What happens after you’ve written a novel…

What happens after you’ve written a novel…

Te Papa Tupu writer Ashlee Sturme explores the feelings that come after completing a manuscript and realising that the journey has only just begun.

Yay! I wrote a book!

Cue the celebrations! Pour the champers, order in takeout, light candles and let us dance! I am done, I am done!

Well, it’s not a book yet, of course. It’s a 353,250 character document on 244 pages. I print it so it feels real, lovely and heavy in my hands – half a ream of paper straining at the binding. Words, lots of them, that I have created.

I wake up crying, with an ending. I have never felt this way before. It is dark when I sit down and type it out, creating characters with huge emotions, poured into words. The final chapter of a story that is yet to be written.

Yay! I wrote a book!

Cue the celebrations! Pour the champers, order in a take-out, light candles and let us dance! I am done, I am done!

Well, it’s not a book yet, of course. It’s a 353,250 character document on 244 pages. I print it so it feels real, lovely and heavy in my hands – half a ream of paper straining at the binding. Words, lots of them, that I have created.

The twelve week novel

The bulk of the story writes itself. I work backwards – having finished the ending, I have to go and create a beginning. The first half flows and I cry as I write and then reread the story from my dream. 

The second half is a struggle. I try and fail at bringing together the characters, tidying off the finale. Slog, slog, write and delete and rewrite.

And then it is done. Exactly 12 weeks after the dream, the novel is complete. It is a story, with a beginning, middle and end, with believable characters and a plot and several themes. I have finished a novel!

 

I have finished a novel!

Editing… or rewriting

So, here’s the kicker that every emerging writer needs to know. Finishing the novel is the easy part. 

Turns out, that once you have done that, you rewrite it. And rewrite it. Editing doesn’t mean looking for errant uncapitalised words or funny places that commas have fallen. Editing means cutting out entire chapters that don’t work and rewriting them, and then rewriting it again when it still doesn’t work. 

I cannot tell you how defeated I felt when I found that out. 

There is nothing fun about rewriting your work, to go through each sentence, paragraph, chapter, and justify the words you have used, consider how it progresses your story. To consider the dialogue of all your characters, to check your settings are consistent, to pull apart the themes of your plot. 

Version two… three… five

Since I finished the novel, it has had several incarnations. I played around with a couple of different themes, different endings, and added in and deleted characters. I have been incredibly fortunate to have Janice Mariott and Whiti Hereaka and Susy Pointon assess and comment on my novel. 

The truth is, my novel is my work and my heart and it is very hard to put it out there. It feels like an extension of my soul, as if I am letting people see inside my head – all very vulnerable feelings. I struggle with sharing my creative work with people, to open myself up to feedback in a way that feels very personal.

Whiti pulled me up on several aspects that left me smarting before conceding to her wisdom. It took me a few days to process and then distance her comments that were about my work, not me. I feel prepared for Jacquie McRae, my wonderful mentor, to pick apart the story now!

 

The Te Papa Tupu trip

I had a fantastic trip to Wellington. I stood outside the National Library (and tried to forget about the controversial book culls!) and stared at the Beehive, feeling pride in my achievement. I sat with an incredibly talented group of writers, published and emerging, and felt immense privilege at being in their company. I soaked up their wisdom and thoughts, wrote their advice down, laughed at cried at their personal stories and journeys. I stood in front of the cabinet at Huia’s publishing house, and gazed at the glorious covers of their books. I told the imposter syndrome to quiet down, and I flew home motivated and assured.

 

The two hundred thousandth millionth rewrite

I’m the writer that wakes from a dream and creates a novel. Some plan their plots and characters and research their settings, but I make it all up as I go.

That’s awesome, says Jacquie, but it’s time to do some organising. The gorgeous gals at Huia hand me a stack of post-it notes and rainbow coloured sharpies and I realise it’s time to change my game plan. 

Jacquie has teased out character traits, threads of a plot, and told me to reduce the number of themes. “But what am I going to write about?” I cry, and she reassures me that there is enough story in what is left. Who can argue with a mentor whose last mentee has just had their published book released?

I spend a solid week planning the book in my head, living in my own world, creating my own universe. “Who are you talking to, Mum?” the kids ask. “What did you say, Mum?” they ask again. Turns out I’ve started talking to myself – brilliant!

So here I am, having just started the novel again. Yup, those 244 pages are out the door – yesterday’s news, today’s fire starter.

I’m now on page 14, two chapters in, and surrounded by squares of coloured paper on the walls around me. I’m booked in for our next workshop, have arranged some solo writing time, stocked up on dark chocolate for late nights ahead.

If this is what being a writer is all about, count me in. After all, I do love rainbow sharpies!

Ashlee Sturme

Ashlee Sturme

Ashlee Sturme (Ngati Awa, Te Arawa, Tuwharetoa) is an experienced non-fiction writer but her heart lies in fiction. Her dream is to make a career out of crafting words while raising her whanau in the beautiful Bay of Plenty. Ashlee holds several writing qualifications and is honoured to be chosen for Te Papa Tupu 2020.

If you enjoyed this post, please share it, and if you have other questions for the writers or any thoughts you’d like to share, feel free to leave a comment below. 

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