Why it’s OK not to have finished your debut novel yet

Ok right, I acknowledge this blog post may or may not have bloomed from a guilty conscience. I quit my full-time job last year and exchanged it for a part-time job so I could have more time to focus on my writing and figure out what I want to do with my life. It has been a year since then and it has arguably been one of the best decisions I’ve made. I spend more time with everyone I love, and now I actually have a work-life balance (whereas before, I spent over 12 hours out of the house each day). BUT. I still haven’t finished my novel. When I realised this, I chastised myself – what on earth have I been doing this past year, because I clearly haven’t spent enough time writing. If I had, I would be finished by now, surely?

That may be partly true. These past two years, I have let weeks or even months slip by without so much as looking at my novel. I’ve been through the waves of self-doubt that every writer goes through and I just needed a break from it all, and that’s fine. But when I really think about it, although I haven’t been writing solidly this past year, I have still been working towards my goals indirectly, and that’s OK. Every little writing or reading-related thing you do will get you closer to the end goal of completing your novel. Chances are, if you’ve ‘wasted’ time on writing blogs or even watching Netflix (perhaps not excessively though…), you’ve picked up some form of useful advice or tip. Did you ever think that perhaps your novel isn’t finished yet because it’s simply not ready to be? You COULD have cranked it out in several months and called it a day but you haven’t because you know it can be better. And that’s awesome!

To further clarify, perhaps your novel isn’t finished yet because you’ve spent time:

Learning the craft of writing

Some people may be able to crank out their first book in a year, but chances are if you’re new to this whole writing thing, it’s unlikely. Let’s take a look at new artists. They won’t be creating Picasso-successful paintings in their first year of painting. In fact, they may throw away or abandon 99% of their work. That’s fine. They are still practicing, learning which brush-strokes to use to achieve certain effects, or what colours to mix together to get that perfect skin-shade. It’s the same for writers. I mean, you have the added bonus of knowing how to speak, hence you already have the foundations and building blocks, but until you research how to structure stories, build characters, write dialogue, and set scenes (and that’s just a small snippet), you won’t be able to write a complete, well-rounded and successful novel.

The longer you spend on honing your craft the better it will be.

Letting your work sit and getting distance from it

This is so important. When writing your first novel you may get sucked into the excitement of it all, chuck in every story idea you’ve ever had and thought it was the best thing ever. Who cares that there are no capital letters, the dialogue is stilted and you almost always tell not show? It’s finished right? Wrong. It is not finished, and chances are if you’ve let your WIP sit for a while you’ve realised this. You may feel somewhat deflated that your ‘completed’ novel is a half done mess, but that’s the first step in making it better. If you had just sent it out to agents you may have been inundated with rejection slips, which would have put you off writing altogether. By letting your work sit, you have gained enough distance from it to objectively understand what is wrong with it, thus are in a good position to improve it going forward. Yay, you!

Getting to know your characters

In the first draft, unless you’ve been ruminating over this character for several years, you won’t know the character as well as you should, which is fine as he/she may have changed in ways you didn’t expect as you wrote your novel. By spending time on your novel and not rushing it, you can really get inside your character’s head and get to know them properly.

Finding your writing weaknesses and remedying them

As you write more and learn the craft, you will be constantly identifying where you need to improve and hopefully remedying these areas by actively searching for the answers, be that in a writing craft book or on Google. As much as new writers may not want to hear it, you WILL get better with time (me included) and that first pass at a novel will be so much better in a couple of months or even years when you’ve understood where exactly you need to improve your writing skills.

Finding plot weaknesses and remedying them

As above. Not only will every writer have weaknesses in writing style but they will also have weaknesses in plotting. Spending time fixing these will only be of benefit.

Dabbling in other writing forms

Maybe you haven’t finished your novel because you’ve been playing around with writing short stories or even poetry. Any writer will tell you that perfecting the art of the short story will give you invaluable insight into story form, structure, character development and theme among other things such as dialogue and foreshadowing. Getting short stories completed, edited and polished is good practice when it comes to your much longer novel.

Procrastinating

Now hear me out. If you’ve spent 11 months of the past year arsing around, then that’s unlikely to help you in the long run. If however, you’ve spent the last year reading books, reading writing-related blogs or magazines, listening to podcasts on the craft, Googling answers to your questions, or reading debut novel success stories, then that will all help you on your road to publication. Even watching the occasional Netflix documentary or series may give you inspiration for your story, an idea as to how to fix that plot hole, or even just highlight what makes an intriguing story. I recently answered a POV tense question which had been bugging me for weeks by listening to the always fabulous Writing Excuses podcast.

