The road to publication: On growing ideas, hitting obstacles, and reaching the final stretch - guest post by Tamara Drazic
Every time I finish a writing project, whether it’s a poem, short story, or novel, I’m hit with the overwhelming fear that I’ll never have a good idea again. I guess the fear is, in a way, justified. Ideas are mysterious. They come and go uncontrollably, sometimes leaving us in the dark for months at a time until the next one comes along and captures us.
Some ideas come quickly with no warning. Others take hold slowly over years, sprouting from nothing, then gaining shiny new leaves at each big rain. I’ve learned that there’s nothing wrong with letting an idea grow slowly, tending to it in your mind until you’re bursting to let the story come out.
The idea for my latest novel didn’t descend upon me out of nowhere. I’ve been writing versions of it since I was a kid, publishing in my school newsletter. It was the story of my late grandfather’s escape from war over the mountains back in 1943. I was always entranced by the few details I had, but they were too sparse to form anything that made sense.
Fast forward to last year, 2019. I was studying to become a librarian and had recently discovered digitised archives. With a little bit of digging, I found a treasure trove of documents and letters from my grandfather. For the first time in my life, I was able to piece together his story, and in doing that, hear his voice.
For me, getting to know my character is the most important step in writing a novel. The main character’s personality affects every decision they make, which in turn, drives the plot. It affects the people they meet, the problems they face, and the chances they take. I can never dedicate myself to a story until I can hear my main character’s voice clearly in my mind. And that’s another important step – dedicating myself to my story. Making a promise to my characters to stick with them until the end, no matter how hard things get.
Planning has never been a part of my writing process. I always start with good intentions. I sit down with a cup of tea and try to plan my whole story out – but every time I do this, no matter how loose the plan is, I know in the back of my mind that I will never stick to it.
So, the next stage of my creative process is feverishly writing the messiest draft I can possibly write, full of plot holes, unnecessary characters, incomplete subplots, timeline issues, unrealistic coincidences, and way, way, way too many similes.
I will write this messy first draft of my novel, or at least a large part of it, within a couple of months. During this time, I do little to nothing other than write. I have to get it all out in one go before the excitement and the newness of the idea wear off.
It’s liberating to write without fear of it coming out badly, because I already know that what I end up with will be anything but perfect. Even so, it’s a whole lot better than a blank page.
The next part of my process is by far the hardest for me: the first round of editing. At this point, I go through my manuscript and make a long list of absolutely everything wrong with it. This sounds brutal, and it is, but it’s a good way of reminding yourself that you have control over the quality of your own work. You know what’s wrong with it, and you know what you have to do to get it to where you want it to be.
The first round of editing always takes me a lot longer to finish than the first draft. This is where I’m at with my novel right now, so close to the end. I can see the ending teasing me as I agonise over each plot hole, fixing all the mistakes that, during the drafting process, I pushed aside and saved up for future me. I don’t know if future me would recommend this creative process, but it’s what I’ve always done, and I don’t see it changing. In my Creative Write-it workshops, I never try to change the way the kids work. I think it’s such an innate and personal thing unique to each writer, no matter how young or old.
The trouble with editing is that it’s never really finished, but there comes a time when you’re just changing things around and no longer improving them. Eventually, after many rounds of rewrites, changes, and cuts, I know I will have to choose a time to let go.
I’m not at the publication stage just yet with my novel, but I know that when I get there, it’s not going to be easy. It’s scary to let other people read your work, and I’m so inspired by the kids at Creative Write-it when they share their stories with such joy and confidence. I have a lot to learn from them.
While it is my goal to get this novel published one day, it’s also my goal to enjoy each step of the way, because the road to publication is a long one.
So, whether you are a writer who gets ideas quickly, or grows them slowly; who starts writing with no direction, or plans everything to a tee; who edits carefully from the beginning, or lets the words come out in a mess; I hope you love your process, because it is yours alone.
Tamara is an award-winning author, dedicated librarian and passionate Workshop Leader. You can see more of her work on her website.
Where young writers (and some older ones) write.