On Writing || Little Words

Hello… it’s been a while…

But let’s skip over the excuses and the reasons I may have for neglecting my blog for so long, shall we?

I’m pretty sure I’m not speaking for just myself when I say that, at some point, every single writer has that feeling where they open their MS document and read through their work, whether it’s finished or barely-even-started, and think “God, this is crap.”

This post isn’t going to be a “Rar! Rar! You can do it!” post. Because, I don’t really believe in them. Sure, if it works for you, then that’s ace. But these “keep going” talks don’t work for me. Belief that you’re never going to be a writer, you’re never going to finish a book, you’re never going to get an agent, you’re never going to get a publishing deal- it’s a personal thing.

You can have your friends tell you that you’re brilliant, that you’re going to be published and you’ll make millions and millions of pounds.

But… even though you want to believe them, the chances are you won’t.
Though the millions would do quite nicely right now.

Right at this moment, I’ve got my MS document opened and I’m having doubts. Not because of the story. I love that. And not because of the characters- they’ve been my best friends for a good couple of months and I’ll fight to the death for them. It’s not because of the tone of the book, it’s not because of the setting (please, it’s set in Manchester… you can’t get better than that, can you?).

It’s because of the beginning.

I’m at that stage where I’m preparing my MS to be sent off to agents and it’s become frighteningly apparent that it’s the beginning, those few little words that are so vital when it comes to submitting your completed novel to… well… the Publishing Big Wigs (PBW) who are standing between you and your chance of becoming published.

Whether they ask for one page, five pages, first chapter or first four thousand years… the beginning of your book is the first, and possibly only, chance you’re going to get to show that you can string a few sentences together and actually write a book worth investing in.

And if that doesn’t terrify you, then I don’t know what would.

As a reader, I am pretty ruthless when it comes to the beginning of a book. Especially at the moment where actually finishing a book is an achievement. If I don’t connect with a book in the first chapter or so, then it’s out.

However, as a writer, I can’t just think of the first chapter as the first chapter. To me, it’s the start of the bigger picture. Not everything I want to portray in this book can be established in the first few sentences and the idea that someone can decide whether they want to read your story from those initial paragraphs horrifies me.

My doubts go like this: Do I need a snappier opening line? What is a snappy opening line? Do I need to add more angst? Or do I get rid of the angst? Are my characters different? Wait… are they too different? Is the story too edgy? Or is it trying too hard to standout? What if I’m alluding to things too much and people are getting confused? What if I’m not alluding to anything and people are getting bored and can’t see where the story’s going?

And on and on and on and on until my cursor is hovering over the “DELETE EVERYTHING EVER” button on Word.

OK, yes, there’s no DELETE EVERYTHING EVER button… but you get the gist.

I like character and voice. To me, if you’ve got a brilliant character and a fantastic voice, you’ve got a bestseller. Maybe it’s because I love contemporary books where, sometimes, there isn’t much of a story and the book moves forward because of the characters. But if you look at my favourite contemporary authors- the Marchettas, the Summers, etc- these books are filled with gorgeous, twisted and interesting characters.

But that’s just me.

What about YOU? What makes it impossible for you to stop reading a book? Is it the character? The voice? Or are you more of a setting kind of person? Does the style its written make you want more?

Whether I like it or not, if I want to submit my writing to agents and PBWs, I’m going to have to get over myself. I’m going to have to get used to tearing my hair out and eating chocolate before 11am in order to stop the weeping over the beginning.

So, I’ll go back to my first chapter, those few little words, and I’ll dissect it. I’ll get angry. I’ll probably get upset. I’ll definitely get frustrated. And I’ll send hundreds of emails to my friends, beta readers and I’ll fire off thousands of Tweets.

But then eventually, hopefully, I’ll fall back in love with it. I’ll tweak a few words here and I’ll rejig a phrase or two there and then I’ll realise that it is the beginning of the story I want to tell and whether someone else wants to read more or not… well that’s out of my hands.

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4 thoughts on “On Writing || Little Words

  1. You are further along than you think. I don’t have a finished manuscript to even begin sending out. I’d love to be where you are. I guess it is all perspective. Good Luck!

    Cynthia@The Things You Can Read

  2. This is a wonderful post, Jo. I’m with you – character and voice seal the deal for me. I just recently gorged on Summers’ books and I still have those characters floating about in my mind. I’m disappointed when I pick up a new book and the voice is totally different. God, I’d love to write a book with a voice that strong.

    Good luck! I have total confidence that you’ll find your true beginning.

  3. I know exactly what you mean! Those first few lines are crucial, and its so hard to be objective about your own work. Good luck with it :-) However it turns out, I guess you just have to view it as a learning curve?

  4. Even though I have so much confidence that you’re going to make it as a writer, I won’t go there. I will say that you’re right: the beginnings mean SO much to everyone involved in the process. I often read the first few paragraphs of books and then just put them back on the shelf. I tried to think about what it is that keeps me going or gets me interested and I often try harder (or for a longer amount of time) if anyone I trust has told me that the book is good. Otherwise, unless something about the story, the characters, or the writing is super interesting, I just give up. I will say though, that I’ve been interested in everything you’ve given me before:) Maybe you’ll be inspired by my area when you come? I would love for a book to be set on the Olympic Peninsula.

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