July 1, 2017 by ChrisJamesAuthor
Yesterday I wrote ‘The End’ on, er, the end of my sixth novel, and I found that the uplifting feeling of achievement doesn’t lessen with the number of novels written. When you write your first novel, you never know if you’re going to complete it, and when you do, you’re amazed. When you write your second novel, you spend a lot of time thinking that maybe the first was merely a fluke and wondering if you can do it again. But after that, every novel on which you embark becomes a very special kind of challenge, where you dare yourself to create something unique. For me, I regard every novel I can complete simply as one less novel that will die with me.
How it happened
I began this novel at the end of February, and as is my habit the beginning went slowly. I tend to over-think plot and character instead of just getting on and writing the story. This is because I abhor deleting anything apart from adverbs that inadvertently slip in (see what I did there? :)), and fret that I might not be setting off in the right direction. From February to the middle of April, I put down a little over 25,000 words, which really is part-time writing (in my defence, the World Snooker Championships were on throughout April). At the end of April, I faced a dilemma: if I were to get the novel written and published this year, I had to get the first draft completed by the beginning of July, before the annual family vacation. Alternatively, I could keep up the part-time production rate and then aim for completion in the autumn.
Every novel starts with one blank page, but, to turn a phrase, you can’t write a novel sitting down. Not once in the 13 years I’ve been writing fiction has a Big Idea come to me or knotty plot problem been resolved when I’ve been sitting in front of the screen. The link between the creative parts of our brains and the physical movement of our bodies is well established in scientific literature, so you need to keep active if you want those good ideas to keep flowing.
In the event, for the last 50 days I’ve averaged over 1,000 words a day. That wouldn’t be a bad production rate for a wordsmith who had nothing to do but write, whereas I have a full-time job of eye-watering boredom which causes Repetitive Strain Injury to the synapses in the English language centre of my brain, and a growing family who, not unreasonably, expect to have some quality time with their husband/father. So to have arrived at the destination right on time has left me feeling appallingly pleased with myself and generally quite smug 🙂
Why this is the sixth novel
Although this is my six novel-length work, you’ll see there are only three others for sale. After the modest success of Repulse: Europe at War 2062-2064 (and if you’re one of the 120 readers Repulse gained in June, thank you for giving it a try), I decided to rewrite two of my earlier novels into one new one. Thus, The Dimension Researcher and The Cascade Annihilator became Time Is the Only God, which I published in February. Given the amount of work I had to do to develop Time, I regard it as a completely new work. However, since Time contains the same characters and settings as the earlier two books, I felt obliged to withdraw them from sale as that would not be fair to my readers.
What happens next
I think fiction writing must be unique among the arts in that the initial completion of a work is but the first step in a process which is arguably more arduous than the work’s creation. This novel is written, but it is a very long way indeed from publication. Today it is littered with missing information, homophone errors, word choice mistakes, missing-word typos, punctuation problems, and probably a number of clunky phrases, awkward sentences and other bits and pieces which must be corrected and polished until the whole thing shines.
Stage 1 is structural. I look the weight and balance of the story, each character’s ‘page time’, the location of foreshadowing, the tension, the action, the characterisation, the appropriate and timely delivery of back-story, and at the justification for each chapter to be in the book.
Stage 2 is a concentrated read through to identify and correct the language problems I mentioned above, although a few of them will be caught in Stage 1. Then, when I feel that I have got the thing to the best condition I can get it, it goes out to my wonderful beta readers for them to suffer through read through and comment on.
Stage 3 is taking on board the betas’ comments and suggestions, nearly all of which help the story as well as save me huge embarrassment. By this time, I will have designed the cover and will have usually begun the social media blitz to try as much as possible to let everyone know I’ve got a new story coming out. Then it’s final read-throughs, line by line, paragraph by paragraph, page by page until my eyes start bleeding and a voice in my head says: “That’s it. You’re not going to get it any better than that.”
And if you’ve read all the way to the end of this blog post, then you deserve at least to know the title, so until next time, I’ll just leave this here: