This week, I’ve experienced one of the major shifts in my relationship with a book: when it goes from being something I have the power to change, and becomes something I can no longer change, but must now start to promote. And I think I find this shift the most terrifying of all.
But looking up at my shelves, some with only a few sheets of scribbled paper, and some creaking with heaps of notebooks and piles of manuscripts, I realise that I have a book at almost every stage here in my study.
When I’m writing, I go through seven stages of a book, which may be conveniently Shakespearean, but does seem to accurately represent my writing process. I wonder if other writers recognise these stages?
# 1 The thrilling moment when the idea for a book emerges, which may be the only moment the book is ever entirely perfect!
# 2 Thinking and scribbling and considering: ‘what is this story about?’, ‘what am I trying to find out?’, ‘who are my characters?’, ‘what are the big questions?’, ‘what happens next?’ ‘how will I ever defeat the baddie?’ This bit is incredibly exciting, filled with possibilities.
|the scribbling stage|
# 3 Actually sitting down and writing it. Finding the story and putting it into words. For me this usually involves lots of self-imposed deadlines, late nights and ignoring my family. I find this bit exciting too. (I realise, writing the stages down like this, that I find every stage of writing a book exciting. I suppose that’s why I’m a writer…)
# 4 Turning the story into a manuscript. My first and most personal edit - lots of reading out loud, and cutting the word count by massive slashing and burning. This stage is perhaps less heart-thumpingly exciting but it is very satisfying.
# 5 The real editing, with an actual editor. This stage can be emotionally draining, but by this time I can also see the original idea turning into a book that other people can read. Which is, of course, quite exciting!
|the proofreading stage|
# 6 Proofreading of the layouts. I did this last week, for my next novel Mind Blind. This stage is both exciting and chillingly terrifying. Any silly little mistakes I miss here will be printed in real books to be read by real readers. Which is a great incentive to keep your eyes wide open and focussed as you proofread!
# 7 Finally, the shift I’ve experienced this week: the shift from the writer creating a story to the writer promoting a book. I’ve stopped meeting new characters, and started having meetings with marketing people. I’ve stopped writing the story and started looking for extracts of the story I can read at book festivals, I’ve stopped thinking about chapter length and started thinking about ‘content’ for websites.
Can you tell I find this final stage a little less exciting? But really, this should be the most exciting shift of all. This is the bit where I look ahead to the story being read by readers, and that is, after all, what really excited me right at the start when I had the original idea, which got me scribbling, which got me writing, then editing…
Anyway, even if I will spend the next few months promoting this teen thriller, I’ve also just had another idea. So I’m starting a new relationship, with a new story and some new questions and new characters, and perhaps that relationship will go all the way too…
Lari Don is the award-winning author of 20 books for all ages, including a teen thriller, fantasy novels for 8 – 12s, picture books, retellings of traditional tales and novellas for reluctant readers.