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Hello!

Welcome to winter down-under. For those of you in Australia’s southern states we hope you are enjoying this chilly weather –  perfect for curling up with a good book! This week Sally and Lisa are busy packing their bags for the trip to Western Australia,  here they’re hoping to find some winter warmth. Although, after checking the forecast it seems like they’ll be taking Victoria’s weather with them! Never mind, Rachael reports that readers in W.A. always extend visitors a warm welcome no matter what the temperature is outside.

We’re hoping to meet lots of newsletter subscribers while we’re there. (For more information about the W.A tour please scroll down.)

In this newsletter we continue our series on the process of writing. In this issue we’re talking about first drafts. It’s been an interesting exercise for us because we all have such different ways of approaching our first draft. We hope you enjoy reading all about it.


Lisa, Sally and Rachael xxx

Lisa Ireland

What I’ve been up to: 

Hello lovelies, I’m back! As reported by Rachael and Sally in the last newsletter, I’ve been on a wonderful European holiday. For the first time in six years I took a complete break and didn’t write or work at all. It was absolutely blissful, but now I’m back and itching to start writing a new story. I’m still in the planning stage right now and I have a couple of exciting things taking up my time at the moment, so I’ll have to put that urge on hold for a couple of weeks. 

The first exciting thing is that I’m moving. We’ve built a new house just around the corner from where we live now and will be moving there right after I come back from the second exciting thing …THE SECRET LIFE OF AUTHORS W.A. TOUR! I can’t tell you how excited I am to be heading west to do five events with Sally and Rachael. We’re going to have so much fun! I’m really looking forward to meeting some new readers and reconnecting with those of you I’ve met before. (Scroll down for all our tour information and links.)
 

What have I been reading?

I bookended my trip with Sally Rooney! I read Normal People on the way over (which I loved!) and Conversations with Friends on the way home. Last week I read an advance copy of Six Minutes, which is the debut novel of Australian author, Petronella McGovern. This one was a real page turner. I devoured it in less than 48 hours!

First Drafts

Lisa Ireland 

I’ll be at first draft stage with my next book very soon and I’m both excited and nervous about starting a new project. Excited because it’s always wonderful to be working on a fresh new idea and nervous because I have no idea whether the story will actually work or not.

For me, the first draft is when I find out what my story is all about. 
To date I’ve written seven complete manuscripts (five are published) and another three partial manuscripts (each of these are around 40,000 words). Each time I’ve used a slightly different process – some were tightly plotted (Feels Like Home) and others were not plotted at all (The Shape of Us). I wrote some chronologically (Honey Hill House) and others (Breaking the Drought) I wrote in scenes as they came to me and then joined the scenes together in the next draft. I think it’s fair to say I’m still refining my writing process!

No matter what method I use to get the first draft down, I know one thing for sure – my first draft will look nothing like my final draft. I usually do at least three drafts before I send my book off to my agent. The first draft is where I let my imagination run wild. I throw all my thoughts down onto the page – even if they’re not fully formed yet. I’m led by my characters and let them take me wherever they want in the first draft, even if I strongly suspect that much of what I’m writing won’t make it into the final cut. This is my way of getting to know my characters on a deeper level, so even if I end up cutting many scenes (or even whole chapters), I don’t see this as wasted time.

When I get to the end of the first draft, I usually have a much better idea of what the story is about, which makes the second draft a whole lot easier! I usually let myself have a break for a few days, just to let the story settle, and then I reread and make notes. I also make lots of notes as I’m writing – helpful things like:
  • make this section better
  • change this chapter to Jenna’s POV (point of view)
  • check whether this is actually possible/legal
  • this is rubbish
Once I’ve read through the draft and made all my notes, it’s time for my next draft. But more about that next time…

Sally Hepworth

Rachel Johns

What I've been up to

Getting ready for our inaugural Secret Life of Authors Tour, obviously (aka buying frocks, waxing my legs and booking spray tans). We are so excited about this (and not just because it means we will get to hang out and drink wine.) I have never been to W.A. before and I’m so excited to meet our readers over there.
The main reason I’ve had to be so organised for this tour is because immediately after I return from Perth, I have to get on another plane to NEW YORK to appear on Good Morning America’s Strahan and Sara. Sara Haines has a new spot called “Sara’s Book Corner” and I’m so excited to be following some of my favourite authors, Delia Owens, Taylor Jenkins-Reid and Alex Michaelidis as a guest. I’ll be in New York for 2 days – a long way for a five-minute interview, but I’m always up for a  jaunt. I’ll be posting “My GMA journey” on Instagram as I go, starting at Melbourne airport, taking you with me to NY, hair and make up, the green room, the whole bit! St. Martin’s will repost from their Instagram, so go and follow us both if you want to follow along!
 

What have I been reading?

I’ve recently finished reading the ARC of Nicola Moriarty’s new novel The Ex which was fantastic! And I’ve just started The Cactus by Sarah Haywood. So far so good.

First Drafts

Sally Hepworth

Firstly and most importantly, first drafts are my FAVOURITE. The best thing about first drafts is that no one gets to read them so they can be bad. And by bad, I mean BAAAAD. I am that author who writes approximately 5,678 drafts. The first draft is known as the dog-draft. Meaning the draft that I wouldn't even show to my dog. It is for me and for me only.

The most important thing about first drafts is that I write them fast. This sounds crazy, but for me, first drafts are about quantity not quality. I have to write a certain amount of words per day (between 2-3k is typical) and it doesn’t matter how bad they are. Telling myself this helps circumvent the fear that I get if I try to write perfectly the first time and allows me to get the story down. I usually have an outline before I start, but I most often ignore the outline and promptly come up with new ideas as I write. This means I get myself into a terrible muddle when I get to 75% and the ending that I planned no longer fits.

