I’ve written novels in lots of different ways — working completely alone without an agent and just writing; having an idea for a novel commissioned by a publisher; not having a commission, but having the input of an editor advising twists, (so many twists). And now, this time around, writing a novel without even sharing the idea with my agent Rowan — just getting on and writing the damn thing, polishing and protecting it, without exposing it to air.
I’ve finished it. In record time, I’ve finished it. Finished – the most overused word in the novelist’s vocabulary. Not in the sense of ‘I’m finished, I’m never going to have another idea for a book,’ nor in the sense of ‘I’m never going to get published again,’ but in the sense of ‘finishing’ a first draft, then a second, and on and on it goes…
It was a daunting prospect to let anyone read it at all. Not a single person except my dear friend and brainstorming pal, author Francesca, knew what my idea was. Her reaction told me it was a good one, but still she hadn’t actually read any of it.
And when you’ve written something in the dark, how do you know whether it’s any good? It was time to brace myself.
I emailed Rowan with my pitch and the first few chapters which — yippee — she really liked, but what of the rest of the novel? Was the structure right, the pace too slow? I knew it wasn’t ready to submit in its entirety to Rowan yet, so who was I going to ask to read it and give me a truthful reaction?
It’s always such a massive thing to ask people to read your novel because it’s so cringe-worthy for them if they hate it. But I wasn’t looking for compliments. I had suspicions about where this novel needed work, but I needed to see whether other people thought the same, so I turned to some of my go-to women to get a real response. Thank you, Louise, Lucille, Emma and Lucy – you really have helped me to make my novel pacier and more authentic. And what the hell was I thinking about with that sex scene? You’ll be relieved to know it has gone.
I’m an editor, so I can probably pick out things that aren’t working in other people’s books, but to my own failures, I can be blind. I’m not part of a writers’ group which critiques each other’s work, so help from my friends is treasured.
But if asking my friends to read was daunting, asking my husband to read for me now is even more disconcerting. He read and re-read – God, he must have read it 10 times – my very first novel pre-publication. When he started to read my second after it was published, I whipped it out of his hands and said ‘urg, don’t do this to me.’ So asking him to read for me this time around feels like the way I used to do things when this publishing journey was beginning for me. I’m hoping that this might just sprinkle some luck on this novel in which I so firmly believe, but we’ll see….
Who do you test-drive your unpublished work on?
(With thanks to Unsplash for the holding pic)