This is the fourth in a series of blogs about the way I write books. It’s been a while since I wrote the last one…that’s because I’ve been writing a second draft!
So after I send off my first draft to my publisher, he reads it, my editor reads it. And they write their comments on the manuscript (Andrew does it by hand on a printed copy, Karen does it electronically). That’s called a marked-up copy. They tell me what’s working, and what’s not. They say things like “How is your character feeling about what just happened?” or “I need more info about the place where this scene is taking place”. Usually every page has comments on it. Sometimes events aren’t clear enough. Sometimes I’ve spelled it out in too much detail and left nothing up to the reader’s imagination. In the book I’m writing, no one like the style of short sentences that I’d used.
So then I have to start work on the second draft, considering all these comments and changing things to correct the problems. Now, this can be a rewarding process. You can feel it improving. However, you haven’t got all the time in the world. People are often surprised when I say I have deadlines. They imagine that professional authors just take as long as they like to write a book. That isn’t the case. A publisher has to publish a number of books each year—20, 50, 200. They have to have a publication schedule to spread them out over the year, otherwise the manuscripts might all come in together and their staff would be working day and night at one stage and then sitting twiddling their thumbs at another. The first draft can be a bit more flexible timewise, but sooner or later the book is on the production schedule for the following year and there are deadlines for every stage.
I had a pretty tight deadline for the second draft (I’d had a month off to go overseas)—about 10 weeks. As this is my first Young Adult book, it is very important, and most of the other staff at black dog read the first draft and gave me written comments. Just to be on the safe side, I got my daughter Lili to read it too. I ended up with a lot of comments, and at times it was overwhelming. At times I thought “there’s too much that people aren’t happy with.” But I kept on working through it chapter by chapter, resolving the issues, making sure the reader could understand the character’s motivation.
The last chapters are always the most underdone, so I did a lot of rewriting there. I have five characters and I wanted to bring all their stories together in a satisfying way at the end. Without it being too neat and tied with a bow.
Then once again I read it though and mark changes in red. Things that I’m still having trouble resolving, I mark with a highlighter and put aside. I take in all the changes, page by page. I think about the subplots, and just look at the beats of those stories in isolation, as separate little stories, to see if there is enough, or too much. There might be more detail I have to find out, so I have to do more research.
Then I print it out again. This time I read it out aloud. This is not only about the story, it’s also about the way the words, the sentences, the paragraphs flow. There’s only so much I can read aloud at one time without zoning out, so with this book I did about five or six chapters a day. Again marking up changes. Reading in the morning, and taking in the changes in the afternoon.
I got to the day it had to be handed in (last Friday) and I was at the stage where I couldn’t bear to look at it for a moment longer. So I sent it off. Big relief.