As I begin working with a new mentee, Kate, I asked Nikki for her thoughts on the journey her manuscript has taken in the last FEW months.
I must admit, having read this I'm wondering if she should have mentored me!
Thanks so much Nikki for being a complete pro to work with and for guesting on my blog. Here's her story...
On 14th November last year I was trying not to refresh Twitter every few minutes. I was desperate for news following Amanda’s offer to mentor one lucky individual. ‘Is there a number I can call you on?’ popped up as a direct message. I tried not to get my hopes up. I answered her call with my fingers crossed & have to admit I did well up when she said she’d picked me.
That was five months ago. In that time Amanda and I have been on a journey that has taken my very flabby, full of plot holes, unstructured book to a novel I’m really proud of. When I applied for the mentorship, I knew deep down some parts of my book needed work but thought most of it was probably ‘okay.’
Amanda helped me to see where the issues were and to start with she pointed some of these out. I now realise having someone who is willing to give critical feedback is absolutely essential. In the past I’d had a few people read extracts of my book, but they would often focus on what they enjoyed about it – it’s difficult for friends to give constructive criticism as they don’t want to offend you. After working with Amanda for a while I was able to recognise these issues for myself and she gave me the confidence to think of solutions to fix them. Providing feedback is one thing - but teaching someone to see that in their own work is a huge skill.
I thought I would list of some of the things I have learned on our journey together - my novel is domestic noir/suspense genre, so some of these things might not apply to other genres, but I think they probably do.
1. Support when you are writing a book is critical. Having someone who you know has been published who you can talk to or email to get a second opinion, or ask a question, really helps. If you can’t find a mentor then try joining a writing group or go on a creative writing course to meet like minded people who know what it’s like to have spent the afternoon in front of a laptop with a blank screen, or to have filled a screen with words only to re-read them and delete the lot.
2. Show don’t tell. I’d been told this before, but don’t think I truly realised what it meant until I was some way into my book. The reader wants to know what’s inside your characters head, but not by being told they are ‘sad’, or ‘lonely’ or ‘desperate.’ They want to see it and work it out for themselves. So, for each scene in your novel, work out what you want the reader to think and then ask yourself is your scene showing the reader that, without telling them directly.
3. All those sentences with amazing descriptions that you’ve spent hours or days constructing? (I can’t tell you how many of these I had in my novel. I was really quite proud of them.) Unless they are CRITICAL to your plot, or really say something about your characters rather than yourself, dump them.
4. Some writers are planners and some aren’t. I’ve read many tweets promoting the advantages of both sides. But I think that as a debut writer, it is important to think through the structure of your novel and the tense you’re writing in before you start. That’s not to say that you need a spreadsheet of every scene, but a clear overview is a good idea. I say this speaking from bitter experience – I had to re-write a third of my novel (twice!) as the first time I had far too much backstory in it (a classic error) and the second time because I hadn’t done enough research to realise something one of my characters was doing would not have been possible / realistic in real life. And yes, I did have a quiet cry on the second occasion.
5. Avoid fluff words. Claire Fuller has a great list of these that Amanda referred me to. ‘Just’, ‘Then’ and ‘Back’ are my personal favourites. Scan through your novel for these, stand back and be amazed how many you can find. In one paragraph.
6. Celebrate little achievements. If you finish a chapter / hit a word count for the day or even just manage to get that sentence right that you’ve been working on for hours, celebrate. The little achievements all build towards something bigger, and writing can be a lonely occupation, so if you don’t reward yourself, no-one else is likely to. [Note to self – perhaps not as many dark chocolates will be necessary next time…]
7. Take heart from coincidences. This may just be one for me, but there have been several weird coincidences when Amanda & I have been working that made me think – yes, this is supposed to be. My protagonist is, and has always been, an A Reynolds. Amanda swears she didn’t realise that before she accepted me as a mentee!
8. Persevere. No-one said writing a book is easy (it isn’t) but keep going, a few words at a time and be kind to others who are on their own journey. I have found the writing community as a whole incredibly supportive so join Twitter, read books and post reviews of ones you have enjoyed on Twitter or Amazon whilst you’re writing your own.
9. Have patience. And more patience. And a bit more patience. Oh, and a bit more patience.
10. If you are in a position to, #payitforward. Amanda did that for me, and I wouldn’t be where I am now without her.
Thanks so much, Nikki for your kind words, it's been a pleasure.
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