This is a post for all those aspiring writers out there who might be feeling a bit discouraged. If you are, I hear you! I see you! But don’t worry, because you’ve got this! I’ve felt exactly the same way and I wanted to share some of that experience with you, so you don’t feel alone.
When we look at all those Insta-worthy photos and social media posts, we don’t always see the problems and the stress behind them. It’s easy to read about people writing and publishing books and think that the characters appear fully formed and the plot seamless with not a hole in sight. Well, I can tell you from experience that not all books are like that! It certainly wasn’t the case for Summer Strawberries at Swallowtail Bay, my new release with HQ Digital. In fact, when it came to this book, I was pretty much ready to burn my manuscript about halfway through the first draft!
But let’s rewind a little. I loved coming up with this idea and, as a plotter, I loved working out all the details. I loved the idea of a food festival held in a wonderfully hot summer (planning that in my head was brilliant fun), and a feisty heroine, handsome hero and crumbling manor house. At the planning stage I was giddy with excitement.
And then I started writing.
Oh my gosh, it was torture! I had all the foundations I normally have, but something just didn’t click with this story. The words on the page weren’t living up to all the fabulous and fun ideas I’d envisaged. For me, when writing is going well and the story flows, it’s like I’m watching a movie in my head and my job is to write down what’s happening. It seems to create itself and I’m more like a journalist recording it. This time though, the movie was playing but the words just didn’t do it justice.
Every sentence was a slog and none of it was funny. Depressingly, no matter how hard I tried, I just couldn’t figure out why it wasn’t working. I did, however, learn very quickly that writing during the summer holidays with the kids around 24/7 was not fun! (Don’t even get me started on home-schooling and writing during lockdown!)
While all the books I’ve written before have needed edits (some more than others!) I was getting to the point where I wasn’t even sure I could submit this to my publisher. I honestly thought that I’d be kicked out of the writer’s club because I’d clearly forgotten how to do it! It was time to take a step back and really analyse what wasn’t working in the story. If you’re also struggling, I’d definitely recommend you do this, maybe at an earlier stage than I did!
Immediately, I saw that the stakes weren’t high enough: there was no real sense that anything could go wrong. Then I realised that the entire story lacked tension. Feeling a little bit better at having figured out some of the problems, I started fixing them. The next job was setting and atmosphere. By the skin of my teeth and with the deadline fast approaching, I managed to get more added in and submit the manuscript to my editor, but I knew it still wasn’t right and that there would be a lot of work still to do.
Let me tell you now folks, Sarah Goodey at HQ Digital, is getting an amazing Christmas present from me! She immediately identified the biggest problem: the two main characters just weren’t spending enough time together! How had I missed that?! A whole load of stuff was added in and somehow this pile of rubbish I was ready to start a bonfire with has turned into one of my favourite stories. By the time we got to copyedits, Summer Strawberries at Swallowtail Bay was finally living up to the movie I had playing in my head.
So for all you aspiring writers out there, don’t ever lose hope! That story you’re struggling with can still shine! It just might take an outside eye (from an editor or a trusted friend), or a few rounds of edits to get it there. Whatever you do though, don’t stop writing!