The Five BIG Lessons I Wish I’d Known Before Writing My Novel

(Click here to watch the video version of this week’s blog).

As I’ve mentioned in previous blogs, it took seven years to write and then publish Every Time He Dies. 

That’s a long time to stick with one project, and the manuscript changed many times as a result.  

The great thing about sticking with a project for a long period of time is that you learn many, many, lessons. For today’s blog, I’m going to unpack the five big lessons I wish I’d known before writing my novel, Every Time He Dies. Hopefully, these lessons will be useful to you as you continue along your own path to publication. 

1 / Have Patience

Like I said at the top of this blog, it takes a long time to write a book. You have to be patient with yourself and the project. Of course, it doesn’t have to take a long time to write a book, like the Book Writing Police won’t be banging on your door, fine in hand, if you write and publish a book in three weeks. But this is my blog, so I’m talking about my experience, and ETHD took a long time. There were so many times when I thought I was pulling the train into the station only to discover that some nasty so-so had extended the tracks. 

If I knew on day one that it would be seven years until my novel was published … well … this book may not exist. Huh? Who am I kidding, I still would have written it. I’m a writer, after all, so what else could I do? Watch Netflix? Pft. 

You will hit blocks.

You will suddenly realise there is a massive plot hole and you don’t know how to fix it.

You will worry that maybe this manuscript is unsalvageable and maybe you should start working on something else, but please (!), do not be quick to throw away a manuscript! 

Let things simmer. Consider how the story could be saved, restructured or overhauled.

Chances are, if you roll up your sleeves and get to work on fixing your broken down bicycle of a book, you’ll wind up with a manuscript that becomes the envy of every kid in the neighbourhood. 

2 / Resistance is greatest at the end

I never got sick of my book. Okay, look, I never got sick of my story, but I definitely got sick of proofreading and checking meticulous details such as formatting. Weirdly enough, I often had to remind myself to pay attention to the language and grammar of each sentence while I was proofreading (alongside five other readers I had enlisted), because I kept getting caught up in the story — the story I had written!

Working on ETHD was mostly a joy. However, I technically could have published this novel two years ago. So, why didn’t I? 

Well, there’s a bunch of logistical and practical reasons, but basically, it boiled down to two factors:

  1. Money
  2. Time

I could have published the book two years ago, it was good enough, but I wanted the book to be great and I wanted to be fully prepared myself.

I needed to know more about the industry, more about self-publishing, I wanted to add a bit more description, to enlist another round of beta-readers, to save a bit more cash etc. etc. Basically, I wanted the book and the book launch to be as successful as possible. 

Perfectionism is a bitch. 

This resistance to publishing my novel really boiled down to one factor: fear. 

I wanted reassurance that I was making good decisions. Is now the best time to publish? Is the book ready? Am I ready? Do I know what I’m doing? (Pst! You never know what you are doing).

Now, to be honest, the book has benefited from this two-year delay. Those extra two years gave me the time I needed to polish the manuscript to the best of my abilities, to hire the professionals I wanted to work with and to have a solid understanding of how to publish, marketing and promoting the book. 

So, it was worth it. However, perfectionism can easily turn into procrastination. Don’t let your manuscript become mouldy in the bottom drawer. Fix it up, pay a bunch of professionals to help you, and get that baby out there!

3 / Don’t do it by yourself

Don’t do it by yourself because you can’t do it by yourself. It takes a village to raise a child, and it also takes a village to publish a book.

Personally, I love reading the acknowledgement page at the back of a book (this isn’t always featured in fiction books but it’s becoming more common). While the author’s name may appear on the cover, I love learning about the many hands that were involved in the writing, revising, publishing and distributing of that text. 

My novel was shaped indirectly by the advice and guidance of my creative writing lecturers as they taught me how to write, and it was also directly shaped by their feedback on early drafts. The critique I receive from classmates and later, beta-reader, provided much needed direction as they identified the weaknesses that I couldn’t.

The markups I got from friends and family (ie: non-writers) told me what the ‘average’ reader would think of my story. Mentorships with professional editors and later, hiring professional editors showed me how to add body to my skeletal draft and how the story could have a totally different — and better — shape. 

Somewhere along the way, an early reader said, “You’re a great writer, but your ideas need a bit of work.” Now, I would have been offended had it not been the truth.

