Literary Lessons…

Three years ago I landed a book deal. Well, it felt like it kinda fell into my lap. I remember thinking, is this really happening? Turns out, it was. Now all I had to do was write the thing. No worries! One romcom debut novel coming up, I thought, as I rolled up my sleeves and dived in with what I’ve come to refer as, naïve arrogance – the how-hard-can-it-be attitude that’s got me into many interesting situations both professionally and personally…

I got started around March 2017 and was sure I’d be done by June. Never having written a book before I didn’t really have a process or routine. I just started writing, a few hours every day. From the beginning, I spent ages painstakingly perfecting every paragraph before moving on to the next. It was a long, slow process. By the time I finally shared the first three chapters with my editor, it was already late summer. And then came the notes, quickly followed by the despair, and not long after, the feeling of being way out of my depth. I even started talking about returning my advance. 

Luckily, calmer voices prevailed, one of which being, my agent Richard. 

I looked at my process and could see it really wasn’t working. I wondered if this forensic approach was helping or hindering me. A quote I’d recently seen came to mine. 

The purpose of the first draft is to exist, so get it done as soon as possible. 

A lightbulb pinged on. My meticulous tinkering was happening way too early in my process. I was like a sculptor who, after throwing a lump of clay onto their plinth, had started on the nose before even knowing what the face looked like. 

I changed my tack instantly and the rest of the draft poured from me, in probably the same amount of time it had taken to write those first three, painful chapters.  

From here, I learned to break down the creative process into stages and it changed everything. I was able to  enjoy spewing forth a first draft without worrying how good it was. I learned to trust my ability to improve that bloated, place holder. After, I felt free to put away my project, allowing it to steep so I could return to it with fresh eyes. I was able to distinguish the different types of editing (broad strokes, cuts, finessing – being just a few) and to understand that these processes require different parts of the brain and that, if we smoosh them together, it makes our poor brain ache. And what do you know, after two and a half years, a fair amount of handwringing, joy, tears and laughter, I finished my debut novel. 

If you’re struggling with a project, it may help to review your process. Sometimes a simple shift in approach can make all the difference. Good luck!

Pre-order my debut novel, Asking For A Friend (out Feb 4th) at WHSmith, Amazon, Waterstones or support your local bookshop at Bookshop UK

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