I’ve learned a lot since I began writing seriously. I’d always tinkered with little creative pieces here and there, ever since I could hold a pen. But the main thing that I’ve learned in these last few years is that I didn’t know as much as I thought I did. I probably still don’t. But at least I know that now.
Here are ten things that I would tell myself if I could go back in time to when I started writing Xenoform, my first full novel. I’d have saved myself much trouble if I had. Or will. Time travel isn’t (willn’t?) good for tenses.
1. Your spelling and grammar are not as perfect as you think. I know that you (I) fancy yourself (myself . . . but we’ll stop this now) as something of a pedant, but you simply aren’t as perfect as you think. Don’t assume the spell check is wrong and you are right just because you’re using OpenOffice and it’s ‘only written by someone in their bedroom’. That may be true, but they probably had access to a dictionary. Make use of the same if you’re in any doubt.
2. Don’t do that stupid thing where you split the document into separate files for different chapters. I know that you intend to stick them all together later, but seriously, what’s up with that? There might even have been a valid reason at the start, but please just sort it out sooner rather than later. You’ll find later on that OpenOffice Writer has sneakily switched styles on you here and there (it has some issue with retaining style settings) and you’ll have to rinse the whole damn document through notepad and just start again. Fix it now.
3. Don’t use tab. It wants you to fail. Just set up your paragraphs properly. And once again, do this sooner rather than later. I know who’s going to have to sort it all out at the end. Me, that’s who. You too. Actually, just rip that tab key off and throw it out the window. And if you can manage to hit that seagull that’s been menacing the bins with it, then so much the better.
4. Fix plot holes as soon as you see them. Or you’ll reach a point later in the tale where you just fall into them. If a problem with the plot proves hard to remedy, it may require some serious re-writing. The less that you have written, the less you’ll have to fix. Plug those holes up when you see them. ‘Later’ is not a schedule, or a plan, it’s just a cop-out.
5. Editing and re-writing are half the job at least. When the first draft’s done, your work is just beginning. Rejoice by all means, but also be prepared. And don’t put the camping stove to the back of the under-stairs cupboard, because it proves so hard to find that you finally have to buy another one. And then, when you’re looking for the backpacks, you find the first one. But not until you’ve tested out the new one so you can’t return it. And if you think that owning two camping stoves sounds like a pretty idyllic life, it isn’t as great as you’re imagining.
6. Plan everything first. I know that some authors are pretty good at making it up on the fly, but for you personally, if you’re going to write something with a complex structure, you need to plan it all in detail first. Trust me, you won’t want to stop writing and finish the plot halfway.
7. Accept that there will be ups and downs in sales. Don’t read too much into either. Ups do not mean more ups; neither do downs mean that there’ll be more downs. The market is fickle, and the rules keep changing. Prepare for a long campaign.
8. Some people just won’t like what you write, however good it is. Conversely, some people will like it enough to send fan-email, however many holes you find in your own work. Not many, but a few. And if that isn’t worth continuing for, I don’t know what is. Just don’t worry too much about what people want. There is a market for everything, and if your work is good enough your market will find you. If you build it, they will come. Like in that film, Total Recall. Not the remake.
9. Less is sometimes more. Quite often so, in fact. Also paint with words you leave unsaid. And don’t go on too much, rattling on and on, droning on unnecessarily just to hear the sound of your own voice, on and on and on. Know when to cut back on description. Know when to stop writing. And in the interests of listening to my own wisdom, there is no
10. . . . because it wasn’t needed.