I’ve just finished writing the final (maybe) draft of my novel manuscript. I’ve reluctantly (I’m sure there’s something I could add or fix or change again) handed it over to a trusted writer friend to read. After I get their feedback I’ll consider a Writers Victoria manuscript assessment or (maybe) send it to a publisher. Or the recycle bin—depending on feedback.
As well as empty, when I finished writing the last line, I felt kind of disappointed. It doesn’t matter how hard I try or how many times I rewrite, it’s never going to be Margaret Atwood. Then I reminded myself that I never set out to write Margaret Atwood. My initial goal was to see if I could complete such a mammoth project—with passable writing, a cohesive story and characters that don’t all sound the same. I should be happy I’ve achieved my goal. If nothing comes of it I can always self publish and give it to my family and friends for Christmas.
I worked for almost two years on the manuscript. With three children, work and study I wrote between the hours of 4.45am and 7am, five days a week.
Along the journey I studied Professional Writing and Editing at RMIT and was lucky to be part of an incredibly talented writers’ group. If you want to write, make sure you join a group of like-minded people who are better writers than you. Without their feedback (sometimes harsh but always brilliant) and support I never would have finished.
I must have written close to a million drafts (at least as many as Peter Carey anyway!) Each time I finished a draft some clever person would tell me something revelational about writing that I wish I’d known before I started. I’d sigh and start back at chapter one trying to apply the new knowledge.
Things I wish I’d know before I started writing:
- Don’t do it. It’s too hard.
- It will make you unhealthy: an obsessive insomniac with a caffeine addiction and chronic neck and shoulder pain. Go to the gym instead.
- Check you have the right temperament to be a writer. Unfortunately I have the wrong temperament: thin-skinned, sensitive, emotional and not good at suffering fools. Every Friday after my writing class I would come home and cry over negative criticism, drink too much and vow to never write again because everything I do is shit—until Monday morning.
- Beware of taking advice given out of context—it can make you ruin your story and you’ll have to change it all back again.
- Too many ‘to be’ (is, are, was etc.) verbs will flatten prose and make your reader fall asleep.
- Chuck Palahniuk is right (goddamn him!) about ‘thought verbs’.
- Don’t write dialogue just for the hell of it—it must have subtext or reveal character.
- His face lights up when he sees her. Not good enough!
- Steam ghosts in front of his eyes. Trying too hard!
- Don’t just read great writers for inspiration. Read less-than-great writers to cheer you up. I’ve put aside Margaret Atwood and Richard Flanagan for a moment and I’m getting great joy from reading a popular fiction book with all the things my writing teacher says are wrong: dialogue attributions other than said, point of view changes in the one scene, adverbs, ‘thought verbs’ and a character who sighs at least three times per page. And yet somebody published this!