Blogging and getting yourself a platform

This is self-explanatory. Every writer is told that they need a ‘platform’ to reach out to their readers. By starting early, you will hopefully already have a readership so will be more likely to be signed up by an agent. Also, if you’re self-publishing, you may already have a couple of potential readers. Awesome!

Dedicating yourself to your book

Two years in and haven’t given up yet? You obviously think your novel is really good and enjoy writing it. A lot of people would have given up after two years but you haven’t and not only does that say something great about you as a person, it says something about your novel. You believe in it and if you believe in it enough to stick at it for several months, years or even decades then damn, it must be amazing.

Spending time away from your desk

As with any job, it’s important to leave work at work and home at home. Perhaps you haven’t finished your novel because you’ve been too busy enjoying your life and spending time with the people you love. There’s nothing wrong with that.

And finally…

I admit it’s ironic that this post was written as an escape from having to actually face my novel but this procrastination has served its purpose. I no longer feel guilty about not having my novel finished, and I really can see a massive improvement between my first (terrible) draft and my current one. I will now log off from blogging, put my butt in gear, and get writing!


Her: book review

her book review

Her

Harriet Lane
Weidenfeld & Nicolson 2015
4.5/5

“Two women; two different worlds.

Emma is a struggling mother who has put everything on hold.
Nina is sophisticated and independent – entirely in control.

When the pair meet, Nina generously draws Emma into her life. But this isn’t the first time the women’s paths have crossed. Nina remembers Emma and she remembers what Emma did . . .

But what exactly does Nina want from her?

And how far will she go in pursuit of it?”

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Her-Harriet-Lane/dp/0297865056

Although I bought Her at a recent book sale, I first saw it advertised on the tube on my way to work. I was instantly attracted to the intriguing tagline: “You don’t remember her, but she remembers you.”

It is pegged as a thriller – my current favourite genre, so when I saw it at the sale, I picked it up immediately and bought it without even reading the blurb; rebellious, I know!

The positives

The design of the book is awesome, but sadly, the ‘highlighter yellow” doesn’t photograph well. I did my best though…

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The tagline is metallic, hence you can’t see it very well in the photo, but it looks great in real-life. The inside cover is as cool as the outside, with reversed out quotes on the left and the publisher logo printed on the right.

The book is written in stunning first-person present, which results in a fast-paced, immediate and wholly absorbing narrative. Set in modern London, the novel focuses on ‘frenemies’ Nina and Emma, two middle-class women whose lives are soon entwined, no thanks to Nina and her relentless lust for revenge. Lane’s writing evokes perfectly the bourgeois lifestyle, complete with snobbery, and the often-destructive need to keep up appearances.

The novel is narrated by both Nina and Emma, in alternate chapters. Often, Emma will narrate a scene, and immediately after, Nina will narrate the same scene but from her P.O.V. One would be wrong to assume that this re-telling gets repetitive and boring; quite the opposite is true. It is interesting to see the contrast between how the two girls feel toward one another and how they feel about certain events. It also offered a chilling insight into Nina’s mind. By structuring the novel this way, Lane manages to portray Emma’s ignorance toward Nina’s true motives, resulting in steadily rising tension, as she is dragged further and further into Nina’s web of deception.

Although Lane’s style is quite wordy, the words are well chosen, and the description is vivid. She manages to evoke perfectly, not just setting and character, but also the superficial, poisonous society in which the women live. When I first began reading the book, in one of the earlier chapters, Emma lists off lots of (rather fancy sounding) names. At first, this annoyed me – I was never going to be able to remember all of these names, let alone keep up with what was going on in these character’s lives. BUT I soon realised that Lane had cleverly used this to further emphasise Emma’s hectic, and often shallow lifestyle.

Being critical

Lane does an amazing job at creating tension throughout – often, I couldn’t put the book down as I was desperate to find out the awful thing that Emma had done. The one (very tiny) criticism I had when I initially finished the book is that this ‘awful’ thing, the one that had inspired Nina’s eventual retribution, seemed very minor, and not very awful at all. I didn’t understand why Nina hated her so much, and I definitely didn’t think it warranted Nina’s horrific final act of revenge. Despite this, the more I think about it, the more I realise that maybe Nina wasn’t as mentally stable as I first believed. Perhaps Emma’s actions had affected her more than I initially thought. This is the only way I can justify her overreaction to Emma’s wrongdoing. 

