A month or so ago I was chatting with a friend about the first manuscript I sent off to Mills and Boon. I spent the summer after I returned from University bashing it out on a manual typewriter and then sent my pages off by snail mail. In due course it was rejected but by that time I had a job and other things in life had begun to take over, so it was another lifetime before I tried again. But that first try, and my first hero and heroine, still occupy a very special place in my heart.
The conversation inspired me to dig out the manuscript (yes, I still have the whole book, gathering dust at the back of a cupboard) and to re-read the first few chapters. I could see exactly why the book was rejected, and if I’d known then what I know now…
But of course, I didn’t. How could I? Because when I think about it, writing is all about making your own mistakes, finding out what you can and can’t do, and no-one else can talk you through that. I’m often asked ‘how do you write’ and never quite sure what to say. But I don’t mind dropping the tact with my younger self and giving her a bit of a shake 🙂 Now I’m much older and slightly wiser, perhaps a letter to the Annie who wrote that first manuscript is the best answer I can give.
When I read the first few chapters of your book, I liked it – I really did. Your enthusiasm for your characters shines through, but… well I’m going to give it to you straight. There’s an awful lot you need to learn before this is even remotely close to being good enough.
I could go into a bit of detail – that first chapter where you tell me what everyone else thinks of the heroine, and what brings her to the place where she first sets eyes on the hero is tolerably well written. But I really don’t care about any of it, because as a reader the one thing I want to know is how the hero sees her! Cross it all out, throw your hero and heroine in at the deep end, and let their past experiences filter out as and where they’re needed. I understand how much you value order, but aim for a bit of chaos as well!
As to your dialogue… Seriously, Annie, I know you don’t speak like this. If you’d just read it aloud you’d have realised that all those ‘I will’ and ‘I have’ would sound a lot less stilted if you’d popped in a few ‘I’ll’ and ‘I’ve’ here and there.
Your hero is pretty darn perfect. Actually a bit too perfect, he’s driving me nuts. How about a few human flaws? The things that I know you value in the people around you, just as much as their strengths. The point of all of this is that although your hero and heroine will be asked to be super-human at times, that loses its impact if they’re not human the rest of the time. Try writing what you see around you, rather than what you think you ought to see.
Since I like to think that I’m not so very different from you, all of this is annoying the life out of me. But they’re things that can be rectified. The one thing I want to get into your head in terms of your writing is that you’ve got to make lots of mistakes and learn from them. Cultivate the fine art of knowing when something isn’t working. Grit your teeth, cross out whole passages or even chapters. Try again, and make it work this time.
In life, you’ll be making your share of mistakes and you’ll survive them (I can’t tell you how because… spoilers…). And while I’d love to apply a quick nudge to the tiller in places, to steer you away from things I regret now, I wouldn’t want you to un-live a single one of the mistakes you make in your writing. Because time’s never wasted on those, you have to learn and they’re all part of an ongoing process that hasn’t ended for me yet.
Finally – and you’re going to have to trust me on this one because the rules of time travel don’t permit me to tell you how it’s going to happen. But hang on in there, because I know you’ll make it 🙂
Love Annie xx