Phew! What a hugely busy couple of months. Since signing the contract with UQP for my next verse novel we have been busybusyBUSY to get it out at its best for a May 27 release date. I don’t think I’ve ever written so many words under such immense pressure before.
When I subbed ‘On Track’ to UQP, it was a 12,000wrd verse novel. I knew it would need some development, but I also knew that UQP would offer feedback to highlight gaps and maximise this story. I knew it would grow… and it did. I had no idea it would grow so much! I don’t think anyone else did, either. But once we started on the process, it just kept growing… and growing… and growing! This week it went off to typesetters, at 17,300wrds. That blows me away – because actually, that’s just a lot of words, fullstop for someone who used to get speed wobbles at 600wrds – and whose previous best was 7000wrds.
So, what have I learnt during this process? Most of it’s about me, as a writer.
1) I don’t write well under pressure. I polish and perfect as I go, writing few, perfectly placed words. I cut much more than I write in a day… and I need a lot of head space, and a lot of time to get up and walk away. Much of my creativity happens when I’m not writing. When I’m under pressure, I can’t walk away, because words have to be written.
2) I like a clean page. A clear computer screen. An uncluttered Word document. I LOVE tracked changes and comments, in so far as they give precise feedback… but I loathe working on a document that has coloured highlights and lines criss-crossing the page. Somehow I can no longer see/read a poem in its entirety when the page is marked by colours – the poem becomes broken into chunks and it doesn’t flow visually. To me, a poem is so much more than the words – its their placement on the page, and their interaction with the other words within the poem. And coloured highlights/lines seem to break my concentration.
3) If I write/edit too intensely, my eyes are going to suffer. After one particularly torrid time, I had burning blurry eyes for a week and could not see to read a book. Which is why this post about keeping healthy as a writer, from TJ Withers-Ryan, leapt out at me. After having to resort to a magnifying sheet just to read (for pleasure) and spinning out on hubby’s glasses (too magnified for me) I swallowed my pride and invested in my own set of reading glasses. Once the pressure of edits lifted, so too did the eyestrain. But I’m now mindful of looking away from the screen, blinking more often, and have even employed a second screen, so that I can 1) increase the magnification on my screen, and spread the documents over two pages, but also 2) vary the depth I’m focused on – sometimes at my laptop screen and sometimes a little further to the big screen.
(To be honest, there was a time there when I took over the kitchen table and had TWO additional screens hooked up to my laptop, to get my head around editorial feedback, tracked changes and my working document. But that’s a brain thing, not an eye-strain thing…)
You are by now thinking that I am a little bit ‘precious’ as a writer… and I’m beginning to think you could be right! Not that I’m precious about *what* I write – because I love feedback and advice that helps make me a better writer… but about *how* I write. Who knew? I knew I needed quiet. But the rest?…? News to me, actually. (I’ve always liked the quiet. Over the sweltering summer months when I had to get edits done, I was very distracted by the jet-engine that was responsible for moving stifling hot air around in my writing space. I don’t know what was worse… the fan… or the heat! (I certainly spent a lot of time flicking between the two!))
4) I write spare/sparse. Which means that setting and character appearance isn’t always developed in early drafts. As my editor kindly pointed out and persisted with until I’d fixed.
Though I’d consciously developed setting in ‘On Track’ (because this was an area I’d had to work on during the edits for ‘Bully on the Bus’) this was done well in new and unfamiliar environments in the book, but the initial setting was not so well established – though we fixed this during the editorial process.
And it was just three weeks ago that my lovely editor asked me, ‘Do Toby and Shaun look alike? You’ve never actually said.’ Errr… Good point. I’m not so focused on the physical appearances – but we fixed that… subtly.
5) I haven’t quite nailed my usage of the semi-colon, the ellipsis, the colon and the en dash. (Though I’m not a great lover of the colon – and love the others to excess.) But thankfully, I have an editor and she’s nailed me on all of them. I’m hoping to study up on these and hopefully get it better next time round, if I haven’t completely confuddled my brain during the process. (Sometimes my brain is like that. I determine to learn something and never get it wrong again, and as a consequence, thereafter get it wrong every time…)
6) Sometimes there is more than one way to tell a story – that whilst I have the bones, I may have put the leg bone where the arm bone belongs, and vice-versa. And while it may almost tie my head in knots, the satisfaction in knowing 1) I did it, and 2) the story is so much better as a result… that is a wonderful feeling! (The feelings until that moment are somewhat freaky. Especially when you know you can’t go back… and you just can’t quite see the end of the way forward.)
7) And I learnt that I do indeed love verse novels! They are immensely satisfying for me as a writer. I love the visual beauty as the words find their perfect place on the page. And I love the song of a story unfolding and the cadence of words carefully weighted. I’m moved to tears many times in the writing of them, because somehow, verse novels touch that vulnerable part of me – that part that makes me seesaw between will I or won’t I show you what I’ve written…
Sooo… I learnt heaps during the edits of ‘On Track’. Perhaps the biggest thing being that, even though I don’t LIKE to write under pressure, in fact, I can, and did. And with the right questions and comments (the right lovely editor!) I can take a story that’s been in my heart for 9 years, and develop it, add flesh and colour, so that it’s real for others, also. Of course, the editorial process also confirms that I still have much to learn about writing verse novels. Which, I guess means… I should write some more! And that may not be a hardship at all.
I’m delighted to share the sporty cover design that was also finalised during the busy month of January. So effective in its simplicity! Jo Hunt designed my beautiful ‘Bully on the Bus’ cover, and she’s done another great job here.
Still much to do before release day, but we’re on track! I couldn’t have done my part in the edits without the oh-so-lovely and equally-knowledgeable editor. Thank-you! x