I’m approaching the end of the first draft of my second novel. Everything I need – the ingredients of the book – is piled in front of me. I’ve spent months developing characters and plot in my head and in notebooks, and more months spewing out around 100,000 words. Now it’s time to turn this ungainly heap into something of substance, maybe even something delectable, or at the very least something edible. I follow a fairly foolproof (famous last words) recipe for turning my heap of ingredients into a recognisable book. In the spirit of generosity I’ve decided to share it.
100,000 assorted words of your own choosing
A handful of main and supporting characters
2 pinches of darkness
A dash of spice
A generous helping of patience
1 Take the beginning, middle and end, and place one after the other in that order. This is important. Odd things happen if they are put in the wrong order, and only a very talented chef can prevent the mixture curdling.
2 Add your main and supporting characters, the darkness and spice, and combine with about half the patience. Stir well. The mixture will appear very agitated. Don’t panic, things will settle down later on.
3 Arrange your words in the right order. This is vital and the more care you can take at this stage the better. Remove any excess words and save for another recipe. (NB words are precious. Store carefully in an airtight jar and place in a cool, dark place until needed.)
4 Take a big red pen and cross everything out in a fit of anger and despair. Drink most of a bottle of wine. Tell yourself you are the worst writer on the planet. Stomp around grumpily. Snap at all the things you love most in the world. If you have one, a spouse will come in handy at this point. If you don’t, then improvise; children, dogs, and traffic wardens all make suitably innocent targets. Go to bed vowing you will never write another thing.
5 In the morning things should look marginally brighter. Capitalise on this. Using the rest of the patience, continue to rearrange and mould the remaining words into well-balanced sentences, paragraphs and chapters until you are left with clear themes, a cohesive narrative and believable characters.
6 Repeat steps 4 and 5 until the book is finished. This can take anything from 2 months to 10 years.
7 Once finished, check for seasoning, then leave the manuscript to cool for a few weeks. After it is properly cooled, reread, start to finish, in one go. If you don’t want to stab your own heart out with a spoon then consider it a success. Make minor adjustments according to taste. Punch the air and do a jig around the kitchen table.
8 Submit the manuscript to agent or editor. Hopefully they like eating the same things you do. Crossing your fingers at this stage will help. So will chocolate.