In conclusion

All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed reading Her. I loved Lane’s writing style, the book was fast-paced, absorbing and un-put-down-able. I would very much recommend this novel and look forward to reading more of Harriet Lane’s work!

Has anyone else read this book? Let me know what you think!


Book review: Day Four by Sarah Lotz

Day Four
Sarah Lotz
Hodder & Stoughton 2015
3.5/5

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Day-Four-Sarah-Lotz/dp/1444775367

“Four days into a five day singles cruise on the Gulf of Mexico, the ageing ship Beautiful Dreamer stops dead in the water. With no electricity and no cellular signals, the passengers and crew have no way to call for help. But everyone is certain that rescue teams will come looking for them soon. All they have to do is wait. That is, until the toilets stop working and the food begins to run out. When the body of a woman is discovered in her cabin the passengers start to panic. There’s a murderer on board the Beautiful Dreamer… and maybe something worse.

When I stumbled across this novel at a book sale recently, the overall design of the book (my copy has fancy purple-edged paper, an attractive design, and a matte finish cover), along with a quick read of the blurb convinced me to add Day Four to my (already heaving) shopping bag. Although the above synopsis suggests that it is a murder mystery novel, one would be wrong to classify it as such – the murder mentioned is only one small element of this paranormal thriller.

 IMAG5096  CBP-May-Day-Four-197x300Screen Shot 2015-10-29 at 19.16.57

Second image sourced from http://carabas.co.uk/tag/monthly-book-recommends/

Only after I bought the novel, did I realise that it was the sequel to Lotz’s previous book, The Three. Although it is marketed as a ‘stand alone’ story, (reviews suggest that the links between the two are loose), I debated long and hard as to whether or not I should buy and read the latter first. The decision to dive straight into Day Four was made mainly because the blurb intrigued me so, but also because I wanted to figure out whether or not it was worth spending more money on an author that I had no previous experience of reading.

The book is mainly written in third-person, which happens to be my least favourite tense. Despite this, Lotz’s writing style is enjoyable – she writes simply, and her use of description is vivid yet sparing, with no unnecessary words or extended descriptions. Lotz sets the scene well and I found it easy to imagine the cheap and cheerful Beautiful Dreamer. Unlike a lot of novels, the pacing was perfect – the sense of despair aboard the ship increases gradually as life on-board begins to get more and more unbearable.

Although I enjoyed the overall narrative of Day Four, Lotz’s use of characters disappointed me somewhat. Instead of having one or two main characters, the novel had several, all of which took it in turns in being the view-point character. Each protagonist had several chapters dedicated to them throughout the novel, which made it hard to follow what was going on. Just as soon as you got into one character’s storyline, the chapter ended and another began, along with either a new character storyline or a continuation of one which had happened several chapters back. Thankfully, each character has a nickname which appears at the beginning of the chapter (‘the Devils Handmaiden’ for example) which helped in navigating the chapters, and also added another level of characterisation.

Because of the extensive character-hopping, I found it hard to become attached – I didn’t find myself ‘rooting’ for anyone in particular. Although each of the characters seemed ‘fleshed out’, their development and backgrounds appeared to offer no real depth to the plot. I believe the novel would have been equally as entertaining, if not more so, if it had focused on only one main character.

Day Four is my first experience of reading a supernatural thriller so I was excited to see how Lotz would interweave supernatural into the novel. Overall I was a little disappointed – although the sporadic paranormal events were creepy there was very little build up to them. I had read some reviews where reviewers had described the book as ‘terrifying’ so was really expecting to be scared out of my wits! This didn’t stop me from enjoying the book as a whole though.

The twist and the ending had promise but were not as chilling as they could have been. I was left feeling a little confused as to what had actually happened. This could well have been intentional – the ending is perhaps meant to be ambiguous and echoes the confusion aboard the boat. 

Although some of the elements of the novel were a little disappointing, I really enjoyed reading Day Four, so for that reason alone, I would recommend it. I looked forward to reading it, and it had me hooked right up until the end. I also enjoyed Lots’z overall style, and have read some rave reviews about her other book The Three, so will be purchasing and reading that in the near future!

Has anyone else read this book? Do you agree or disagree with my comments? Comment below!