‘My next book’ – all three of them

Question: which of these statements is true?

Answer: they all are.

How can that be? Because what constitutes ‘my next book’ depends upon the context of the conversation.

  • Just for the Holidays – ‘is my next book to be published’. (18 May 2017 in ebook, paperback and audio, if you’re interested. And you can order it here.) This is also the next book to be promoted, which will involve me in writing blog posts, social media, radio interviews etc.
  • Give Me Till Christmas – ‘I’ve just sent my next book to my editor’. (9 October 2017 in ebook, 2 November paperback, audio tba. I was a little shocked to be told last week that you can order this, too.) This will be the next book to be edited. Structural edits first (ironing out all the plot lines that aren’t quite working etc.); next come line edits (minutiae and punctuation etc.); finally the proofreading.
  • The Summer of Finding Out – ‘I’m just about to begin researching and planning my next book.’ (Scheduled for Summer 2018) This will be the next book to be written, in between the promo of Just for the Holidays and the editing of Give Me Till Christmas.

In case you’re wondering, I am no special case. Many novelists work in this way. Personally, I love it. I choose to see it not as a pressure but as an affirmation that I’m a commercially published author. I don’t groan when I’m asked to do promo because whoever has asked me is helping me to sell my books. I don’t go into a huff when I receive my editorial notes, line edits or proofreading because we’re all working to produce the best book I can. (That sentence is grammatically incorrect on purpose – a team works to produce my book. How cool is that?)

Lest you think I’m polishing my halo, there are things I don’t react well to – spurious interruptions, people wasting my time unnecessarily, unreasonable people etc. etc. Here’s a recent example:

Phone rings. I answer. It’s the bank, asking to speak to another member of my household, one who is out of the house during the working day. This is the fifth time in two days that they’ve called with the same request. The first four times, I pointed out politely that the person is not here because he doesn’t work here but I do. Please, could the bank stop these calls? They’re interrupting me. On the fifth occasion, I’m half way through a difficult scene and my temper snaps along with the thread of what I’m trying to write. I find myself rising vertically from my chair. ‘Look! I keep telling you that he doesn’t work here! I DO! Look in your records for his daytime number and RING HIM THERE! It’s DAYTIME! I’ve told you and told you and told you this and you persist in interrupting me! I’m self-employed and I’m TRYING TO DO MY JOB! Why don’t you GO AWAY AND DO YOURS? And if you’re stupid enough to ring here again with the same request I’m going to take all my money out of your bank and put it somewhere else. Plus, I’m going to speak to your supervisor and tell him or her that you’re stupid! Right?’

And, you know what, she didn’t ring back and I was able to get on with my next book.

The editing cave

I’ve been in my editing cave for the past three weeks. It’s sort of like a bear being in their hibernation cave… except bears tend to lose weight during hibernation. There is a shared reputation for being cranky when disturbed though…

Writing The End on the last page of a manuscript is NOT the end. It’s far from it. Every writer’s process is different. There’s no right way or wrong way, there’s just the way that works for the writer. So I thought I’d give you a bit of a look at my editing process… which explains my absence from Twitter and Facebook and the kitchen. It doesn’t explain why my office is messy though – my office is always messy.

Editing needs both old and new technology ... and many cups of tea.

Editing needs both old and new technology … and many cups of tea.

I tend to do a lot of editing as I go, so my first draft of the book is usually in fairly good shape structurally. But by the time I get to the end, there’s a lot I know about my characters and themes that I didn’t know when I started.

The first edit is just me and the computer. I read the book through from page one to The End, making changes as I go. This is to make sure the story works. This is the point at which I might change a plot point or move a scene. I look carefully at my characters during edit 1. I may change their speech or behaviour at the beginning of the book to match the people I now know them to be. I may add imagery. I sometimes find that I am adding an action or some dialogue because I need this to background something that I put in later in the book.

Edit two – I print out the whole book. I sometimes think this is a bit of displacement activity because it takes me the best part of the day to print it out, punch holes in the pages and put it into a ring binder.

Then I give myself a day or two off (if I can). I read something else just to clear my head of my own book. They I read my book as a reader – not as a writer. However, I do something I never do to another book – I scribble all over it. Coloured pencils are important here and post it notes. The coloured pencils are to the words or sentences I don’t like – those I have to rework. The post it notes are for plot or character points that still don’t work.

Then it’s back to the computer to fix those.

