Another year has passed which means it’s time to look back over 2016 and assess how it went!
On a global scale, I think many people are in agreement that the year has been something of a disaster, with regard to both international politics and the loss of numerous celebrity greats. On a personal level, I’ve found it to be a year of bad luck in quite a few different aspects, although there were memorable moments too, including special weddings of very close friends. But, for the purposes of this blog, the question is how did I fare out in writing terms?
My final post of 2015 included these words: “2016 will see a lot of hard editing work.” Boy, I was not wrong. I took a step back from making submissions to agents/publishers (and only entered two competitions in the whole year) in order to do a complete revision of my historical fiction series. This turned out to be a massive job – so much so that I am far from finished it yet.
One important change has been the overall structure of the series. It began the year as three books, then I split the second book into two (as it had been in a previous version), and I subsequently had exciting inspiration for a further continuation of the story, bringing the series to a total of five volumes. I also came up with an alternative framework for the plot which has required changing perspectives for certain characters, creating many new scenes and reworking older ones to fit in.
During this edit, I have focused a lot on historical accuracy. This was an extremely belated step in the process, given that it is a historical fiction series (doh…). I’ve been writing these books for so long but this is the first draft where I have taken the time to thoroughly research everything. And I can’t emphasise how much I regret not having done it properly before. I’ve had sooooo much fixing to do. Sometimes it’s been a small thing like replacing a word not in common usage during the period (the series starts in 1828). But there have been enormous glitches too – I hadn’t been using forms of address correctly at all and it was a major job to research titles and rename characters throughout. Now I question every word, just in case.
Here is just the tiniest selection of things I have found cause to look up in the course of this edit:
- door handles 1800s
- how do other servants address lady’s maids
- why are the English not waited on at breakfast
- aristocracy holding dual titles
- outdoor games 19th century
- clothing of a butler
- average size of a country estate in acres
- using vinegar to clean
- glove etiquette
- history of crime and punishment in Ireland
- everything and anything to do with horses and horse riding (as one of my main characters works in a stables)
My motto now is that you can’t be too meticulous!
My standard of writing is another area where I have really concentrated my efforts. Over the past year, I have absorbed as much knowledge as I could about all aspects of the craft and applied what I’ve learned to my manuscripts, continuously striving to make my writing stronger. This has included reducing the amount of adverbs and dialogue tags, catching unnecessary repetition of names in both dialogue and narration, eliminating redundant words, making more use of the five senses, adhering to the concept of ‘show, don’t tell’ as much as possible, paying attention to the pacing of scenes, and much more. I have plenty left to learn but at least I’m on the right track now.
I do believe the quality of the story is improving but this rewrite is taking an enormous amount of time. I move at a snail’s pace as I edit – poring over every minute detail because I’m obsessed with continuity and flow – which means that I’m still tackling the first manuscript of the five and already know that I won’t even have that one completed by Christmas, which had been my goal.
As a consequence, I’ve ascertained a few things about myself this year. Chief among these is my sheer bloody stubbornness. When I realised just how much work would be involved in this huge revision of the series, I wavered. Did I have the endurance for it? I doubted myself but I felt I’d put too much into this endeavour to give up now. So I pulled up my socks and got to work.
Then I found myself in very low spirits when I discovered just how long it was going to take me. I’ve been trying to get published since April 2013 and such a time-consuming edit would mean going at least a year without making any further progress in that direction. This was hard to swallow, but I wouldn’t have been happy to submit an inferior version of the series so I have plumbed depths of patience I never knew I had and am holding off on submissions until the story is ready again.
So that’s what 2016 has been like for me in terms of writing. An unglamorous hard slog. There is more of it to come but I’ll keep plugging away. Maybe 2017 will be my year!