Ready, Steady, Write!

Well, it’s official. The Tarnished Crown book 2 (still to be properly titled) is underway. And here are the photographs to prove it …

Here is the first half of the book (approximately) arranged plot point by plot point on the desk. It’s a huge relief to know exactly where I’m going!

photo1And here is my sitting /standing work desk (I also have a treadmill desk that will come into play down the track) and that would be Chapter One glowing on the computer screen! Take note that I am, of course, being supervised by Editor Barney. More notes and info cards abound …

photo2I’m not ashamed to admit that the learning curve I experienced while writing The Falcon Throne is about the steepest I’ve encountered since my professional writing career began back in 2005. 

You see, it’s one thing to blithely challenge yourself to push the boat out, up your game, refuse to stay in your comfy wheelhouse … and quite another, as it turns out, to actually follow through on that ideal. I mean, you can look at a piece of iron just pulled out of the fire and say ‘Yes, that’s hot’ – but not until you’ve grabbed hold of it do you truly understand the meaning of ‘hot’.

Hands down, The Tarnished Crown series is the most complex, wide-ranging and epic story I’ve tackled so far. I couldn’t tell you how many times I questioned my sanity, doubted my abilities and the chances of me actually finishing The Falcon Throne’s first draft. More than once I cursed myself for not staying a checkout chick at the Scotmid co-op in Morningside, Edinburgh.

But I did it. I finished. And very soon now the book will be out in the wild. Yes, that sound you hear would be my knees, knocking. Which is pretty much par for the course when it comes to new book release time. I wish I could say you get used to it, but no. Not really.

Here’s the thing, though. That’s only book 1. There are more to come. And there’s this weird process that happens, as you emotionally disconnect from the last book you wrote and gear yourself up for tackling the next. You need a space of time to come down from the adrenaline rush of finishing the last book. You need a period of recovery, because books are emotionally exhausting things to write. Then you need to pull together the raw material required for writing the next one, the extra research and the story outline and the visual references and the new character stuff … and then you have to open a new file on the computer that says: Chapter One.

At which point you realise you really, really, really need to clean the cat’s litterbox. And prune the bottlebrush. And rearrange the cutlery drawer. And possibly even wash the car.

There is no ambivalence quite like the ambivalence experienced by a writer facing Chapter One, page one of the next book. Because here’s something we writers don’t often talk about – no matter how many books you’ve written, when it comes to starting the next one, it’s always like the first one. Every book contains its own challenges, obstacles, mysteries and stumbling blocks. Yes, it’s true, the more you write the better you get … but the thing is, you’ve never written this book. You’ve never told this story. Even if you’re playing with some familiar characters, there will be new faces. That can be scary. It can freeze your typing fingers to the bone.

Bottom line? Starting a new book feels a bit like standing at the bottom of a steep hill with a wheelbarrow loaded to the brim with rocks – knowing you have to push the damn thing all the way to the top. Well, it feels like that for me. The task seems impossible, the burden too heavy, my strength inadequate. But that’s the job you signed on for – so you start pushing. Slowly, so slowly at first, every muscle protesting, you start moving. But the progress continues slow. You feel like a total beginner, with no clue how to do this crazy thing you’ve said you’d do.

But you know what? It gets better. In fact, it gets great. As you warm into the story, as the unfamiliar become familiar, your pace picks up. Your confidence grows. And before you know it the wheelbarrow feels feather-light and you’re fairly sprinting up that hill. Towards the finish line, that moment where you reach the end of the first draft.

That moment is my personal Holy Grail.

So that would be me, now. Shoving the wheelbarrow up the steep hill, cursing with every impossible step, fighting my way into this new story, hoping I can do it justice, hoping I don’t let my editor and readers down, trusting that since I’ve done it before I can do it again. I can get through this. I can finish. Pile up the pages, add to the word count, watch the pile of chapters grow and grow …

If you’re just starting on your first novel, your first hill – or your fifth, or your fifteenth – and this sounds familiar, take heart in knowing you’re not alone. Every writer feels at some point that they’ve bitten off way, way more than they can chew. But it’s not true. All you have to do is keep chewing. You know what they say – you eat an elephant one mouthful at a time!

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