My lack of blogging in the last few months and the reason for this new look blog, are all tied up in the events of a couple of days back in June, when I went to the Winchester Writers’ Festival (you can refresh yourself on my preparation for it here, if you want). It was an inspiring, challenging and – dare I say it – life-changing conference.
Friday could have just been an average learning experience. I attended a full-day workshop on “Hook Your Reader and Reel Them In”, which simultaneously thrilled me with a greater awareness of how to improve my writing and disheartened me as I realised how many areas might need fixing.
The crunch moment came through two separate events late morning. I popped out of the workshop to go to a one-to-one appointment with an agent (these appointments are one of the biggest benefits of the Festival). She liked my writing (she’d seen the first chapter of my YA novel), but felt that the stakes in it were too high. She said that was very unusual, as she normally has to tell writers that the stakes aren’t high enough in their stories!
I went back to my workshop with a growing sense that the beginning of my book needed rewriting – something I’d been starting to wonder about myself as it was quite dystopian whereas the rest of the book is more sci-fi/fantasy – and found the workshop leader talking about how every book should have three unique selling points (USPs). Those USPs should be obvious or at least hinted at in the first 10 pages of your book. Mine weren’t. In fact, they probably weren’t even evident until chapter four or five. While those early chapters were exciting, and important part of what happened later, a certainty that I should restructure the beginning of the book hit me full-on.
As I sat in the shadow of Winchester Cathedral later that day, I wrestled with alternatives ways to enter into the story (the bulk of which was still fine), especially in terms of introducing and developing certain characters. By the time I was picked up by my wonderful host, I’d figured out how to do it and was even quite exhilarated by the benefits the restructure would bring to the story as a whole. But, the thought of having to start from scratch, coupled with a clearer understanding of the publishing industry (more on that another time), left me completely overwhelmed as well. That night I decided that earning any money at all from writing was years off, if ever, and I needed to go back to work part-time in the autumn, an option I’d already been considering. I would still write – I couldn’t not write – but it would be relegated to a hobby.
On Saturday I rocked up at the Festival again to discover I’d been short-listed in the Feature Article competition I’d entered. Although I joked that there must have only been six entries, it nevertheless felt like an exciting endorsement. Perhaps I do have some writing ability. Perhaps.
During the morning I went along to a talk by Imogen Cooper, Senior Editor at Chicken House and Director of the Golden Egg Academy (GEA). I very quickly felt in awe of who she is and what she does – and became completely terrified about my upcoming one-to-one appointment with her later that day! The GEA is brilliant in how it nurtures writers and I decided that I really wanted to apply for it. However, I was going to have to impress Imogen in our meeting first and she was undoubtedly going to grill me on Vision, Heart, Themes, Plot Drivers, etc. (elements she talked about in her session). Argh, what was I going to say? I felt like I was about to sit a test I hadn’t even begun to revise for.
So, imagine my mahoosive surprise to sit down and have her immediately say that she really liked my writing and wanted to read the whole manuscript. After I’d picked my jaw up off the table, I resisted the urge to ask if she was sure she meant me and wasn’t looking at someone else’s submission. “Amazing!” part of me thought. “Oh no!” the other part of me thought. “I’m about to do a restructure and as such I don’t actually have a manuscript anymore!”
At that moment I knew I had no choice but to write my story and write it as quickly as possible. Nothing else could be allowed to get in its way. Talk about a ginormous kick up the bum! I know that nothing may come of sending it to Imogen – she may not like it, she might have asked to see everyone’s manuscripts, she may have forgotten all about me or be overrun with other authors and their wonderful writing by the time the manuscript is ready for her to see – but her encouragement and request gave me the most incredible motivation to really get on and write, and for that I am hugely deeply grateful.
Since that weekend, my head has been down and my fingers have been flying. In just over two months I’ve written a restructured draft of about 100,000 words. (As a comparison, the Hunger Games is approximately 100,000 words). Amazingly only 30,000 max of those words came over from my original draft – the speed and ease of the writing due in part to the amount of thinking, planning and plotting that I’d done previously. It IS a huge achievement, but it’s still only the first draft (check out this old post for how readable that makes it!). Now the looooong editing process begins.
Consequently, my obsessive writing has left no time for blogging recently. But far from falling off the radar permanently, another big thing happened at the Winchester Writers’ Festival that’s brought about the birth of this new blog, in its new home and with a new format.
But more on that next week…