that worked the first time around do not work for the new book. You will find yourself mixing up your worlds. You may find yourself trying to put way too much into your new novel – all the things you couldn’t fit into your first one.
Make the mistakes. Try different things. Accept that, no matter how many structural edits you’ve done in the past, every book is different – my sixth book involved one of the most intensive structural edits I’ve ever done.
It’s okay. Why? Because you’ve written one book. There’s no question any more that you can get through this. You can do it.
Cling to that thought when the going gets rough (and it will).
And then be prepared to do it all over again.
Allison expanded on this advice in So You Want to be a Writer Podcast, Episode 213, for those who are interested. Go and listen, and you’ll be treated to hear her sing, too! (P.S. She has a lovely voice!)
A quick update on ‘The Sisters’ Song‘
I have the final copy of The Sisters’ Song, the one that’s going out to bookshops, in my hands. After all this time, it’s rather thrilling to hold it. As I read it through, the words didn’t even feel like mine! They’re familiar and I vaguely remember writing them, but they also feel very different, rather like an out-of-body experience!
My publisher is happy with it and I’m happy with it, so I hope you’ll be happy with it, too!
Not long to go until it’s available on 2 January. Here’s where you can pre-order in the meantime: