Friday, March 8, 2013

A Mini-Milestone


As we say in Australia, it’s been a long time between drinks, hasn’t it? My apologies for my extended radio silence, but since I last blogged I’ve been hard at work on my manuscript, Blood of the Heart, revising and editing until, at the end of February, I reached a milestone in my writing journey and finally, FINALLY, sent BOTH out to beta readers.

Exciting stuff! 

Oh, it’s very far from perfect; and far, far from done … but that’s the point. It’s time to let it go, to let others read it and tell me what’s working and what’s not, for I’m so page-blind I truly cannot see the forest for the trees.

But I’m here, at a point I sometimes doubted I’d see, and with a bit of time on my hands I’ve been mulling over what I’ve learned since finishing my first draft in December 2009 (yes, that long ago.)

Writing a first novel is like studying a whole university degree. Well, it was for me. I’ve been on one heck of a learning curve since I typed my first tentative words back in 2007. In fact, I’ve written and deleted enough words to fill close to two whole books. Seriously! But I don’t regret a minute of the time it’s taken me to write BOTH. Really, it couldn’t have happened any other way. Learning a new craft or profession requires a period of intense learning; and the way I always looked at it (to stop myself from feeling like a slow-poke failure) was that if my law degree took me roughly six years to complete, learning to write fiction would be no different. And so it was …

Hello. My name is Rachel Walsh and I am an Outliner. That I ever attempted to act upon my urge to write fiction is thanks to Diana Gabaldon and the story she shared of how she began writing. For those who don’t know the tale, in a nutshell, she came up with a character, she started writing as scenes came to her - out of chronological order, in chunks - and she didn’t stop. Boiled down to these elements, I thought I might be able to give this writing caper a shot. So I started …

Suffice to say I’ve learned enough about myself through writing BOTH to know my brain is not wired like Diana’s.  :-) To keep from veering off into no-man’s land (and thus having to delete thousands of precious words) this little black duck needs – NEEDS - an outline to follow. But hey, some things in life you can only learn by trial and error. And it was fun to work this out ... in a masochistic kind of way. Cough.

Thank God for square brackets. Another tip from Diana Gabaldon - use square brackets as place-holders when you get to a point in the writing where you need to go chase down a fact or two. That way, you keep writing, keep it flowing, without stopping to spend five hours pin-pointing a half-demolished street in 1864 Paris in which a character might have believably lived … yes, such are the rabbit holes I’ve ventured down this week as I plug the gaps in my research. Sigh. I’m mighty glad I left all this until now, otherwise I’d still be at work on chapter one.

Immerse yourself in your genre. I can’t recommend this highly enough. At one point I stopped writing for a good six months while I did nothing but read and deconstruct book after book of the type and style I was trying to emulate. I’m no master of mystery and suspense after doing that, for sure, but I have a far better handle on these genres than I did before.

Wallow in resources on the craft of writing. Whether it be Donald Maass’ THE FIRE IN FICTION or Robert McKee’s STORY, or the brilliant blogs of Anne R. Allen or Roz Morris, I’ve learned something new, or at the very least have come away inspired, every time I’ve dipped into these resources. Do it. It’s good for you and your brain.

Beta readers are GOLD. Don’t ever be afraid to ask others to read your work, when you’re ready for it. Having someone else cast their eyes over your work and give you carefully considered feedback, positive and negative, is absolutely priceless. And something for which you should be extremely grateful. I know I am.

So, what now? Well, while I’m waiting on crits to come in, I’ve dipped my toe in the next book I want to write. Mainly researching at the moment, but I’ve dashed out a few very rough scenes … and in fact, I think I might even have the first sentence of Chapter One:

“The moment she was ushered into the plush drawing room of the Countess of Marle, Lucinda Stone knew precisely which of the assembled aristocratic guests was the thief.”

Well, it’ll do, for now. :-)