I am a good writer, but sometimes I need the input of others to lift my work to the next level. 

The thing is, our life experiences and perspectives are limited. When we share our art with (trusted) others and invite their feedback, we get the rare opportunity to see our work through another person’s eyes. Then, we can see where the story is weak and we can get to the business of fixing it. 

4 / It’s okay for the story to change

The version of Every Time He Dies that I am publishing is TOTALLY different from the book I set out to write seven years ago. 

The thing is, I am a fast writer and a slow reviser. I wrote the first draft of this book in a matter of months. I then spent years considering how the story could be different. What could I do to make it stronger, better?

It took a while to figure out whose story it really was, what voice I wanted to use, the perspective it should be told in, the mood and so much more. 

The novel’s premise changed dramatically twice.

First, it changed from a novel about two teenage boys to a novel about an adult woman and a ghost. Then it changed again from a novel about a group of strangers coming together to create a community to a novel about distigrated families, told through a dual perspective of a father and his daughter — don’t worry, I kept the ghost. 🙂

The first time the premise changed, I was excited. The second time, I was exhausted. Probably because I knew how much work would go into changing the story. However, the story is so much better now.

Hard work is hard, but the results are so much more pleasing. So, don’t be afraid to make big, dramatic changes!

5 / Seeing your book for the first time

Okay. So, I totally squealed the first time I saw the digital file that showed the front, spine and back cover. Finally, I got to see what my book was actually going to look like!

Maybe it’s because we live in such a visually orientated world, but for so long I’d been living with the vision of Daff, Lawrence and Liam’s story inside my head in the same way that we can recall memories or scenes from a movie.

For the first time, I was now seeing an exterior, visual symbol of the book I had spent so long writing. Hell, even viewing the files for the interior format design was exciting! Now, I could see the layout my pages were going to have, how the chapter titles were going to be presented, what the book itself was going to look like. 

Now, this euphoria was doubled the first time I held a physical copy.

So much of our life occurs in the digital space, so sometimes we forget how amazing tactical products or experiences can be. I could see how big my book was, and rather than looking at my words on the screen, I could now touch them with my fingers. I could sign the flyleaf and easily pop the book in my bag. My story was now mobile! Hmmm I mean, digital versions are mobile too, but you’d be WAY more upset if you left your i-reader or kindle at the bus stop!

It’s taken a lot of time, money and energy to get to this point, but I have to say that it was totally worth it.

I had to write Every Time He Dies, but I’m also ready to release it.

It’s time for the novel to go off and have its own experience in the world away from my meddling grasp! While my work on the novel is completed, your experience of this story is just beginning, and I can’t wait to hear all about it. 


EVERY TIME HE DIES

AVAILABLE FOR PREORDER + GIVEAWAY

‘Who knew that a book about murder, grief and disintegrated families could be so funny?’ – Paul WilliamsEverytimeHeDies_3D

‘A unique modern mystery that is one part psychic practices and one part police procedural. The fast pace, dynamic characters and intricate plot will keep readers hooked until the end.’ – Gregory James

‘It’s rare to find an Australian-set book of this scope and genre that could stand among its international peers and hold its own, but I won’t be surprised to see this book find its success in all corners of the crime genre reading world.’ – Shayla Morgansen

‘Can someone please make this into a TV series? This is a fabulous read and I want to see Liam and Daff on the small screen.’ – Carol Seeley


CLICK BELOW TO PREORDER NOW

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PREORDER GIVEAWAY!

Everyone who preorders a copy of Every Time He Dies (paperback or ebook) will go into the draw to win one of THREE MAJOR GRAND PRIZES.

To celebrate the release of Every Time He Dies, I’m running an EPIC book giveaway. The three grand prize packs include signed copies of:

🎉Dying in the First Person by Nike Sulway
🎉Bordertown by Gregory James
🎉Haunted by Shayla Morgansen
🎉The Spark Ignites by Kathleen Kelly
🎉Every Time He Dies by Tara Louise East

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If you preorder a copy, simply take a snapshot of your proof of purchase and fill out the entry form here. 

WAIT, THERE’S MORE!

Everyone who preorders a copy will ALSO receive the first five chapters straight to their inboxNot only will this tide you over until the book arrives, but it’s also my way of saying thanks!