The old padded bags on top opf my bookcase hold the much scribbled on editing printouts of my books. I'm not sure why I am keeping them... I just can't throw them away.

The packages on top opf my bookcase hold the much scribbled on editing printouts of my books. I’m not sure why I am keeping them… I just can’t throw them away.

After I’ve done that, the book goes to my beta reader. For those who don’t know, a beta reader is a sort of test driver for books. The beta reader is someone you trust who will give an honest opinion about what works and what doesn’t in the book. I have one. Some people have two or three. My beta reader isn’t afraid to tell me it’s not perfect – or to write Cliché Hell in the margins of the manuscript. That’s the job.

So then it’s back to the computer for another round of edits which will this time include some spelling and punctuation.

Then I combine all my documents (I write each chapter in a separate document) into one big document. Run a final spell check across the whole thing. I also use the Find tool to check on my crutch words – the words I know I overuse. I will then delete many occurrences of the words ‘just’ and ‘really’.

At this point – it’s ready to go. Hitting send is a traumatic moment… but has to be done and leads to the next round of edits… the publishers edits.

The publisher assigns and editor who send the dreaded revision letter which always starts… ‘This is a wonderful book and your readers will love it…. BUT …’

The first round of publishers edits usually involved changes to character, plot and even structure. The second round will look at the writing – words and phrases that could be improved. Then we have copy edits – which is all about spelling, punctuation and those dratted semi-colons. Does this sound familiar?

Then the publisher does what publishers do – and the next thing I see are page proofs. So one again I read the whole book very very carefully, looking for any sneaky little errors that have slipped through the net or, eeek, errors made when the final printing file is prepared.

And some time after that (sometimes a long time) – a box arrives on my doorstep with books in it.

Many years ago, when I first started this writing journey, I heard an established writer say they had never read one of their books after it was published. I was horrified. After all that work, how could she not read her own book? Now I know. I have never read one of my books after it has been published.

My very first book - maybe one day I will read it again.

My very first book – maybe one day I willread it again.

Why?

By the time it’s published, I have read it so many times, that I just don’t want to read it again. I know how it ends.

I recently thought about going back and reading my very first book. But I didn’t do it. Like everything else, I think we become better writers as we go along, and I am afraid that all I will see in that first book are the flaws, and I’ll want to edit it just one more time.

And right now, I need to get out of my editing cave and back into the sunshine, because any day now, I’m going to decide it’s time to start the next book. If the meantime – for a more emotional view of my editing cave, pop on over to my website and blog – but be prepared to go awww! There is much cuteness there.

Whose story is this anyway?

I think I put so many POV character in my first novel because I didn't know it was a bad idea.

I think I put so many POV character in my first novel because I didn’t know it was a bad idea.

The people in my books are pretty pushy. Each one likes to make sure they get their story told the way they want it. That’s why I write books with multiple points of view.

If you’re not familiar with the term, point of view (POV) refers to the person through whose eyes the reader is looking into the story. The reader is in that person’s head, seeing what they see; feeling what they feel; and doing what they do.

One review of my first novel, The Farmer Needs A Wife said something like.. “there are about 6 POV characters, but it’s well handled and I didn’t find it confusing”. That was nice to know – but there were actually eight POV characters in that book.

Umm –no. There were nine. I forgot about the opening scene.

Nine POV characters! In my first book. What was I thinking?

A few fellow writers have asked how I managed them all. The answer is via a brilliant little graph. Please note – I take no credit at all for this method. It was passed on to me by the fabulous Annie Burgh – who writes complex, fascinating novels with lots of characters and plots and sub-plots. She is also a fabulous teacher. This is what she taught me to do…

Coloured pencils are vital!

Coloured pencils are vital!

When I start a new book, I take a page of graph paper and coloured pencils. The pencils are very important. I need a different colour for each character, whether they have a POV or not. I will sometimes put the colours in groups – for example a husband and wife might be dark and light green. Each has their own colour, but they are both green because they are connected.

As I finish each chapter, I draw a bar on the graph, just like back at school. The colour/s of the bar represent the POV character or characters and the height of the bar represents the number of words in each POV and each chapter… because sometimes there will be more than one POV per chapter.

The secondary characters (those who don’t get a POV) are little bits of colour above each chapter they appear in.

Thus I can make sure each of my main characters gets enough room in the book to tell their story well. I can also keep track of the secondary characters, so I don’t lose them.

