|The man himself!|
Ten things I learned while writing my first novel
Why should I love you?
The words ‘My first novel has just been published’ may have impressed guests at a twentieth century dinner party but today’s diners are more likely to stifle a yawn, change the subject or shove your face into the gazpacho. There are so many bloody novelists, now that the only barriers to entry are a PC and an internet connection.
Aspiring writers used to whine about how difficult it was to get their work out there, dealing with aloof agents and unresponsive publishers, but the democratisation of publishing has given them a different problem: how to get noticed. And with over 3,500,000 ebooks available on Amazon’s Kindle format – a figure that is increasing by around 100,000 a month – it’s only going to get harder for readers to stumble upon novice novelists.
Discovering just how big the pond my tiny fish is going to have to swim in is one of the things I learned while writing my first novel. Here are nine others…
The kick inside
“Why haven’t you been coming to poker?”
“I’ve been a bit busy.”
“What have you been doing?”
“Oh you know, just stuff.”
“You’ve discovered a new internet porn site, haven’t you?”
“If you must know, I’ve been working on a novel.”
“What’s it about?”
I once made the fatal mistake of replying to that last question, opening up about the universe I was creating, the characters that inhabited it, and the problems they were encountering. And as a direct result of that conversation I abandoned the book. I have since discovered that this is quite common among newbie authors: telling the story before it is written can negate the desire to write it.
There goes a tenner
A couple of years after my failed first attempt, I decided to seek expert guidance before embarking on another novel. I purchased ‘Wannabe a Writer?’ by Jane Wenham-Jones but then Amazon’s cunning algorithms kept saying to me: “Hey Dale, if you liked that, you’re gonna love this”.
And so I bought more and more of these ‘How to Write a Novel’ guides. I flitted from one to another like a heartless bigamist, embracing and then discarding them. I did pick up a few useful tips along the way – such as tell no one your plot – but most of them cover pretty much the same ground.
With the benefit of hindsight I wish I’d stopped at one (this also frequently applies to bottles of red wine), not least because while I was reading these things I was not doing any actual writing.
An architect’s dream
Something else that can eat into your productivity, if you allow it to, is planning. It’s obviously a good idea to plan, rather than spouting a stream of consciousness and seeing where it takes you (spoiler alert: it will most likely be a cul-de-sac) but it’s all too easy to squander your precious writing time by creating incredibly detailed biographies for each of your characters, needing a library of lever arch files to store them in.
A friend of mine (*cough*) once spent almost a whole day on the internet sourcing the world’s largest cork noticeboard so he could plot every incident in his novel on a single timeline. Another friend (*cough*) has got a whole shelf dedicated to boxes of index cards, which he used for chapter points, along with hundreds of packs of coloured stickers for denoting which plot threads each card covered. Needless to say, precious little writing got done during this extended ‘development’ period.
Somewhere in between
One of the most important decisions you’ll make about your novel is when you set it and having attempted to create a contemporary story I can now understand the appeal of a historical setting. Technology plays such a huge part in our lives that it can’t be ignored – but to include it will date the work before it’s even published if, like me, your productivity can best be described as plodding.
Watching films made a decade ago, it’s often not the special effects, the hairstyles, the clothes or the slang that gives away the movie’s age – it’s the clunky mobile phones and the enormous CRT monitors.
I eventually ended up setting my novel at a fixed point in a specific year as I was constantly updating it to keep pace with technological advances and societal developments.
Running up that hill
Every How-to book emphasises the importance of writing every day. That’s every bloody day mister, even if you’ve only got ten minutes to yourself, so don’t even think about watching football or playing video games.
Trying to comply with this edict can mean you start to see writing as a chore, like following a diet. While it might be manageable most of the time, what happens on Friday night? You’ve worked hard all damn week and you deserve fish & chips/merlot/Haagen Dazs...
But those Friday nights start to become complete weekends and before you know it you’ve gone a whole week without writing, then a month, then a year...
Don’t give up
This is perhaps the single most important instruction every How-to book should focus on, because it’s all too easy to get discouraged when you become bored with your novel or you read something someone else has written and it’s so much better than anything you could write.
When you return to your novel you’ll have a lot of catching up to do but instead of tinkering with the same early chapters every time this happens, you would be much better advised to just finish the stupid thing and sort the editing out afterwards.
Be kind to my mistakes
When you do eventually finish, don’t for one minute think you’re finished. After I completed my first draft, a published author who I respect asked to see a few chapters. Their response was so enthusiastic that I got carried away and asked a couple of other people, whose opinion I trust, to have a look at the whole thing. I reasoned that I would be doing further drafts so it would be helpful if I had some feedback before I started on draft two.
All I can say now to those unfortunate beta readers is: I apologise unreservedly for my naivety. Their comments were generous and kind but I should never have put them in that uncomfortable position. Several drafts later, the novel is slicker, less sweary and not quite so self-indulgent but I doubt they’ll ever want to read anything by me again.
Reading other writers’ blogs, it seems that the answer to the question ‘How do I find readers?’ is often social media, which is a bit of a downer for miserable gits like me. I’ve tried to get into the spirit of Facebook but the older I get the less I want to look at pictures of other people’s dinners and holiday destinations, much less listen to their strident political views. And I could respond to those tantalisingly vague ‘Sad times’ posts with ‘r u ok hun?’ but my heart wouldn’t be in it.
Twitter’s a more impersonal platform, so it comes a bit easier to the socially inept, but unfortunately I’m too much of a windbag to be able to distil any original, witty or interesting thoughts I might have into 140 characters. As an example, that last sentence ran to 229 characters.
My inner repressed Victorian gentleman has never been comfortable talking, or indeed writing, about ‘me’ so I was a little reluctant when Tabitha Rayne asked if I’d like to be a guest on this illustrious blog. But then I realised it would be a fab opportunity to introduce myself to the world and sneak in a surreptitious plug for my work. I could include links to my author website and explain how anyone interested in reading my book could access the first few chapters online or even buy the whole thing.
So where are these links? That’s the ninth thing I’ve learned – get these ‘calls to action’ sorted before you start banging on about your work publicly.
|Dale's beautiful assistant|
Moments of pleasure
Embarking on a novel is a bit like starting a new relationship, and just as time consuming. Often you’ll get nothing back – make that exactly like a relationship then – and anyone expecting to be the next EL James is going to be sorely disappointed.
So why do it? It can only be for those magical moments when whole passages seem to write themselves; when you instinctively know what characters will do in certain situations because their personalities have become more clearly defined than your friends’; and when the solution to a tricky plot point emerges from something that precedes it – as if it had been planned that way all along. Just like life in general, it’s the moments of pleasure that make the whole journey worthwhile.
Dale Bradford is editor of Erotic Trade Only (ETO) magazine, a B2B publication for the UK adult retail sector. His first novel will be available ‘soon’.
Watch this space from more from Mister Dale Bradford as soon as his book comes out.
And if you're in the erotic industries at all and haven't already, check out and subscribe to the ETO mag - it's full of good reading and saucy devices :D
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