I’m currently going through the Endever Process with what now feels like my first actual novel (the others, it turns out, were all just pretend — or at best they were exercises to get me warmed up for the real thing). In practical terms, this means the manuscript is opened up to the bullpen of house authors, and the first five who volunteer get to read it through and make comments — we do this on Google Drive, because it’s awesome and because we get to comment on each others’ comments, which can quite frankly be hilarious at times.
This has proven to be an invaluable experience, particularly for me as a first-time publisher author, as it’s the first time the novel has been opened up to a diverse group of people with diverse opinions who — and here’s the important bit — know what they’re talking about.
The upshot of this is that I’ve received an incredible amount of detailed and insightful feedback, which is helping me to see where my flaws lie and how to improve.
As a result, I’ve started to come up with my own set of writing resolutions — you might find these helpful, and you might not, but here they are anyway:
1. Never start a sentence with, “S/he did not know why, but …” All this means is, “I don’t know why this character is doing what they’re about to do, but I need to move the plot along.” It makes you look clueless.
2. Never include something just because you think it sounds cool. Unless it advances the plot and tells the reader something about the characters, no-one else will.
3. Everything must justify its own existence. If you can’t say why something is in the novel, take it out.
4. If you’re going to say, “I’ll fix that later,” then go back later and fix it. Highlight it in red if you have to. Don’t just hope people will ignore it. Some might, but some won’t.
5. Never do something purely because another writer did and, hey, they got published, didn’t they? They probably knew what they were doing. You don’t. Or they were lucky. You aren’t.
6. Don’t assume that just because you wrote it, people will want to read it. Ask yourself why people would want to read what you have written.
7. Edit dialogue twice as much as you edit everything else. When your characters open their mouths, they are ten times more likely than you are to say something stupid. You can’t edit your own responses in conversation, but you can edit theirs. Take advantage of that fact.
8. Someone, somewhere, will see where you’ve papered over the cracks. So go back and fix the cracks instead.
9. The last draft is where you make everything sound pretty. Don’t fret too much about your word choices until then.
10. If your prose is clunky and your plot is golden, readers will forgive you; if your prose is golden and your plot is clunky, they will hang you from the nearest tree. Or at least, put the book down and not pick it up again.
11. Faster, and more intense. Aim for fast, and the parts that need to be slower will present themselves.
12. Know thy characters. If you don’t know what they’re doing and why, neither will the reader.
13. Be wary of inspiration. Nine out of ten times an inspired digression will lead to a dead end. Don’t let that stop you, but be prepared to delete the whole thing later.
14. Sub-plot responsibly. Don’t waste your readers’ time with something you think is important and no-one else will.
Well, that’s all for now. I’ll let you know if anything else arises. For now … (rolls up sleeves, licks pen, bends over the writing desk and cries a little)