We don’t often have the privilege to get inside another writer’s mind to see how they fared throughout the arduous process of beginning writing, then finishing, a book. Louise Maich wrote this wonderful letter after reading my post The Psychology of a Second Draft. She has agreed for me to publish it here. Thank you, Louise.
Firstly, congratulations on winning the Lilian Ida Smith Award. I was shortlisted into the final six, and that has given me a huge boost of confidence to continue on and see this manuscript through to publication. As for this next draft, your post, The Psychology of a Second Draft, caught my attention.
It’s been a journey indeed, to get to this point. Here’s the short version thus far. In 2014, I was accepted onto the New Zealand Society of Authors (NZSA) Mentoring Programme, where I worked with author, Tina Shaw, developing the first draft. 2015 was spent completing that draft, and combing through it time and time again to have it assessment-ready for Lesley Marshall, one of two assessors recommended by Tina.
The assessment was completed in February this year. It was a little nerve-wracking sending it off, hoping like hell she got it, and what she’d have to say about it. She did get it, and said mostly the manuscript was good—some jerky plot points and shifts that need smoothing out, a few continuity issues, and the usual suspects grammar, punctuation, a few too many dependent clauses. But all in all I was pleased with the assessment. I’ve also had a few others read it, and on the sage advice of one of my readers, before commencing the daunting task of the next draft, I gave myself some time to process everything. There was quite a bit of anxiety around all this, until I let the information settle and worked out a plan of action.
To back track briefly, my first draft word count was 70,000 tops. I thought I had a great little story, a good weekend read, the perfect long haul flight e-book. Well, it soon became apparent while working with Tina that the bones were there, but story and character development was thin on the ground. It spans a long timeline and so I had the opportunity to really go for it. Now it’s around 130,000 words and it does work. Lesley said she’d like the finished book on her bookshelf, which was a lovely thing to add to her report, and has given me another boost of confidence to carry on.
What are the milestones along the way?
The milestones for me have been recognition from peers. This helps me continue when I’m overwhelmed, when life steps in, when I wonder what the bloody hell I got myself into. For example, being accepted into the NZSA mentoring programme and the commendation with the LIS Award. It’s not easy to step back from the work when you are so immersed in it and see how far you have come; it’s not something you write on your check list. But I think it’s important to acknowledge each completed step along the way. It wasn’t until reading your post that I realised I’d passed the halfway point. I’m on the home run, albeit a long one.
Writers: how do you remain hopeful and committed throughout second and subsequent drafts?
Commitment is paramount. Commitment means dedication, discipline, faith and seeing it through to the end, no matter what.
I have a system that Tina suggested early on. I work on sections at a time, separated from the bulk of the draft. This works well with a sizeable manuscript such as mine. When each section is completed it’s copied back into the main draft. It’s not so overwhelming then, and a great psychological device. It’s a bit daunting when you look down at the word count and it seems there’s no end in sight.
Planning is everything. I set goals, have a list of what needs doing, and go through it systematically. One thing at a time. I write regularly, that’s very important, and the same time of day is good (I write from 6.30am to 10am five days a week). I call it my dedicated writing time. That way things get done and I achieve my goals. My job is flexible, so I can work my writing around that. I don’t write at night as a rule. And yes, I’ve learnt over time not to be precious about my darlings, I take advice, talk to other writers if I get stuck on something, and/or I Google it. Also, I go with my gut instinct. I’ve deleted sections where the writing is beautiful, sublime even (if I may say so) and I think oh that’s amazing, did I write that! Then in the next draft, for some reason or other, it doesn’t bloody work. I try to squish it into place, but no matter how hard I try, I have to relent and move it to another part of the story, or save it for something else. Nothing is wasted.
If get caught up on some part and can’t move on I go for a walk, get away from the computer, out of the house. Physical exercise is good and getting a good sleep. I have to be mentally fit—when I’m tired, stressed out, or things are getting to me, I can’t write to my optimum level, and to force it is a waste of time.
So really, to get through and enjoy the process I have to look after myself. I love my writing time and it gets me up in the mornings. I brew a coffee, feed the cat, and away I go. I always leave off at a point that’s easy to pick up on next time, like Hemingway said:
“The best way is always to stop when you are going good and when you know what will happen next. If you do that every day when you are writing a novel you will never be stuck. That is the most valuable thing I can tell you so try to remember it.” (from http://www.openculture.com).
I wanted to share this with you. All the best with your book. We’ll have to do swapsies when we’re done!