Postcard from Writer’s Summer Camp

It’s been a little while since my six week writer’s summer camp came to an end in September, making this postcard a tad belated.

Those of you who have been following my blog for a while will know that I finally took the plunge with the first draft of my children’s book (as yet untitled) and signed up to a one-to-one boot camp with an editor over the summer.

I wrote my book back in 2010 whilst residing in Room 2 of The Rutland Hotel in Edinburgh for four months.

Despite existing completely gratis in uber luxe surroundings and feasting on fayre like guinea fowl and steak every night of the week, I was really starting to climb the walls; I was on a horrible work secondment and I could feel my grip on reality getting dangerously slippy. I became desperately lonely, reclusive, plump and unhappy.

Having always been a keen writer and ravenous reader, I had toyed with making a more serious attempt at a novel a few times but always found other pursuits to occupy my time. This time, I became convinced that my misery in Edinburgh must be part of some fatalistic and positive grand plan. There was a small desk in my hotel suite beside the window and I suddenly felt a magnetic compulsion to start writing at it. It became my retreat from reality, and most probably my saviour. I would write every evening for hours, often late into the night every and then return home to life in London at the weekends. I was a woman possessed!

Et voila! After three months I had a 30,000 word children’s novel. Aside from my husband, I hadn’t told a soul that I had been writing. It felt nice to have a “thing” free from external judgement or criticism in the face of nothing but that in my working environment.

Before July this year, the last date I saved the draft book on my laptop was Christmas Day back in 2010. The plan had been to let the draft rest, put some distance between me and it so that I could return to appraise it more objectively in due course.

I hadn’t quite intended four years to pass but let’s just say life has been busy! *With a pinch of procrastination thrown in for good measure!*

Yes, an issue I have with my writing is a tendency not to completely see things through. I suspect I have an underlying fear of being told I’m rubbish! I lie. I HAVE a fear of being told I’m rubbish and it creates the most awful confidence road blocks all over the place.

When I stumbled upon the summer camp, I was already thinking about dusting my draft off. What better way to assess its merits than by employing a completely independent person to read and provide feedback on it? This would avoid any awkward or overly “kind” words coming from friends and family who I had force fed the book to.

I needed someone to sock it to me straight for better or worse.

This proved to be the number one benefit from signing up to this process. Whilst the draft was not perfect by any means, I feel that I came away with a very honest opinion and a huge confidence boost.

I’m not going to lie, I found the whole process pretty intense, particularly in trying to juggle a toddler against the commitment to submit, review feedback and edit a minimum of 3000 words each week. Despite this, with a lot of focus and forward planning I managed it, even if it meant working when I was totally exhausted in the evenings!

Over the weeks, I learned a lot about my natural writing style and it became easier to pre-empt what tweaks my editor would come to expect week on week. Amending aspects of the narrative to incorporate “more show, less tell” and the addition of a few extra small action scenes really made a huge difference to the overall content and flow of the storyline. I had previously worried about adding too many more words to the novel incase my young target audience became overwhelmed. Actually, in most cases the opposite outcome held true – adding more words *of the show not tell kind* can provide extra levity and depth of character, an area that my editor loved when I did it but still wanted more. Her wish was my command!

You’ve made it this far into my post, so you may have noticed my tendency to waffle. My editor encouraged me to hack away surplus piffle by suggesting that I read the whole story aloud as if to my own daughter. This was/is a very important aspect for my target parent/reader. Such a great writing tip!

So what did my collaborator think overall?

Well, I’m super proud to say that she liked it…rather alot!

There’s still a bit of editing work to do on my part though. For example, we both agreed that the ending feels a little rushed and the story needs a few more fantastical bells and whistles generally. Once all that’s done, the search for an agent and/or publisher shall commence!

I can totally recommend this method of re-working your draft if you are in a bit of a rut with your work-in-progress. It isn’t for the faint hearted mind you!

The draft is currently having a little rest as I recharge my batteries to go again.

I hope it’s not another four years before I feel ready to re-visit it again!

Watch this space as they say….

Are you writing a novel? Do you have any top tips on the best way to get a draft into shape for submission to agents and/or publishers?

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11 thoughts on “Postcard from Writer’s Summer Camp

  1. Normally I don’t read food/restaurant reviews but when I stumbled upon yours I was captivated and thouroughly enjoyed the article and your “style” and have been a fan ever since. Looking forward to your children’s book and grandchildren to read it to someday. So perhaps one day in the future I’ll be standing in line at one of your book signings across the pond. ๐Ÿ™‚

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you Maverick. I’m fair chuffed (i.e. delighted!) that you gave me a go! I think you are one of my longest standing and loyal followers and so thank you for that. This is where it gets sickly (i would apologise but I speak the truth) – your glorious picture and prose combos have inspired me over the months. I guess I have always wondered/meant to ask you how you stay inspired and does the quote/prompt or the photo come first? I wish I were better at photography! Best wishes and big love, GD x

