And so we... finish! After six long years of plotting, scribbling, typing furiously, thinking, getting stuck and editing (A LOT of editing!) the first draft of my children's novel is finished. And although I know it's not really finished, it still feels exciting and strange. It's a relief to finally have a complete draft but also a little unreal. Suddenly this story I have absolutely loved writing is out of my head and on the page. I am so chuffed and also a little bereft!
I honestly don't remember when I first thought of the idea for the book. When my friends ask me how I came up with it, I can't answer because it seems like the story has just kind of been there for a very long time. Maybe for a decade. What I do know is that certain scenes jumped out and demanded to be written first. The opening few paragraphs but also for some reason, the paragraphs that became chapter eight. I always knew the basics of the beginning, middle and end but actually writing it has been brilliant and also a huge learning curve.
I thought I'd write some notes about what I have learnt...
1. It helps to make it a habit
I work in event management by day so my work can be erratic and all-consuming. Over the course of the first three years I only managed to write about 8,000 words. But then I was lucky enough to be able to give myself a brief three month sabbatical in which I wrote nearly every day and jumped up to almost 55,000 words. It took about two weeks of sitting down to write at 9am every morning for it to become a habit. Then I found I really missed it when I wasn't able to write. It reset my habits and then even when I was working hard at my day job, somehow I would find time to write. It was addictive. Even I wanted to know what happened next!
2. It also helps to step away
Having said point 1, when I did have to spend time away from what I had written, it was good to come back to it with a fresh mind. When I had a big gap, I would read through the whole thing like I was reading it for the first time. Sections I had 'over-written' or that were really clunky would jump out and bits that flowed felt more and more right.
3. Making notes rather than making immediate changes
Quite often as I was writing I would think of something small that needed to be changed earlier in the text, for continuity or to make a later plot point make sense. Rather than make the change there and then, I would jot notes at the bottom of the document to change later. I found this helped as it meant I wasn't interrupting my own flow and also knew I wouldn't forget to make updates.
4. Plotting out
After I had written my first 8,000 or so words I realised that I really needed help to understand the intricacies of my own story. I have co-written three books before but they were non-fiction wedding, hen and stag guidebooks that could be plotted very logically. I am a very visual person, I'll often ask someone to sketch something out to help me to understand it. I needed to see my plot. So I wrote out my plot points on post-it notes and plastered them all over the wall above my desk. I lived with them for about six months while writing. Staring at them, moving them around. They sparked my imagination and gave me more ideas. It made me wonder why I hadn't done this right at the start!
5. Sometimes the characters write the story themselves
Even though I had plotted the story out in detail as I wrote my characters started to do what they wanted. One day as I typed, two of my characters started having a huge fight, it wasn't what I'd sat down to write but they had taken charge and seemed to know more than I did about what was going to happen. I couldn't write fast enough. It was like trying to live subtitle a news story. Who was I to argue? I learnt to follow the story and to relax and let the characters say what they wanted. They usually had a good point to make!
6. Edit away from the screen
Printing the manuscript out and reading through it on paper feels like one of the best ways to edit to me. It allows me to read more easily than on the screen as I can flick backwards and forwards and scribble notes in the margins.
Being away from the screen is also a great excuse to sit in lovely cafes and to spend time around people instead of squirrelled away at my desk. Something about the hubbub of a cafe somehow helps me to concentrate. And then I can return to the laptop to actually make the edits to the document feeling refreshed.
7. Keep your eyes on the prize!
Throughout the journey so far, one thought has remained with me. I just can't imagine not writing the story. I picture myself at 95 in my rocking chair (probably drinking a gin and tonic) and think about how I would feel if I always had this story in me and had never told it. Not because I think the world needs to hear it as such, it's more that I needed to write it down. It's like it was shouting in my head until it got listened to! The characters are like my friends and I wanted to sit down and listen to what they had to say.
When I have wavered and wondered whether I will ever get to the end, I take a stroll to a bookshop and look at where the book would sit. If (I can hear my inner monologue shouting 'WHEN!') it gets published it would nestle next to the queen of children's literature on the shelf. My last name is Rowson, so there I would be next to JK Rowling. And now next to Katherine Rundell too. Not a bad place to sit!
8. Release it into the wild
And so as I type, the first three chapters have been sent off to the first agents on my list. And there it sits, in inboxes, on desks, in the hands of experts who can help this little journey continue. I really hope they love reading it as much as I have loved writing it.
*bites fingernails and waits for the next chapter...*