Learning lessons and new ideas – why writing is not like journalism

So my next book, the Acrobats of Agra, the tale of three children and a tiger caught up in the Indian Rebellion of 1857, is once again back with my publishers, Everything With Words. And it’s not been easy getting it there.

I’ve had a dose of second-book syndrome – and it’s taken rewrites and plenty of editing and patient guidance from the amazing Mikka at Everything With Words to get it into shape. As a journalist I thought I would find the editing process straightforward, after all I’m used to both editing and being edited and to a tight deadline.

My problem is I don’t like re-reading what I’ve written, never have. In journalism I never read what actually goes in the paper – I pour over it on my laptop, ignoring angry calls from the sports desk as I sweat over semi-colons with the deadline looming. But once it’s out of my hands I don’t want to see it again, in part to stop me fuming preciously over any changes made but largely because I know I’ll not like what I’ve written – I always think I could/should have done it better, a better intro, better pay-off, more detail, fewer quotes etc etc.

Which is what happened with the Acrobats. You have to pour over a manuscript again and again and again and again. In journalism (confession) I have sometimes thought ‘oh sod it, that’s fine’ and sent the piece – you’ll be doing another one tomorrow. You don’t say ‘sod it’ in writing a book.

At one stage I had to walk away for a couple of weeks, my brain mushed, but hopefully we’re nearly there now. With my writing I’ve always believed in getting on with it and writing and editing every day, sticking to a routine.

But the break did a power of good and I’m once again happily immersed in the story of Bea, Pingali and Jacques and Tonton his tiger as I hope one day you will be. The cover is on the way; I’ve loved what I’ve seen of it so far and there will be some beautiful illustrations throughout the book as well.

Publication is scheduled for September, but may well be delayed because of you-know-what. I’ve really felt for all the authors, in particular debut ones, who have had books, the work of months and months, years and years, delayed or launched amid the lockdown. Of course there is a bigger picture – there always is – but that doesn’t stop the smaller blows hurting, the delayed publications, cancelled festivals and school visits, the foundations of a writing career. Taking it just on a professional level this will hit many authors hard, especially those in the early days of their career.

But there’s nothing I can do about what I’ve lost; plenty of small businesses are suffering more (let alone NHS workers, the sick, the elderly, the isolated etc) so instead I’m thankful for what I do have and am back in that writing routine.

What will hopefully be book 3 is on the way to the publishers. Or will be once I’ve plucked up the courage to send it. Hide & Seek is a Resistance story set in Paris in the Second World War. I love it – of everything I’ve written this is my favourite. It’s a book I’ve wanted to write for ages. I revelled in researching it, writing it and even reading it again and again and making my first edits of it.

Here’s the but – of course that does not mean it will get published. And there’s the reason for my reluctance to send it; the fear of rejection, which I’m learning never leaves you (just as so many more experienced writers say). I love this book so much I can’t bear for it not to work.

So while I search around for the guts to send it off, I’m starting on my next project and finally coming to the point of this blog (if this was journalism, any harassed sub-editor would have cut everything down to this point, muttering under their breath as they did so about the clowns the paper allowed to write for it).

I have a story in mind, another set in World War Two, this one in the London Blitz and on Scotland’s west coast. Before hammering the plot properly into place I wrote the opening because it was there in my mind, I could picture it and hear it so wanted to get it down on paper. Another journalistic skill I conspicuously lack is the ability to ‘top and tail’ a story. Often covering a live event with pressing deadlines, you have to write the body of the story then send the start over at the end. The best journalists do it without the reader being able to see the joins.

Some writers also prefer to sketch an opening, write the main chunk of the book then come back and fashion a suitable start. I can’t do that, I need to start at the beginning. So now I have a rough beginning (it’s not fine-tuned in any way) to ‘Forget Me Not’ which I’ve recorded and put on my YouTube channel.

If you’re locked down with time on your hands, have a watch and let me know any thoughts. Because that is another notch on writing’s steep-learning curve – how to accept and use criticism.

1 thought on “Learning lessons and new ideas – why writing is not like journalism”

  1. Sounds like this one will be another belter. The next one could involve a west coast submariner with a penchant for getting lost after a wee dram (or 2)…

    Liked by 1 person

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