      Liked by 1 person

      • Thank you and did I mention that you are also a great interviewer? ๐Ÿ˜‰ I think whether it’s you with words or me with photos it’s the fires of passion to create that keeps us inspired. Sometimes you’re my kindling if that makes sense. Originally I was just checking out WP because I was bored with Facebook but I had no preconceived plan to blog. So to get away from one social media I started an affair with another and it became kind of my narcissistic home. Since my interests were literary, music, and photos, that became the postings I indulged myself with. As I became more involved in photography that became more prominent. Generally I start with the photo, but sometimes with like the photo challenges the words come first. Then a lot of times it’ll be both such as a holiday or seasonal post where it might be like an autumn photo with an autumn poem. Sometimes the pairings work better than others. Eventually the blog may evolve into just photography. Although I may have some ads on the blog – Buy Glasgowdragonfly’s book! ๐Ÿ™‚ I won’t wish you success because you already are, but best wishes for all your dreams.

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  2. Well done! It sounds like quite a demanding, taxing and intense process but it has clearly been very worthwhile in helping you shape and home your draft. I have always loved writing but tend towards short stories and dramatic monologues. I don’t know if I have a novel in me. Other than travel journals, creating exemplars to share when teaching creative writing and now blogging, however, I have not done any writing in years. I’m someone who needs peace, quiet and focus in order to write and all of those are in short supply. My writing project for now is to turn my family history research into a narrative format. It’s taken me almost a year to write about just one family line. Anyway I’m wittering now. I look forward to reading about your progress with your children’s novel.

    Liked by 2 people

    • “I have not done any writing in years” – I completely diasagree! I love the voice in your personal anecdotes and I’m pretty sure you must be amassing some amazing, weird and wonderful people watching tales as you settle into transatlantic living. Please continue to share whenever you can. Thank you so much for all your support over the recent months. I look forward to reading your family history posts and immersing myself in your drawings (which are wonderful by the way). Best wishes!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I can’t wait to see your book! As answer to your question, I’m a huge fan of beta readers, plus worship the ground beneath my critique partners’ desks. Sharing a draft is always hard, but finding good partners pre-release is critical for my writing process. One source of CP gold is http://www.ladieswhocritique.com/. I’ve tried several online critique sites, but so often the people who respond go straight for the jugular with teeth and claw. But on Ladies Who Critique, I’ve been incredibly lucky to find great writer/critics who really do make my scribbles into actual books.

    Good luck with finishing that book. And with the one after that!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you so much for the critique agency recommendation and advice. I shall definately check these ladies out.

      Beware! I shall probably be back for more advice as the months progress! I hope to share something of the book when I can. I’m not sure how favourably the publishing world views online “teasers” before securing a contract – do you have any insight/advice on this? My instinct is to keep it under lock & key for now. Best wishes & thank you for all your support to date!

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  4. Oh, well done, you!! What a wonderful post- I adore your voice, your style, and I’m so proud you went through this process.
    I worked with an editor over the summer as well-and it was gratifying as much as it was really, really hard. I’ve just launched my novel into the query world and I shudder to think what I would have been sending out had I not sought the support and wisdom of an independent editor. It remains to be seen if my story will be of interest to any agent or publisher, but I’m so very proud of the housecleaning I did on the manuscript.

    I have very mixed experiences with and feelings about beta readers, especially after I have seen what a skilled professional editor can offer. I’m not certain if I will seek beta readers again for the novel I now have in revision.

    I wish you so much success as you continue to revise and courage as you send it out into the world. I can’t wait to read of your next steps!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you Julie! You can come back here anytime ๐Ÿ™‚ You have genuinely made my day with your lovely words. I remember starting to follow your journey all those months ago and secretly hoping that one day I would have a finished draft. There’s still a bit to do, but I can honestly say that if there is no interest it, completing what I set out to do (i.e. writing a novel) will be prize enough. But obviously fame and fortune would be a bonus!!!

      Really interesting comment about beta readers. They seem to be getting a mostly lukewarm reception over here.

      Thanks your comments. Keep up the good work & speak again soon x

      Liked by 1 person

      • Oh, don’t get me wrongโ€”I was lucky enough to work with an incredible independent editor for my first novel. Now my publishers provide top notch editorial guidance. But for me, anyway, getting feedback from readers is important. As Chuck Wendig says, you don’t necessarily take all their advice. But when you start to hear the same thing over again, you know it’s something that needs to be addressed. Obviously, every writer is different, and I think that your genre matters too. (Although, like you, my daughters are also my best beta readers. Two are professional writers, and the third is my co-author.)

        As a book reviewer, I can honestly say that most indie-books could have used a professional editor. I give each manuscript 25 typos/spelling/grammar mistakes. If that doesn’t get me through the first quarter of the book, I usually tell them that I can’t review.

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