I generally write in sequential order, but sometimes, if I’m really not feeling a scene, I’ll write “insert fight scene here” and keep going. Similarly, if I’m pumped to write a scene, I’ll jump ahead and write that scene. For me, if I’m feeling excited about writing a scene, it’s a good time to go write it. When I finish the dog-draft, I don’t take a break, I just go right back to the start and start fixing it because at this point it will be full of notes like “this part doesn’t work” and “this needs to be rewritten without a sister” or this is the worst scene ever written” etc. I go through the whole manuscript, addressing this little notes to myself until I have a more robust dog-draft. Then I will go back to the beginning and do a full read through, making more notes as I go. Things like: “Too much backstory too early—could this be moved to later?” and “X is too bland, could she be more firey? Funny? Mean?” and “Do these diary entries work? Would they work better if they were told in real time?” or “Does Phil need his own POV?” Once I have finished this second read through I will make a list of these big picture things and take a little time to think about them (and maybe talk them over with my writer gang). Then it is time for second draft (which we will discuss next time). Spoiler: I let my dog* read the second draft but no one else.

Sally x
*I don’t actually have a dog

Rachael Johns

Lisa Ireland

What I’ve been up to 

Well, aside from finish copy editing JUST ONE WISH, the most exciting thing I’ve done in the last couple of months was go on a ‘research’ trip to New Orleans with my friend and talented author Anthea Hodgson. I visited NOLA a few years ago for a conference and fell in love with the nitty-gritty, eclectic nature of the place and have a) always wanted to go back and b) set a book there. So I went with the aim of soaking up the vibe and learning more about the place that will hopefully feature in my next book. You can see our photos on Instagram and there really were too many highlights to list, but they included holding an actual baby alligator, experiencing flash floods and 25c martinis!
 

What have I been reading?

Didn’t get much chance to read while I was away but the best book I’ve read lately is actually a kids’ book, which I read to my son – Lenny’s Book of Everything by Karen Foxlee. I think everyone of all ages should read it!

First Drafts

Rachael Johns

‘Writing a book is like driving a car at night: you never see further than your headlights but you can make the whole trip that way.’ E.L. Doctorow.

I have a confession to make – the subtitle of my piece is a little misleading. It gives the impression I write multiple drafts and that’s not really the case. I always used to ooh and ahh in awe when Sally mentioned she was onto her fifth or sixth draft. It sounded so impressive and professional. I was certain real authors did multiple drafts. But then I realised that I redraft and edit a lot as I write.

Although I’m not a plotter and I don’t have a detailed idea of where I’m going before I start writing, I do like to write a very clean first draft and often I hand my book in to my publisher almost immediately after finishing it. So how do I do this? Well, I madly rush off the beginning. I’ve always been about the beginnings it’s keeping going that’s harder. I’ve started numerous knitting projects (never finished) and exercise programs, diets, rewards charts for my children (all fall by the wayside before I ever see results). I get bored. I get distracted. It’s amazing I’ve ever managed to finish one book, never mind multiple!!

My fave way to write a novel is to get the first 50-60k words down as quickly as possible. With THE GREATEST GIFT I did this by signing up for National Novel Writing Month (www.nanowrimo.org) but even if it’s not November when I start a book, this is what I aim to do. It’s at the end of this stage, that I often start floundering. Self-doubt and my inner critic kick in. I start doubting not only the story and my characters but my ability to write a book at all – I think it’s not only the worst thing I’VE ever written but the worst thing ANYONE has ever written – and that’s when things slow down and start getting painful. 

There’s a lot of angst in this stage of writing and the second half of the book often takes a lot longer to write, but it’s during this time that I tweak, redraft and edit the words I already have. I cannot move on to the next scene/chapter if I know something is not quite right. Sometimes I have tried, telling myself that I’ll fix it later, but I can’t seem to move forward until I think I’ve got it pretty much right.

For this reason, I write chronologically – I almost NEVER jump ahead and write a future scene. The only exception to this is that I occasionally write the epilogue when I’m about halfway through a book. My process is messy – I have at least a couple of notebooks for each book I write. One is a pre-writing notebook, where I have character notes, etc and the other is a working notebook. Each writing session I’ll jot down what has to happen in the current chapter and any other things I know about the scene, snippets of dialogue, etc, before I start.

Most annoying first draft quirk – every day when I sit down to write, I have to skim read the whole manuscript before I start. Yep, you read that right, the WHOLE manuscript. This is okay when I’ve only written one or two chapters but when I’m getting towards the end of a book and have 100k or so to write, you can imagine it’s a lengthy process. And it really diminishes my time to actually write each day. This is one habit I wanted to kick in 2019 and it’s not completely gone, but I’m getting much better at allowing myself less time to do this.

I write the whole book this way – scene by scene, chapter by chapter, not thinking too far ahead, hoping that Future Me will know how to wrap everything up. I won’t lie – it’s often a stressful process and I live with the anxiety of wondering whether or not I’ll ever be able to finish, but somehow usually I do, so I guess this approach works for me.

Come along to one of our tour events for the chance to win one of these limited
edition mugs!

Join authors Sally Hepworth, Rachael Johns and Lisa Ireland as they take you behind the scenes of what it’s like to be an author. They'll give you the inside scoop on author life, including how they feel about reviews, what happens when a book just doesn't work, writer’s shame, and everyone’s favourite thing to ask about…money!   For more information click here.

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