One trick to maintaining a viable fiction-writing career is to aim to be prolific.
It is tempting to think of this as a new phenomenon resulting from the digital age.
However, writing many books over the course of a lifetime has been a successful career strategy for numerous authors, namely Enid Blyton (597 works), Barbara Cartland (722), John Creasey (600+), Alexandre Dumas (277), Nora Roberts (200+), Georges Simenon (500+), Agatha Christie (66), Dick Francis (40), James Patterson (130+) and these writers represent just the tip of the iceberg.
It’s fair to say that if long term success is a writer’s aim, then quantity can seriously out-trump quality.
Self-published Amazon authors too have recently shown that having a catalog of only seven or more books can make the difference between giving up the day job or not.
Readers clearly respond to prolific authors, for whatever reasons.
As a consequence, the most assured way of completing and publishing many books is to write quickly and confidently, getting the first draft down with ease and worrying about many of the technical issues later.
This may seem to you like an unconventional way of working – and certainly not one recommended by critics and writing teachers.
However, writing fast and furiously and fixing things up later is closely aligned with how we learn to do anything worthwhile.
Remember when you were at school and were asked to record what you did in your holidays? Did you worry about writing technique / grammar / style then?
Were there rules about not being able to write until you’d learned how to spell?
Of course not.
The teacher, if he or she was any good, wanted you to write first, enjoy your creativity and hopefully learn from your mistakes later - after you’ve done the job.
And now, with all the advances in technology at our disposal, we have an ideal way of doing the same: learning and perfecting as we go along.
Editing on-screen means no longer having to waste paper.
You may use your rough first draft as a starting point, as long as it’s finished: making repairs and editing until, eventually, the whole manuscript shines.
In exactly the same way as a jeweler starts with a lump of rock and chisels away the flaws until revealing the diamond within.
In fact the diamond analogy is pertinent for another reason.
Because the reason why a diamond maker works so hard on creating the perfect shape and texture is to increase its value.
And monetary value is what concerns the career writer. Too many writers are keen to place their work in the public eye without first shaping their manuscript into its most commercial form.
Indeed, I’ve worked with many new writers who find this the most challenging aspect of being an author - understanding what will sell in relation to the manuscript they have written - and trying to plug the gap in between.
We require an objective viewpoint, and the mindset that will allow us to effectively edit our work into its most commercially viable form.
When you have completed your first draft, print it out, hold it in your hands and read it all the way through without editing or changing anything.
This is the only surefire way to know what you’re dealing with.
You’re trying to get a sense of the whole manuscript – how the story will feel to your reader – and whether, indeed, it works at all – if only in your own mind at this stage.
Now put down the manuscript and take some time out.
Perhaps go for a walk. Get away from your computer, find some place alone to think about your story. Take a small notebook.
1. Does the manuscript work?
2. Is it complete?
3. What more is there that I might need to make it work effectively?
4. Is the story the best it can possibly be?
5. Have I done justice to the material and the ideas behind it?
6. Is there more wordage than is necessary for the story?
7. Are there sections/chapters etc., that should be deleted?
Visualize the pacing of the manuscript in your mind.
See the images unfold in the linear way they appear in your story.
Does the action move fast enough?
Is there too much static exposition?
Does your story feel fluid with lots of motion?
Or does it feel stagnant in places?
Think too about your over-arching theme.
Is your original premise in the manuscript?
Think then about your characters.
Are they consistent, believable, true?
Is there plenty of dialogue and does it sound natural?
Imagine you’re the reader. What would you think about this book, and its author?
Open your notebook and write down a list of the issues arising from this analysis of your story.
Most probably this will be in note form. For instance:
Main character – needs more motivation
Cut down adverb use
Describe setting in Chapter 3
Create bigger ending
And so on – until you feel you have highlighted all of the relevant issues.
Then, go back to your desk, and sit down to write the second draft...
(c) Rob Parnell