On Writing your Debut Book
- Kelly St Clare (Author of: The Tainted Accords)
There’s a story in your head, and it wants to get out.
I’m no expert on the subject, but I have published my debut book, Fantasy of Frost, back in January 2015. Now I’m sharing my experiences in a blog series called Dear Aspiring Author, so people like yourself can learn from my successes and, more importantly, my mistakes, to kickstart the creation of your very own debut novel.
Now, I’ve trawled through a number of blogs and books on the subject, including Stephen Kings - On Writing. There are some great resources available which I’ll mention later on. However, if you’re like me, then you’ve read all of these, hoping there will be some magical way to write your book.
*Brief pause while I laugh manically*
There isn’t one. Or if there is, I don’t know about it. Here’s how I went about writing Fantasy of Frost.
Dun, dun, dun. The Elusive First Draft.
Firstly, you need to love a story to be able to write it, because there are so many times you want to just shove the story in the cupboard and forget about it. The story has to nag you. If you’ve got one of those already, then perfect! If not, then get to work on that idea, whether you dream it up or get inspiration from real life.
Next, develop the stories details. Get to know your characters. The better you know them, the easier it is to find their voice and make them believable. There’s a whole heap of character lists out there. Here’s a good one I found at Writers write.
The same goes for your setting. What does it look like? Smell like? Sound and feel like? Is it a fantasy world? If so, what are the names of the places, the clothing and the animals? I didn’t do enough of this and I suffered for it. You’ll hear why soon.
After you have an outline (and for want of a more dramatic phrase), you begin. It doesn’t matter if you start at a random scene, at the start, or at the end. Just keep writing. Don’t worry about whether the facts add up, if the plotline is good, or if the dialogue right. That’s for future drafts. For instance, I started out on my first draft calling one of my characters Ric and by the end of the book he was called Sanjay. It’s surprisingly hard to keep yourself from reading over what you’ve done. But I really think this advice is gold: Don’t look back. And in three weeks, six months, or a year down the track when your first draft is done, celebrate like you just landed on the moon….
…because, you’re about to cry when you read over it. Fat, ugly tears.
98% percent of author’s first drafts are crud. Okay, I don’t know the exact percentage but I’m told it’s rare for them to be good. If you read through your first draft and it’s questionably the worst thing you’ve ever read, don’t worry, it’s normal.
Wow. The second draft was H.A.R.D for me. I told you I suffered for not planning and this was where it hit me. Every time I read my work I cringed. I wanted to give up. But the story was nagging me. So, I smoothed out the facts, the names, and the setting. I realised I had started the story too far back. Chop, chop. Off with five chapters (and another three after the fifth draft). The chapters weren’t necessary for the reader and therefore not necessary for the book.
Third draft. Back to the start. Again. This draft was to fix the technical bits. I had a look at the pacing and realised I had introduced too much information, too quickly. It was slow. Some chapters resembled a boxing match between turtles. Each chapter then had to be left on what I hoped was an interesting note, a hook. Something which would entice the reader to continue.
This is where I started wondering when I should show the novel to someone else? Research told me ‘when it was as good as I could possibly make it’. Greeeeat. My advice? Given as a person who has just gone through this. Assess what you know about yourself. For example, I’m someone who looks at my published book and still wants to edit, so I ended up cutting myself off at the fourth draft. If you know you tend to jump ahead, then force yourself to do a couple more drafts.
Yay! I had a half-way-there manuscript which I was rather proud of. I was going to show someone! Then I realised.
I didn’t want to show anyone.
Dear Aspiring Author, I could yap on about how to get over this, but in reality, you just need to. This isn’t about you. It’s about the book being as good as it can be. This means swallowing the humility pill.
“It takes a lot of courage to show your dreams to someone else.”
- Erma Bombeck.
Now I was on a budget, but I didn’t want to lose quality. I selected twenty people to beta read my work. Of that number, twelve said they had time to do it. I was lucky enough some of these people had experience with writing. If you use this strategy, then make sure the group is from a wide pool of people, don’t just select people from your knitting circle.
I sent it out to my readers in parts and attached a list of questions to each part. I really think this made it easier for them. Remember most people haven’t got reviewing experience. It also helped to remove the ‘too nice’ tendency (although I only selected people I thought would be honest). The result? A massive heap of valuable feedback. I can truly say their criticism took my book from half-way done to PUBLISH.
Well, that and the next few drafts. The final drafts were all about fine-tuning dialogue; changing parts based of beta-reader suggestion, making sure there were no boring parts, and then writing all of the front matter. I did seven drafts in total, three more after getting it critiqued. How many you do on your book is entirely up to you. Some authors do thirty drafts. Some do three. Again, take into account what you know about yourself and tailor it.
I had a book. Now what?
I stumbled across this great site called Fiverr, which includes extensive resources for authors wanting to publish work of good quality for low cost. Here I found a cover designer, a copy editor and a formatter. I decided not to hire a content editor due having beta-readers. I will say here though, if you’re unsure about your writing technique or style I would definitely use one. I’m going to play around with this in my second book. I’ll let you know how it goes!
All that’s left after jumping through these hoops, is to hit publish and feel a tidal wave of accomplishment, my friend, because you are now an Author! Seriously, there is no better feeling than reaching the finish line.
Hopefully this blog saves you a few dead ends! By all means stick to it religiously, but I would recommend taking it as advice and seeing what works best for you. Writing a book by trial and error is the best learning tool at your disposal. Trust me, I know!
You want to know the best part? The second book is easier. **Cue fireworks**
I wish you all the best with your writing endeavours! Please post your success stories on Facebook or my website, where I will be continuing to add to my DearAspiringAuthor series. I’ve already discovered so many new tips and tricks while writing my second book. And really this blog is the tip of the ice berg. Remember there is still the marketing, getting the reviews and using social media to consider, let alone, how to select copy editors and the like.
If you’re looking for more information, I recommend Joanna Penn from the Creativepenn.com who has some really thorough advice. There are also some great, quick tips at Goins, Writer by Jeff Goins.
Check out another of my guest blogs titled ‘From Manuscript to Publish’. It goes into more depth about the obstacles you’ll need to get through before showing the world your quality book.
Massive thanks to Courtney at CourtneysReads for having me,
Kelly St Clare
When Kelly St Clare is not reading or writing, she is dreaming up a story in her head; the cause of many headaches for her friends and family, who have struggled to encourage her participation in normal activities - such as everyday life.
Books have always been magical and mysterious to her. One day she decided to start unravelling this mystery and began writing. Her aim: To write stories she would want to read.
A New Zealander in origin, Kelly currently resides in Australia with her soon-to-be husband.
If you would like to read her coming-of-age epic fantasy novel, Fantasy of Frost, then you can view it here