Today was a big day, again. I sent in the first three chapters of my novel, accompanied of course by the mandatory synopsis and cover letter. I had spent the entire weekend on polishing those last two pieces of writing, and when I felt ready, pushed the famous button saying “submit”.
Now you’ll think: Hey, great for you, way to go! Right? No, not really.
Because although when I finished the novel about a month ago I felt exhilarated and know very well that I wouldn’t have had any time to do any more than I did just then, I feel a bit stupid. Stupid because of the way I approached this whole editing thing, and because I didn’t make more out of it. But I guess, this is what first times are for.
And for any of you who are working on some piece of writing and thinking about one day submitting your work, here are a few lessons to help you do better than me and save some valuable time:
Lesson 1: Write your synopsis as soon as you can.
When I sat down this weekend to put together a summary of my story, I was paralyzed. What was my story about again? What is the underlying theme?
Ok, don’t panic, I thought to myself. Take a deep breath and take it one step at a time, as always. And so I started making a bullet point list of stuff that happens in my story. And after half an hour of frantic thinking, I felt depressed. Within less than a month, I had forgotten all about my story! That same story that I had spent hours upon hours on writing, rewriting, finetuning and shaping into my little baby. And now I had lost all touch with it and remembered only half of the names of the secondary characters.
Later that evening, I returned to my laptop, after an afternoon of grumbling and brooding, and managed to dig up more details about my story. Then, over the next two days, I finally put something together that made more or less sense and that I felt comfortable with sending out to an agency.
But looking back on it, I think I could have done much better if I had done any of the following:
- Jotted down details about each chapter in one or two lines, or even bullet points, so as to have all the elements together once the dreaded synopsis comes along;
- Written the synopsis right after finishing the last draft, no matter how much you need a break from your story;
- Putting down the full names of characters according to order of appearance. I had a really hard time not only to remember their names, but also when they entered the picture.
Lesson 2: Write your cover letter beforehand on a day you feel more convinced than ever of your writing.
Trying to explain to a stranger why on earth he or she should spend hours on your different documents is difficult when you feel full of self-doubt and just generally, a bit low.
I tend to juggle between an extreme excitement at the prospect of creating something valuable, and then again, on days where everything goes wrong, I feel stupid, naïve, irresponsible for even wasting my time on a dream when I should be doing something more sensible. I think it’s normal to switch between these contradicting feelings – or at least that’s what I tell myself.
In order however to get your positive vibes across the paper to your potential editor, you should, on a day when you feel like “hell yeah, I can do this!”, sit down and quickly write down everything that comes to your mind when you think of your story. Pour out your heart, share your hopes and fears about your main characters and events, and put it all down. You don’t have to polish it straight away, just keep it there and get back to it the day you need it.
Lesson 3: Don’t leave your novel half-polished.
When I put those words “The End” down on the last page of my chapter, I felt glorious. Sure, there was still some minor work to do and it wasn’t completely perfect, but hey, I had written and edited my story, so I had the right to cut myself some slack, right?
No. Because now, a month later, those few small tasks that I left uncompleted are hovering over my head and blocking me from going on to another project. The chapter separation isn’t quite perfect yet, there are some comments still in the text where I had jotted down backstory details and ideas that might come in handy for a sequel. And, last but not least, there’s that epilogue that I had planned to add at the end, but never felt quite inspired to try and put down on paper.
Can you imagine how hard it is to go through all of it now? Actually, I realized today that I would have to work through the entire book again to fix those things and to filter out the relevant details for the sequel. Efficient use of already limited time? Zero.
Lesson 4: Keep to one single notebook.
Ok, so I kind of love notebooks, in all their shapes and sizes. When I enter a stationary shop, I have to summon all my willpower not to gawk and squeal like a kid in a candy shop.
I had initially started off with one simple notebook for my novel, to jot down backstory, character details, questions, all kinds of stuff.
When I got to the editing phase, I felt like I needed some tools to help me organize that scary task. And so…. Three more notebooks came into play: one for the characters, one for the chaptersand scene descriptions and another for… You see, can’t even remember what it was for.
And now I’ve got this mess, waiting for me to sort it out and try and put together something simple where all the info is stored in one same place. All the ideas from the comments in the word file, the bullet points here and there, simply all of it to have the necessary tools ready for the preparation of the next volume.
And I could cry out loud at the stupidity of it all. If I had just kept it all simple, I wouldn’t be stuck the way I am now, sighing at the pile of notebooks in front of me and aware that many many hours will get wasted on this tedious task of putting it all together.
So, that was the story of my historic first submission today: success and failure at the same time, but certainly yet another lesson learned.