I’ve Finished!

Six days ago, I finished my novel. Yes! It has taken four drafts and almost two years to hone the 150,000 or so words of my historical epic family drama.

Given that I completed the first draft in just twelve months of furious writing, I find it amazing that I then spent another eleven months editing my work, word by precious word. In the early months, when I sat before my personal computer in full narrative flow, I naively wondered why some books took their authors seven to ten years to write. Now I know.

Looking back, I can see that the first draft contained mainly bare bones. It was as if I had to pour the words out onto a page, so that I could tell the story to myself. Many writers say they don’t share their first drafts with anyone else, but perhaps I’m more thick-skinned. Besides, I find I need feedback to get those creative juices flowing. I therefore showed my first draft to my partner, and also to a professional developmental editor. If I had to do it again, I would do exactly the same thing. I was fortunate in having Dr. Nathalie Teitler, formerly a tutor at Spread the Word, among other organisations, as my editor. The drama I’ve written takes place in Ipoh, Malaya (see map), within a complex multicultural setting, and I needed an editor who would be sympathetic to such material. Right from the start, I became used to criticism, to having chunks decimated, even a whole chapter rejected. I write to be read, and I needed such input. ipoh

In that period, I also sent my early draft to two literary consultancies. Both are reputable and advertise themselves as ‘leading’ consultancies, yet they gave opposing feedback: one very encouraging, the other much less so (I had not told either that this was a first draft). The experience confirmed what I had already suspected – that whether your writing is deemed ‘good’ is highly subjective. Much in the writing industry seems a matter of taste.

When I started the second draft, Nathalie worried I would lose momentum. It happens to many, she said. With me, the opposite was true: ideas came quickly and not always in tangible form, often at night in half-dreams from which I awoke, unsure of the words that had been churning in my head. I was in Malaysia at the time. Something about the heat, the food, family and the way people speak there  (Wahh! Like that also can ah?) stirred my imagination. Thanks to a prolific subconscious, large chunks were added to and taken away in the second draft. A major edit, I thought, until I began the third draft.

That was when I really did sharpen every word in every sentence. It is now quite a different book to what I had at the beginning, or even after the second draft. By that, I don’t mean that the underlying story has changed, rather, that I’ve told it using many more motifs and metaphors.

Editing, I was to learn, is an art. An art which I resisted, until I started to enjoy it. Editing is hugely time-consuming, and anyone who has put together a presentation in the corporate world will understand one of its frustrations. Changing a phrase in the third paragraph of the second chapter could impact the flow of what came before, as well as what comes after. Often, you have to re-read a lot more than just the short paragraph you are changing.

Late in the editing process, I discovered a critical tool: reading aloud. I found that if I could not get my tongue around a sentence, it was usually because there was a problem with that sentence. When I re-wrote it in a way that made it easier on the tongue, the prose invariably became clearer. But reading aloud an entire epic drama of 150,000 words twice from start to finish takes a lot of time. It has a cost on family life too, if your partner happens to be your first reader, which is the case with me. Every time I re-wrote a piece, she was asked to read it. This was especially true of the beginning and end, which I re-wrote, re-read and re-wrote many more times than five, in fact, so many times that I fear I may have lost my first reader in the process. I worry she won’t bother to read the published book! Be that as it may, I can finally say I have completed my first novel. Hallelujah!

30 Comments

Filed under Malaysia, Novel, Writing

30 responses to “I’ve Finished!

  1. Sarah

    Fantastic news Selina! I’m so happy for you!!! Well done. I’m looking forward to reading it!

  2. Dominic

    Wow! Can’t wait to read it. An amazing achievement whatever the book turns to out to be. Well done! And well done to the first reader! Hope you can now enjoy some rest!

  3. Oksana

    Well done, Selina! You’ve accomplished something that many people dream about but never have guts to do. Good luck with publication!

  4. Aileen Khoo

    Well done. Cant wait to read it all. Aileen

    Date: Mon, 14 Jan 2013 10:19:01 +0000 To: aileenhooiai@live.com.my

  5. nina harris

    Congratulations! Good news indeed. Monty’s Book Group await it impatiently :O)

    • Many thanks Nina. Alas, the hardest part is yet to come…but one thing at a time. Best to all at Monty’s Book Group; I remember the evening with fondness.

  6. Nadine Leavitt Siak

    Gongxi! Gongxi!

  7. Feelan Siak

    I’m glad. Congratulations! Hope it will be on sale soon and people can start reading it.

  8. Wonderful news! I am very happy for you, and you are also an inspiration. I’m in the process of revising my first novel, which is a very arduous experience, as you know.

    Congratulations!

  9. Olga

    Great news! Congratulations! We are gutted we will miss your reading in London. Vanda is still talking how she wants to find out more about the plot.

  10. Eddy Y.S.Chin

    Ovation!
    I feel I can sing! When do I join the buying queue?

    Eddy Chin

  11. congratulations! can I now talk to you before 3 pm? :0)

  12. bee lee tan

    Well done! You can relax now after such a long haul of constant hard work.
    I am in Penang now, delivering and servicing my cookbooks to today, hopefully very soon, you will be enjoying the fruits of your great achievements. Good job.

  13. Jon

    ‘Good on ya’ Selina !! congratulations, it has been great to read to read your posts. I do hope you will tell us all how the publishing process goes.

  14. jane sawyer

    Dear Selina,

    Toutes mes felicitations Selina! marvellous news, you’ve worked so long and so hard for this, you must be over the moon. I shall definitely be in the queue to purchase it. I’m thoroughly impressed but i always knew you’d get there, you’re a natural story teller. Jane S ( arvon )

  15. Mei Leng

    Dear Selina,
    Thank you for making this ‘heritage dream’ a reality.Well done!

  16. Foo Khong Yee

    hi Selina,

    Very well done indeed. Hope Meru and Kledang have helped you in some way.

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