Three years ago, I wrote a blog post for Allison Tait about 10 Things I Learnt From Writing My Début Novel. All of those lessons were incredibly important, but there was one thing I didn’t learn in the writing of that first novel, which I talk about in this video.
If you’d rather read a transcript than watch the video, here it is:
Hi, I thought I’d pop in as it’s been a few weeks since I finished my novel, so I’d give you a bit of an update on where I’m at with it. I have edited most of it and I’ve got a few chapters at the end to edit. I’m happy with it, really happy with it, really excited, actually. And I’ve sent it out to a few readers um so I’m waiting to get a bit of feedback from them because undoubtedly there’ll be a few things that I’ve missed. I’ve also got … I’ve made quite a few notes myself – as you can see – that I’ve got to go through. All those colourful sticky notes there. And transpose the things that I want to highlight and draw out a few themes and make sure the characters are all consistent and that sort of thing. Anyway, I’m really happy with it. It’s all finally come together.
I was reminded last week of a blog post I wrote three years ago called 10 Things I Learnt from Writing my Debut Novel and if you want to read that I’ve put a link on the Facebook page – on my Facebook page as well to that – it’s on Allison Tait’s website, and as I read it through I thought, Oh yes I learnt a lot writing my first novel, I certainly did, but I’ve also learned a lot writing my second novel. So I’d like to share some of those things with you, too.
I think when writing a novel and going in blind, essentially, which is what I did, not knowing, not having done a creative writing degree, and not knowing how to write a novel, just really doing it instinctively, I think going in like that I had to learn a lot about the craft of writing, so from the sentence up, really, so I had to learn grammar, punctuation, how to make your subject-verb agree, tenses. All of that sort of thing. As well as all the things like points of view characterisation, what makes a good scene, right up to the structure of a novel and how to build to a climax and then have a lovely denouement at the end, so the reader enjoys the experience of reading your book. So that’s what I learnt first time around.
I think writing this second novel I learnt about my process of how I write a novel. When I started writing this second novel I thought because I’d already done it once it would be fairly easy – I mean as easy as writing a novel ever gets so I thought because I knew all the craft of it that if I wrote out a synopsis, as I did, and wrote a plan, I would just be able to sit down and write all those scenes that were needed to build my book and then at the end I’d have this book and I’d be able to give it to my publisher and because I’d be able to apply all the lessons I learnt first time around.
The problem with that was that I hadn’t learned how I wrote and I can’t write like that. I can’t write to a plan. I need the story to be character driven and I need to know my characters before the story develops, really. I didn’t realise how my instinctive way of writing that first novel was how I actually am probably going to forever write novels.
When I started that first novel I had the two characters – Ida and Nora – who I based on my grandmothers, so I knew them and I put them in situations that I made up and developed a story from that. But I had those two characters to start with. In this second novel I started with a plot rather than the characters and tried to shoehorn my characters in to do things that fitted with my plot so that it would advance, and that’s why I couldn’t make it work because as I was writing it, I was thinking but I don’t know that character and I don’t know if they’d do that. Or else I was thinking, but my character wouldn’t act like that, but I need them to act like that to fit into my plot.
It took me about a year to realise that it wasn’t working. In that year, though, I did play around with those characters and put them in situations and write scenes about them and so I was getting to know them during that process and so when it came to the crunch and I found a story – or, well, I actually found an opening scene: in March 2019, I wrote a scene that I loved and I knew that it was the story, and the story was about how that scene came to be but it was also about the aftermath of the scene as well, and the story afterwards so it was the before and after this one incident. And as soon as I had that, I knew that that was the story I wanted to write. But that’s all I had, this one scene with these two sisters in it who I had been playing around with, though, for about a year. They’d started off in their 50s and then they’d gone back to about their 20s and this time they were children – well, one was 12 and one was 17.
So I knew that that was the opening of my book as soon as I wrote it, and from then on, even though it still took me another couple of years to write the book, I knew what I was doing from then on, and it got easier and easier as time went on, and I got to know them more and the plot all fell into place.
The other big problem I had with with writing this novel in particular, was this novel ended up, like I say, with that incident happening that sparked the the story, but really the story was also the backstory of how they ended up there for this opening scene and it was also the forward story of of what happened afterwards. So this writing a second novel has really been about learning about my process of how I write, and I think I know that now, and I am looking forward to writing novel three and starting with character this time and not with a plot.
I hope to make this a little series of videos on writing, so if you have any questions you want answered, let me know in the comments or send me a message.
I really enjoyed hearing the video. It is very clear in explaining your writer’s process in a concise way. Thank you! Enjoy beginning to write your new book.
Thank you for watching, Helen! It’s a very long learning process! 😊