If I suddenly realise that there has been too much of one colour, or not enough of another, I know I am letting one character get far too pushy – and I can slap them down a bit and put them back in their place.

If the colour representing my heroine (in the drawing below it is pink for Linda) is the most common colour, that’s a good sign.

If one of the chapters shows three or four changes of POV – that’s not so good. I do like to keep each POV section to somewhere around 1,000 words. I certainly would worry if I had a POV section less that 500 words. But that doesn’t happen often. As I said my characters are very pushy.

Here's the opening few chapters of a new Coorah Creek novel - characters old and new.

Here’s the opening few chapters of a new Coorah Creek novel – characters old and new.

I know I could do this more efficiently in a spreadsheet on my computer, but I think it’s important to reward yourself as you write. Those few minutes playing with coloured pencils are my reward for finishing a chapter.

I write the chapter number under the bar every 5 chapters , so when I am editing and referring back to something I’ve written, I know where to go. I will also sometimes write a word or two to remind myself what is in the chapter, but just for the key turning points in the novel.

Since that first novel, I have tried to get the number of POV characters down. My second book only had five. My third only three. But as two of them had two POV sections – one as a teenager and one as an adult – that sort of puts it back to five.

I really wasn’t terribly successful at cutting back the POV characters. I am currently working on a book that has… let me count them… 10? Maybe 11 by the time I have finished.

But this is a complex story! Honestly.

The important thing about handling multiple POVs in a book is that the reader must always know whose eyes they are looking through and whose thoughts they are hearing. There must be very clear handovers between POV characters. And of course, a character cannot know anything about something that happened when they were not present (unless you have someone like Trish Warren in your book – she is my Coorah creek gossip and makes sure all my characters know what they need to know.)

I truly admire writers who have only one POV character. Even more do I admire writers who first from the first person POV – that is to say, they write as ‘I’ … ‘Last night I dreamed I went to Manderley again’.

I can’t do it, but perhaps that’s because for me, it’s the complexity of human nature, and the diversity of the people I meet that makes me want to write.

But I promise I won’t put more than 10 POV characters in a book. Ever…. Well, at least not until next time.

Words clouds can be great tools for editing

MWM

This year is proving to be a really busy one for me. In January, we started this new blog, Take Five Authors, which has been huge fun. It’s great to be working with some really good authors on a shared venture. I also started writing for the Love a Happy Ending lifestyle magazine late in 2015, and that’s proving to be exciting and stimulating too. (You can read my recent article on staying in castles in Scotland here.)

6In February, my novel Between Friends was published. It’s about friendship and revenge, and it’s set in Edinburgh. I love the three main characters, Carrie, Marta and Jane, and all my readers are telling me that the villain, Tom, makes them squirm. I think that’s a good thing! I loved writing about Tom, he’s a true sociopath, he doesn’t care about other people at all.

MWM webAs if all that hasn’t been enough, I have another book coming out in July. Mistakes We Make is the fifth novel in my Heartlands series, set in East Lothian, and it’s the first that takes up the story of one of the supporting characters in another novel (People We Love).

I’m off to Venice in a week (yippee!), but I am expecting to arrive back to the edits of Mistakes We Make – which is what has prompted me to produce this lovely Wordle (word cloud) made from the most frequently recurring words in the entire manuscript. I’m relieved to see that Molly has most prominence (my heroine), followed very closely by Adam (her ex husband), with Caitlyn the next biggest name. Caitlyn has a big role in the story.

The reason for creating a word cloud? Well, it’s partly just fun – you can play with the fonts and colours and layout – but it’s more than that. A word cloud can show you if you are overusing certain words. I used to use ‘little’ far too much, but this seems to have been conquered. At a recent workshop I was given a list of words you should delete. These included: really, very, that, just, then, totally, absolutely, literally, certainly, actually, basically, rather, quite, replied, asked, wonder, think, feel, realise, inhale, sigh, shrug, nod.

Looking at my word cloud, I see the word ‘think’. It’s on the large side, which means I’ve over used it, so that’s something I’ll be looking out for as I go through the edits. (Wonder if my editor will spot it?) I can see ‘felt’, though it’s quite small, and ‘quite’ (one of my weaknesses). Thankfully, ‘quite’ is minuscule, so perhaps I’ll get away with that one!

I like editing, so I’m looking forward to this. And I’ll certainly have my word cloud in front of me as I go through the text – the more bad guys I can delete, the more alive my writing will be!