How I wrote a book

I started out in about 2011 thinking I would write a book. A novel to be specific. But other than hoping to emulate one of my favourite writers, Brett Eastern Ellis, I had little to no idea what I would write about. As a newcomer to the craft, having written only a couple of short stories and filled a goodly number of notebooks with the ravings of a depressed drunk, I only knew I wanted my book to be good. Or more than that, I wanted it to be great.

But I couldn’t get past 10,000 words. I kept editing the thing over and over on the micro level. And I had no idea who the character was except to say he was some sociopathic bloke working in marketing who didn’t like the woman with the messy hair and bad skin.

Little ole me was starting out on a long, long (-insert word beginning with J that I refuse to use) So much to learn. Eventually I scrapped Mr sociopath with no backstory, no aim and no redeeming traits and started something new. Ah yes, something shiny and new and full of quivering promise.

I wrote a 10,000 word thingie/novella in semi-rhyming prose, with two characters with nothing to gain or lose and no reason to be. I worked the shit out of that one for another year or so, squeezing it dry of any life it had in the first place. Then I stopped. And what did i do?

I started something new. Something shiny and bright and full of great promise. I wrote a novella in first person about a teenager who descends into a fantasy/reality nightmare of obsessive love, plastic surgery and reality TV. This one I finished and published to resounding success. NO. This one I published as an ebook on Kindle Direct Publishing and sold no copies.

Oh yeah I also edited and re-edited a script for a graphic novel about a woman who gets brainwashed by a self-improvement cult for about two years. Finally, after getting nowhere without a paddle going sideways up shit creek, I gave up.

I said, Clare, you must stop all this grinding and winding day in, day out, poking and prodding the same old words, shuffling them about this way and that. I said Clare, you know an actual plot might really get you somewhere. Yes, I said, you’re right Clare, a plot might really get me somewhere.

You see us scorpio goats need a fence to work our magic – and yes, I used to believe in that astrology crap and probably still do. Us goaty stingers need outlines, boundaries, arrows, snakes and ladders, and once we’ve got em we can let our minds roam.

So, following the wisdom of ancient soothsayers I set myself a task. Write ye a romance novel. Go on. You always wanted to. Write ye a romance novel, a good one too.

So I kept my eye out for a plot. And lo and behold I found one in a documentary about Walt Disney. And lo and behold I found my heroine. A woman determined to become an animator in 1938 Los Angeles. A protagonist with a clear goal that would spawn meaty conflict in a male dominated world. Then, I found antagonists, allies, and most importantly, a sweet little love-interest to wind through the action.

Things started to shape up. I grabbed some paper and got myself a pen. I put scenes in bubbles and connected the dots, I drew lines and arrows and lots of red marks. Why? Who? What? When? Yes all the big ones, they were all there. I outlined major plot points in a classic three act structure. Nine chapters in each act. 3,000 words per chapter. And if I got stuck writing I went back to the treasure maps. Re-jigged the scenes so the story rolled on.

And the best thing of all? I didn’t go over and over the words until the whole thing imploded. I used the best writing tip I’ve ever heard. Write without editing or at least not too much. Do your however-many-words a day and just move on. Shove that last bit in another file so you can’t touch it.

And to boost morale I stuck a chart on the wall. An empty tower made of 2,000 word bricks. Filled it in until I built a whole novel. Kept on writing till I reached THE END.

I didn’t write a literary masterpiece to rival American Psycho, but I did write a fun little page-turner and I’m bloody proud of it.

Drawing The line is available in paperback, large print and ebook editions.

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