Monday, 4 April 2011

The naughty step for novels


While I was waiting for the verdict on my first draft of book two, my editor dropped me a line to say the edits were soon on their way. So, I pressed her cheekily, what kind of pain should I be expecting? Were we talking routine hernia op, or was it more like open heart surgery? ‘Oh, routine hernia op,’ she said. ‘Nothing too major.’

I did a little jig at this because deep down, I was expecting something even more extreme than open heart surgery [my medical metaphors broke down at this point].

But then the edits arrived.

And they’re looking a darn sight more than routine op to me, let me tell you. I’d say they are at least on par with... I dunno... some sort of ruptured organ repair. Or an eyeball replacement. Something horrible and painful. And messy. I think she was just being kind and trying to keep me calm.

So a week on, I’ve read and digested all her points and made copious notes about what needs to be done. I’ve done a chart with lots of different colours on it [one storyline is highlighted in a very fetching aquamarine.] I’ve paced and thought and walked about and banged my head against a few walls. I’ve done a bit of growling at my family and stared into space a lot when people were trying to communicate with me.

I’m not by any means there yet. But maybe, just maybe, some small cog in my brain has shifted imperceptibly. I’m hoping this will lead to something that feels like progress soon.

I’d love to say what it was that helped this along but half the time, I don’t know how or why something has worked for me. But I do have one blinder of a tip.

I can’t claim credit for it because I read it in a ‘how to’ book on writing. No idea which one, sorry. But it’s brilliant and it works.

Here it is: treat your story like a naughty child. [Stay with me here]. When you’re stuck and your imagination is starting to feel like a popped balloon tell yourself that you are going to ignore it. Just ignore it.

Don’t muse on plot points. Don’t even allow your brain to veer in the direction of your book. It’s like putting your story on the naughty step. After a day or two of being ignored, it’s going to be jigging up and down with its hand in the air wanting you to look at it. And incredibly, this can lead to breakthroughs when you least expect them.

Try it. It might just save you from an eyeball explosion.

12 comments:

Emily Gale said...

Don't call Social Services on me but I have put two novels on the Naughty Step for 6 months each - without that long break I'd have been doing nothing more than gently chiding them instead of giving them both the right rollicking they deserved.

But on matters of working with editorial notes, that's what I always say to people when I write assessments for them - read the notes and then walk away, hate me and my poxy advice, hate us good, don't even think about the novel...and then come back a few days later and see if it looks quite so bad after all.

Thanks for a great post, Caroline!

Emily

Karen said...

I remember my agent saying something similar with feeback on novel one. "Just and few little nips and tucks, nothing to worry about." More like a full-body lift when it came! Like you I left if for a couple of days and found my mind was brimming with ideas.

I'm currently waiting for feedback on novel 2 and don't think I'll bother asking!

Anonymous said...

Can you give us a hint as to what sort of things then, Caroline? If they aren't major to the editor, but are major to you??

It is a bit like the editorial reports you've done in the past, before getting published??

Sam

Anonymous said...

or rather, reports you've had done...

Caroline Green said...

More succint than that, Sam. We have a working relationship now so it's a bit more intimate and direct.

The main issue is that several plot strands need to be brought out much more strongly. Which doesn;t sound too bad but am unsure where they are going!

Susie Nott-Bower said...

Love the Naughty Step analogy! I'm in a similar place - and having kittens at times worrying whether my rewriting is, as Emily puts it, 'gently chiding' when I should be 'rightly rollicking'. Oh dear. Calling SuperNanny...
And best of good luck with the operation!
Susiex

debutnovelist said...

Hi Caroline
Great advice. There aren't many advantages to being one of the great unpublished, but one is the luxury of leaving things on the naughty step for quite some time(usually months in my case!) I'll try to console myself with this. Best of luck. I'm sure you'll make it happen soon.
AliB

Luisa said...

Wonderful advice and brilliant post! Thanks!

Caroline Green said...

Thanks everyone for your comments!

Debs Riccio said...

Oh god, it's posts like these that make me think why am I doing this to myself when THIS is what happens next?!

Derek said...

I just want to put my four errant paper children out to work. Daddy needs new shoes, as the saying goes.

Anonymous said...

well, good luck with it all:)

sam