Things I’ve learnt between this book and the last

I’m now over ten thousand words into the first draft of my new novel, and I’ve almost completely filled a notebook with words for the first time in my memory. Some of the words are even almost legible!

I feel like I’ve learnt a lot in the past few months since diving back into writing. Here are a few of them:


1. Know your genre and your market

One of my biggest challenges with HTDC was figuring out how to market the damn thing. It wasn’t quite sci-fi, not exactly fantasy, not completely horror. I was perfectly happy for it to be interstitial slip-stream new weird bizarro fiction. But last time I looked in a bookstore there wasn’t a section called “what is this I don’t even…”. Dewey never worked that one into his decimal system. This time, I knew right from the start what my genre was and I knew exactly who I wanted my audience to be. You don’t have to worry about your potential market if you don’t want to. I didn’t worry about it the first time around because the story was really only for myself. This time I want the story to be for others.


2. Characters will reveal themselves when they’re ready

Characters are just like real people, in that they have secrets they aren’t willing to share right away. You have to get to know them before they open up. Meg in HTDC took FOREVER to show her whole self to me. Her plot twists were even a surprise to me when they happened. But before then I was constantly worrying that she wasn’t fleshed out enough. I kept trying to force her, and that just made her even more stubbornly silent (she must’ve learnt that from me). With this novel, there are characters that are still vague to me, and I know they will remain vague a little longer. But that’s okay. I trust that they will blossom when the time is right.


3. First drafts are shit

This is an obvious one, but it’s still easy to forget. It pains me to write a paragraph that I know is a complete turd. But I have to, otherwise I’ll never get anywhere. The other day I actually wrote a sentence that said, “She was wearing… something awesome”. I didn’t know what the character was wearing yet, and I could either spend half an hour trying to figure it out, or I could finish the chapter. I finished the damn chapter and one day that character will get their fully described awesome outfit. But today is not that day.


4. I’m old

When I wrote HTDC, I was a 17 year old writing about 17 year olds. Now I’m 26 and I’m still writing about 17 year olds, only I don’t know what it’s like to be a teenager quite so well anymore. Sure, the basic struggles of puberty are timeless, but so many other things have changed, most of it involving mobile phones and the Internet. I posted a question in a teenagers forum just to check if Facebook was still cool and if anyone passed notes in class anymore. The responses were actually very insightful. Maybe the next generation isn’t as bad as everyone says it is.


5. Things can only get better

If I were to re-write HTDC right now, it would be an entirely different book. I’m still very proud of what I achieved with my first novel, but I feel like my skills and knowledge have grown exponentially in the time since I finished it. I’ll probably feel the same way when I’m finished this book and and getting ready for a third one. Every day I’m learning more, and everyday I’m becoming more open to learning. When I finished HTDC I was worried that I wouldn’t have enough ideas in me to write more stories. I was so very wrong.


6. Birds are jerks

This isn’t really related to writing. I just think birds are jerks. I love them, but I know they’re jerks.


7 responses to “Things I’ve learnt between this book and the last

  • Ileandra Young

    Lol, loving number six. ^_^

    I have to try harder to remember number three.

    I have the same issue with number four. Each draft of my novel has aged the main character to match my age. This time however, I’ve hit 29 and I’ve left her behind at 26 (or was it 27… o.o). For some reason, that’s proving far harder to handle them some of the keen aspects of characterisation and plot that I know needs work.

    Weird, eh?

  • Andrew Toynbee

    regardling #3 – A sentence I will never forget is ‘The stragglers trotted past the shattered granite remains of (insert well-known Edinburgh landmark here).’
    Not remarkable in itself, but that sentence caused much amusement when my collaborator’s spouse caught sight of it. Oops.

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