As I mentioned in this post last week, I am very excited to be starting a new blogging venture with five other Western Australian-based authors. Each month, we will all simultaneously post the answer to a question often asked by readers. After all, six brains are better than one!
This is the first post, which deals with our writing process. I’ve been fascinated to read the other posts, and you can find links to them at the bottom of this page.
The endless possibilities of beginnings…
Starting a new project is always exciting. It is the moment when anything is possible. The ideas I have for the book have not yet been tried out, and the book exists in my head as a perfect thing. This is it, I think to myself, this will be the best thing I ever do.
What have I got myself into?
The magnitude of possibility can also be terrifying. When I started my new novel, about a British war photographer during the Vietnam War, I set myself quite a few challenges:
- Writing as a man
Which, oddly, so far hasn’t proved too difficult. When I’ve had a few drinks, I have been known to quiz nearby men on things like what it feels like to grow a beard. We’ll see how realistic his voice is when I actually let someone read it…
- Writing about war
The trigger point for this book wasn’t the war itself, but the idea of war photography as a profession. What kind of person is attracted to this job? How do you juggle being an observer in a horrific situation when your knee-jerk reaction might be to help or flee? Does what you see and the exposure to fear affect your psychology and home life?
The details of war itself, I have little interest in. So I spent a lot of time googling guns, ammo and helicopters: printing out and labelling pictures to remind myself.
- Writing about Vietnam
I decided to set the book in Vietnam as it is the only war where censorship of photography and journalism was limited. If you had a press pass, you could basically travel anywhere in the war zone. The editors in New York or London might change your story, but they couldn’t change the photographs. Photography was also instrumental in altering the course of the war: once people saw the photos in the US and overseas, they begin the protests of the late 1960s and early 1970s.
I had never been to Vietnam and knew nothing about the American war there. I also knew nothing about the history and culture. As well as book and internet research, this involved visiting the country for extended periods, and talking to survivors of the war. One of the best things I have ever done.
- Writing about photography.
Fly my pretties! Fly!
Whilst writing, the book belongs to me and me alone. Once I have meticulously edited it, I will release it into the world. By which I mean send it to my agent, not publish it. Letting even one other person see it, even someone I trust, is a scary moment. When I did it with How To Be A Good Wife, I remember going to King’s Park and lying on the grass, reminding myself over and over that this was just the beginning, and that I needed help for the next stage.
Agents and Editors Are Like Book Whisperers
Sending the book to someone you trust, who knows their stuff, is very important. When you can’t think of anything else to do with the book, except for maybe burn it, you need their help. An outside influence can work wonders: they ask the right questions and put you back on the right track.
For How To Be A Good Wife, we did two and a half huge edits over two years. After a month or two, I receive pages of notes and line edits on every word, and then I get back to work. I’m hoping the process will be quicker this time after the experience of my last book, but I’m not expecting it to be.
And then, once we had gone to publishers, I did another huge edit with my editor there. Again, having a new pair of eyes on the book was amazing. Without both my editor and my agent How To Be A Good Wife would not be the book it is today.
My tips for writing a novel:
You have to be in it for the long haul. The average book takes three years to write. I thought I would be able to do it faster. I was wrong.
Keep faith. The hardest thing about writing is keeping going when it seems you are at it alone, or that nothing will ever come of it.
Turn off the pressure. I put myself under a lot of pressure trying to get How To Be A Good Wife finished. As I was working full time, I had to fit it in before and after work, and that meant I had to be disciplined. This was important, but don’t drive yourself crazy. As my fiancé once reminded me, you are not a tap. Sometimes you can’t force it.
Remember, always, that it is worth it in the end. Every moment of doubt I had while writing How To Be A Good Wife, every day when I thought it would come to nothing, when I had to wade back in for another edit even though I thought it was finished: every moment was worth it. Being published is as good as I imagined it would be: and that’s saying something!
Over to the others for their fascinating posts – from writing long-hand, to binding, to writing blind…
Sara Foster – ‘I have always had ideas in the middle of the night, while sipping coffee at the shops, or on a long journey – those times when my mind has been a little less crowded with the other affairs of the day…”
Let me know below if you have any ideas for our next blog post…