I really finished it over a week ago, wrapping up the last of the Killer Edit, and producing a synopsis and cover letter while it was still fresh in my mind. But yesterday I did the final bit of formatting. When I write (directly onto the screen), I don’t use indents as I find them hugely off-putting, and I write in block paragraphs i.e. with a line space between each paragraph. I’ve always written like this as it keeps things neat and tidy inside my head and on the page, but obviously the final product can’t look like this. You certainly can’t self-publish a manuscript looking like that and no agent or publisher is going to look at something so unformatted. So my final act was to add the indents, then go through the entire novel getting rid of those line spaces between each paragraph. And also getting rid of the indents at the beginning of each chapter AND the chapter number (indenting afterwards throws off the centring).
I know lots of people write with tabs. This makes me shudder from head to tail! The horror! But there you are, we all have our different foibles. No doubt anyone watching me write in block paragraphs is filled with the same horror! I just don’t get why anyone would want to use tabs – if you’re self-publishing, you absolutely can’t use that manuscript and have to get rid of every single tab! Anyway, this is utterly beside the point. Once I’d done my formatting, I was done. I felt it was finished. The moment of great finality had come. My novel had reached the end.
I first came up with the idea about eight years ago but didn’t start working on notes until a year or more later. I only know I wrote the first words on the first page in February 2015 because I blogged it on my website. The first draft was the battle from hell and took over two years. When I say “first draft,” I really mean countless drafts. The restarts, the rewrites, the rethinks, the restructuring. The replotting. The gigantic plot holes I had to fill and refill. The rock hard shapeless stone I had to hammer and hammer and chisel and hammer some more to try and find the angel within. It was a nightmare.
When that “first” draft was done, I abandoned it. I changed my writing style and began a series of lightweight novels that weren’t allowed to go over 80K words. I wrote short stories. Novellas. Flash fic. Anything SHORT! Well, shorter than 180K words, which is what it ended up as – it really was gigantic! The novel also underwent several title changes. The heroine had her name changed at least seven times. Even her hair colour changed. Huge chunks of world-building never made it into the novel, or if they did, were cut out again. A huge amount of research was never used. I can’t tell you how BIG this novel was, how MUCH work I put into it. And what did I end up with? A great big rock-solid heavy chunky faux-fantasy style disaster. I ended up HATING the thing.
At the start of 2019 (before the pandemic really took hold), I did a massive edit, called the Red Edit. I tore out 20K words. I hacked and hacked and hacked. And then I forgot I did all this and went off to have a writer’s crisis while the world locked down. It was only when I needed a huge challenge to get me out of my deep funk that I faced the Killer Edit. In this, what would have to be the final edit, I began to strip the novel back. I simplified it as much as I could. I thought I’d be able to rewrite the novel in a whole new style but honestly, I think that might have killed me right off. I just had to the best damn editing job I’ve ever done. I even did things like search over-used words such as THAT, AS IF, JUST and many others as it gave me another chance to rewrite badly structured sentences. I got rid of every single instance of SO THAT, a phrase I used about a million times. I mean, my God, truly, the writing in this novel was AWFUL. I know what I was trying to do, though: I know the mood I was trying to create. But it just made a great big lumpy muddy mess instead of a dreamy gothic concoction. My romantic ideals didn’t work. I also, by the way, got rid of every single semi-colon. Now, I know how to use semi-colons and I hadn’t used them incorrectly, but it was part of the simplification process. Simple punctuation. Simpler language. Shorter sentences.
There are chunks of this novel that still don’t work. Yet there are parts that I am very proud of, that work for me, that are beautiful. But the fucker still comes in at 160K words. No agent in their right mind is going to look at it. I have, over the years, both loved and hated this novel. I’ve called it That Novel. That Difficult Novel. My magnum opus. My prize winner.
Now I’m just going to call it my finished novel.