The other day I came across a bunch of short romances I’d written as a teenager. I remember tap-tapping them out on my mother’s typewriter that liked a gentle rhythm otherwise the keys bunched together worse than a corduroy skirt. The stories run from red to black ink and back again and feature coffee stains and the anticipation of a seventeen-year-old trying out a potential career.
This afternoon, I typed out the first thousand words of a companion novella that links together bigger novels in a new series that I hope to release later this year in an experimental project. The word count flew out faster and more furious than the franchise itself.
The teen me squatting on my kid sister’s stool at that typewriter that I’d rested on the record player, my Camel cigarette smouldering next to me, would be in awe. And terrified. How had I made the leap from there to here? What magic potion? What psychic vision? What had happened in the intervening years? That ‘me’ with the spiral perm used to fixate on, ‘how can it be done?’
Interestingly enough, those stories stand up okay today. Somehow, I’d unwittingly stumbled on something in those formative years that I didn’t quite understand or worse, recognize.
[insert twelve years where I don’t write anything, I just know I want to write…something, before stumbling into…]
In this period, I had no idea what I was doing, but I was getting words out on the page. I thought plotting was for amateurs, which I wasn’t because I was managing to write. Writers write, right?
I have folders on my laptop entitled ‘Various Aborted Book Projects’. This idea graveyard houses all sorts of first chapters. Some even get to the dizzying lengths of 5,000 words. There are some good parts in there, but they all have one thing in common – none of them sound like me. Bits of me, yes, but not ‘me’ me.
Then there are the books that I wrote to full-length. One’s gone missing, another is horrible (so soso horrible). My writing features head hopping, no scene context, no conflict, no goals, stuff happening with no point whatsoever, and alarming genre mish-mashes that don’t work. And so much dialogue. Pages and pages and pages of conversations.
I’d wait for inspiration, write furiously until at least a few pages were covered, and then I’d abandon it. A better idea would mushroom and I’d flit about chasing it without a net.
These aimless wanderings carried on for far longer than I thought possible until one day…
I had a deadline. An agent wanted my finished YA novel.
I sat down and worked out my 64 scenes and what had to happen in each one.
Every day, I would fix myself a cup of tea and I would write an email to my personal email address from my work email address (probably not to be recommended unless you enjoy being fired) (in my won rickety defence, I didn’t have a computer to use at home) (it would be years of writing before I did), and that email would be next scene from my book of 1,200 words. Every day. Sometimes I’d get up and have a second cup of tea.
Within a month and a half, I had the first draft of a novel which landed me an agent contract (what happened with that is subject for another blog post).
I have followed this process ever since. I make a cup of tea, head to wherever I’ve abandoned my laptop, retrieve it, and write myself 1,000 words. When the words aren’t flowing, I head for that second cup of tea and try again. Sometimes I have to come back later in the evening.
For another book deadline, I wrote every morning in the space between my boyfriend leaving my house, and my leaving to go to work. Always with the tea.
When I was seventeen, I’d prepare with the coffee and the cigarettes. I’d switch on the radio and I’d settle in to my ‘writer mode’.
Many many years later, I do the same thing. It’s like donning my magic writer’s cape. Cup of tea, in front of my keyboard, radio echoing downstairs. You could say, it’s my ritual.
Yes, sometimes that space is easy and light and other times it’s hard and painful. But my brain switches onto that ‘other’ part of me. The part that’s drifted through the writing wilderness, refining her craft and finding out who she is on the page. Maybe at seventeen those lines were less blurred and she was more ‘me’ than I let on. Maybe if I’d have followed her rather than left her to pursue more scholarly ambitions, my journey would have been shorter.
Either way, the writer me likes ritual. And she’s a stickler for the specifics like my cat (I will never move her favourite chair to the other side of the room again). The process of making tea switches me into the ‘mode’. The mug to my right, my means of writing in front of me, the music playing softly.
It’s my writing ritual. I don’t rub a Buddha belly or anything like that, but it’s what helps me get my writing out of my head and onto the page.
Does this sound like you?
I write and write and then realisethat nothing’s really happening in my novel
Does size matter?
How long is your manuscript?
How long should it be?
Is shorter better? Or is longer the way to go?
Here are the basic guidelines (the long and the short of it)*:
Then there are those publishers that don’t mention word counts as a hard and fast rule (Harper Impulse, Bookouture, Avon).
It’s a good idea to make sure that your book’s length matches the publisher’s or agent’s requirements before setting out querying. Or writing for that matter. No point writing a 150,000 word epic that no-one will publish.
I’ve just read through a series of pitches that were rejected because their word counts were either too short or too long. Don’t let that happen to you!
Different publishers have different rules about what length they publish. And some publish digitally up to a certain word count and only then publish in soft cover. I’ve mentioned a few romance publishers here but there are others. Do the research! Check, check and check again.
You don’t want to come short with your word count!
*This list is not exhaustive and all information is correct as at 19/02/2019
It’s meant to be.
It is written
Do you believe there is The One for you?
Love it or loathe it, The One is one of four key themes that drive all romance stories.
Whether we like it or not, romance is driven by the theory that there is that ONE SPECIAL PERSON who gets you. Who knows to bring you vegetarian burgers with extra sauce, or who cuddles up to watch Buffy with you (again). Someone who sees you for all the quirky goodness that you are, and still wants to park their slippers under your bed.
When we fall in love, we all like to think we’ve found our PARTNER FOR LIFE, our HAPPILY EVER AFTER (although sometimes it’s a HAPPY FOR NOW).
In a romance novel, we want our hero or heroine to find their ONE. The ONE who is obviously meant for them.
If you’ve written it right, there will come a point in your romance novel, where each will realise that the other is THE ONE. This is powerful stuff. It links to our primal urges to pair up and mate.
We have to believe that the couple we’re rooting for will make it because there is no-one else on this planet who will match up with them so perfectly. We have to believe they’ll make it - because if they can’t, then what hope is there for us?
THE ONE is one of four themes that every romance story should have, Want to know the others? Rock your Romance module: ALL ABOUT ROMANCE outlines the four themes of all successful romance novels.
Because it’s Valentine’s Day - the day of all things love and romance - I’m offering you this module at a 30% discount!
HEA ROMANCE WRITING
Everything you need to know to write your own happily ever after.