When it comes to major pieces of writing advice, it seems there are two opposites involved in completing a novel. One is to write daily to build it up; and the other is to cut down on words to refine it.
It took me over twelve years to get my YA book Facing Up to a stage where I was happy to publish! I was working full-time for most of those years, but it took so long because I’d stop and start – I’d write furiously for a day or two, then I’d try too hard to perfect that bit of writing. So I’d run out of inspiration and just stop. For months. Even a year!
Now I’m part way through the first draft of my second YA novel, and I’ve finally taken that advice. I find that writing daily gets things moving, whether it’s 500, 800 or 1000 words. It may not be perfect writing but I just remind myself that it is a first draft. Maria Murnane writes that refining the same stuff again & again is great but it doesn’t move your manuscript along. You could write the first chapter of your great epic, but then be stuck there forever, churning your wheels in place while you perfect it.
Writing a set amount of words per day seems to jog the imagination and can even take the plotline in new directions. Once the basic plot is in place, you may find you’re at a decent word count, if not over it. You now have the bones of the storyline, and hopefully you have characters, dialogue and atmosphere that all stand out.
And now comes the fun part, where you get to really work the material. This is where you need to ‘kill your darlings’ – a fabulous expression that means removing lines and phrases that you think are just too good to lose, but in reality they are excessive and possibly just getting in the way. Start with all the lines that are repeating what the previous line said. Or remove all the tautology – I’m an expert at using two words to say one singular thing! (See last two lines as an example 😉 )
A great practical way to remove lines, paragraphs and even entire chunks of plot (if you’re using a computer) is to actually cut and paste them into another document and save them under ‘Excerpts’. Then re-read your book, make adjustments for any changes in time and dialogue caused by the removal; and you’ll most likely find that the whole thing reads far better without that extra weight!
It’s at this point that you should consider giving it to discerning people to read, or taking it to an assessor, to get positive feedback. And be really proud of yourself – after all, you’ve pretty much written a book 🙂