How Do You Know When A Project Is Finished?

One could argue that creative projects are never really done. Like any skill, our creative processes and practices improve over time. You are a better writer today than you were yesterday, and you’re definitely a better writer now than you were three years ago. Because our skills are constantly improving, it can be difficult to recognise when a creative project is finished.

You may finish revising chapter twenty-six and decided on a whim to look back at chapter three. Then your heart sinks. The chapter is crap. Well, maybe not crap, but you know that you can do better. You know that you can lift chapter three to the level of chapter twenty-six. One of the trickiest things about writing a novel is learning how to maintain a consistent voice across three-hundred-plus pages while your technical abilities as a writer constantly improve.

The desire to constantly tweak, lift and better your work never goes away.

If you love words, if you believe in the power of storytelling, and if you respect the craft of writing, then chances are you will have very high expectations when drafting your own novel.

Dani Shapiro once said that it would be an insightful experiment to have an author re-write the same book every ten years because it wouldn’t be the same book. An additional decade of life experience and craft development would ultimately result in a book that may have a similar premise to the earlier edition, but the quality and content of the updated copy would be entirely different.

So, how do you know when a novel or project is finished? Below are a few signposts that may indicate when a creative work has resolved itself.

You’re Kind of Over It

Resentment and boredom are good indicators that the cake is baked. If your eyes glaze over while revising chapter three—again—or if you feel irritated, frustrated or angry every time you sit down for another writing session … perhaps it’s time to hit the pause button and do some evaluating.

Ask yourself:

  • Am I having a bad week or am I truly done with this project?
  • What would it feel like to ‘hit publish’?
    (This could mean publishing a blog, sending a manuscript to an agent or publishing house or submitting a pitch or article to a magazine)
  • Am I done or am I quitting?
    (Remember: quitting feels great in the short terms, but lousy in the long term)
  • Can someone (other than Mum) read my work and provide some feedback?
  • Have I given this project all that I have?
  • Am I still in love with this project?
  • Does working on this project make me feel excited or drained?
  • If I were still working on this project in a month’s time, would I be okay with that?

The answer to these questions may help you decide whether this project requires more time or if it’s actually “complete.”

Pushing vs Perfectionism

Pushing yourself and perfectionism are similar, yet there is a subtle difference.

When we challenge ourselves, we are extending ourselves beyond our comfort zone. We are awake and alert. We feel focussed and excited. The obstacle course we find ourselves on may be tough, but we know that we are capable of finishing it. Even if we’ve never done anything like this before, we know that it’s possible to leap over hurdles, weave between obstructions and cross the finish line!

Here’s the difference: pushing has an endpoint; perfectionism doesn’t.

An obstacle course of this vain doesn’t have a finish line. Instead, the course is a loop that you climb, jump and run through, over and over again until your feet give out and you vomit from dizziness.

Are you challenging yourself to make your novel (or any work of art) the best that it can be or are you reaching for an ideal? Because, dear friend, there is no there, there.

There is no such thing as a perfect novel.

Don’t believe me, let’s consult some experts.

“Near enough is good enough.” Elizabeth Gilbert.

“The novel is a prose narrative of some length that has something wrong with it.” Randall Jarrell.

Deviation from Original Concept

Another indicated that it may be time to wrap things up is if the project is starting to deviate from the original concept. If you continue to work on, develop and revise your novel for too long, there is a very good chance that it will move away from your initial intentions. It’s good to push yourself and to allow projects to develop and change over time, but you also need to recognise when your constant need to tinker with the work has morphed into unproductive meddling.

There is a difference between tweaking a story in order to strengthen/improve it and changing a story so much that it is unrecognisable. Embedding new ideas, cutting out and adding characters, deleting scenes and writing new ones are part of the creative process but are you doing these things in order to excavate the story buried deep inside your soul, or are you simply fucking around?

Do not ignore the voice of your subconscious in favour of what you think the story should be about.

Finish the story you set out to write and reserve any sparkly new ideas for future projects.

Books are never really done. A writer could spend their entire life trying to making a manuscript match the ideal version they envisage in their mind. At the end of the day, you have two options. You can spend years/decades/a lifetime tweaking and ‘perfecting’ a single manuscript or you can do the work, make it presentable, hit publish and move on to the next project.

The choice is yours, so choose wisely.


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