Just a short post this week to keep you up-to-date. The last post was about me celebrating – drinking champagne, no less – because I’d finished and sent off the first draft of my 3rd novel. In that post, I made it clear that I was expecting to have to do a lot more work. I knew there were problems, particularly with the structure, but I’d got too close to be able to look at it objectively.

My wonderful agent and editor both read it quickly – they knew I’d be biting my nails down to the knuckles. Also, I’ve never pretended this book wasn’t proving particularly difficult, so perhaps they both suspected there would be a lot to do and wanted to get a head start!

Anyway, there is a lot to do, as expected. From our initial chats and emails, it looks like it will be a VERY, VERY LOT. More, even, than I’d anticipated. I’ll know more after we have a meeting next week, but it seems there’s a lot that’s not working at the moment. I suspect it won’t be so much a case of murdering a few darlings as embarking on some wholesale slaughter!

About halfway through writing this draft (which had already gone through a major change of plan from the original idea – I cut a whole storyline and about 30,000 words!) I began to understand what I was really writing about. And therein lies one of the major problems, I think.

Of course I went back and did a lots of rewriting when my characters began to go in a different direction, but in hindsight, I wonder if what I was doing was the equivalent of realising I’d made a chicken dopiaza instead of a chicken madras and then trying to sort it out by pouring off half the sauce and whacking in the extra spices. What I really need to do is wash all the sauce off, grab some fresh garlic and ginger and start combining the spices again from scratch.

I have lots of ingredients; some of them are good ingredients which are right for this novel; some are good ingredients but need to be set aside for something else, and the remainder need to be binned completely. I also need to bring in some fresh ingredients. Okay, I can no longer bear the screams of that metaphor so I’ll stop torturing it. But you get the gist.

On the upside this week, I’ve been catching up with some reading, including 50,000 words of a novel I started writing a few years ago and abandoned because I got stuck. While I can’t instantly see where that novel should go, there’s a lot of good material there which I’m sure will form the basis for my 4th novel.

I’m thinking a lot about book three, of course, but am very much looking forward to those thoughts becoming more focused after the meeting next week. There’s a lot of thinking ahead, and a serious amount of hard work, but I know it’ll be worth it, so bring it on!

Here’s a picture that may just be the light at the end of the tunnel – something I hope to see before too long!

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  1. JO says:

    Oh that sinking feeling when you know you've got to shake all the dross from a novel and begin to tease it into its proper shape!

  2. Jo says:

    It makes me wonder what kind of position you'd be in, if you didn't already have an editor and agent. If you were on your own with Novel 3 and it was, for example, Novel 1, what do you think your next step would be and how would you know it wasn't working or needed A LOT more work? Not sour grapes, by the way, I'm genuinely interested. If it was a first novel, would an agent see the potential and be willing to work with you on it, I wonder.

  3. Susan Elliot Wright says:

    It's a very good point, Jo, and I asked myself the same question. If this was Novel 1, my next step would be to pay for professional advice from a critique service such as The Literary Consultancy or a private editor (which is in fact exactly what I did with Novel 1!) I think it cost about £300, and I could ill afford it, but it was money well spent. As for how you know it isn't working, that can be difficult. With this novel, it's been a struggle from the very first paragraph. I've discussed it with my editor and agent several times, but it's now at the point where they really needed to see it to make proper judgements. As to your last question, if I'm perfectly honest, if this was a first novel, I'm not sure an agent would take it on, because they couldn't be sure that I'd be prepared to do the amount of work required, nor could they be sure that I was capable of doing what was required. The wonderful thing about the position I'm in now is that I have a track record, and my agent and editor have faith in me. Also, I think I now have more faith in myself, too – with the first novel, it was more difficult to know the areas that weren't working, and harder still to work out what to do about them, which is why I paid for editorial advice at that stage. I think this is a particularly difficult book, though; I needed advice and feedback on book 2 as well, but not as much as on this one! This is one of the sad and difficult things about publishing. A writer may know for certain that she is prepared to work all hours of the day and night on her novel; she may know that she is prepared to rewrite and rethink huge chunks of it, or even to take it to bits and start again if necessary. But I think it's a difficult to get an agent to take you on and work with you in that situation, although from what I can gather, it wasn't so unusual in the past – I seem to remember hearing the lovely Jojo Moyes speak about being taken on by an agent but still not getting a publishing deal until her fourth novel. I think she's now published 10 or 11! What a long and waffly reply – hope it's useful, anyway.

  4. Jo says:

    Thank you so much for the wonderful and detailed reply, Susan! I hadn't even thought of a Literary Consultancy or Professional Editing Service. This is why your blog is compulsive reading and so inspiring. It's very generous of you to take the time to explain the process. Thanks, again!

  5. Susan Elliot Wright says:

    My pleasure. I should point out that I'm not saying it's impossible to finish a novel to a good standard without editorial advice, just that I think getting that advice speeds things up a bit. We get so close to our work we just can't see it objectively and we'd have to put it aside for a very long time in order to get the distance on it.

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