Monday, 9 August 2010

Things I've Learnt

There are a few things I've learnt while writing. Some more practical than others. Some I found out the hard way.

- There's an enter and tab button for a reason. Bad formatting will make hell for revisions. There was a very, very old manuscript attempt that I wanted to try and salvage, and found it almost impossible to read. Put simply, it was all over the place. I thank dearly whatever possessed me to learn to use these buttons before I started my first real novel.

- Do not abuse commas, or semi-colons, or regular colons, or any other punctuation you may be fond of using. They are precious things, and do not like to be abused. It makes your writing another nightmare to revise, when you're automatically pausing because of a comma or semi-colon every five seconds. The same goes for words you have a habit of repeating.

- Make every chapter roughly the same size, especially first time writers. Things start to get a little silly when one chapter lasts for ten pages when another lasts for five, simply because you couldn't be bothered to finish it and wanted to move onto something else.

- Contents pages make the world of good. So do timelines. And outlines. I'd be lost without these things now, and if you ever want to be organised, keep them.

- Be prepared to waver from an outline sometimes. Characters have an annoying habit of springing things on you out of nowhere. They love to disrupt scenes and plots with their crazy actions, and resisting this will only make it worse. Characters don't do this to hurt you, they do it to make your story better. When they are alive, even if it does disrupt things, it is better than a character who always bends to your will. But don't let your characters own you, it's your novel after all. Be prepared to chnage things. Most of the time (if not all), it works out for the better.

- Don't be afraid to chop and change. To cut whole sentences and paragraphs (and if it is as disasterous as the pre-first novel, whole chapters) as you are redrafting. Less is more. Quality not quantity. They might be old sayings, but in writing, they are usually right.

- Never revolve a novel around word count. At the end of the day, word count - for first drafts especially - is meaningless. When redrafting, you will almost always end up with a lower word count than when you started. There are guidelines, of course, if you are thinking about the publishing market. 60,000-80,000 words for a Young Adult novel. 80,000-120,000 (though even that is pushing it), for an Adult novel. But there are always exceptions, so don't let word count dictate you, or your novel.

- You're only human. If something isn't working, don't blindly push on, just because you're too stubborn to change it or take a break. You will only end up with more redrafting to do, and nobody wants more redrafting.

- And finally, be proud of your work. (Hopefully no blood), sweat and tears went into your novel. Nothing worth having is ever gained easily. It is hard. And it takes a lot of motivation, determination, time and effort to create a new world, new characters and novel, so don't be ashamed of what you've created. It's beautiful, even if it hasn't had enough redrafting to make it shine.

None of what I said should be taken extremely. What works for one person may not work for another, and everybody is different. This is only what I've learned personally, and I hope it helps.

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