I wrote a twitter post a couple of days back that mourned my days of hope. I remember when I started out on this long, arduous and yet rewarding path, that I thought typing the words ‘the end’ on a book meant that was it. I was done, dusted, move over J K Rowling here I come. But it turns out “the end” is only the beginning. Whether, like me, you are opting for the all in Indie Publishing route or whether you are launching into the befuddling world of agents and publishers, unless you are an extremely talented author (in which case, I want to steal your brain), the first draft is only a starting place on your book’s long journey to published.
As luck would have it, we live in a world now of information. There are thousands upon thousands of books out there to tell you what to do and where to go next, and a million more blogs beside. But there are a few resources that I think are more than important. The reason I make this post about editing and drafting rather than writing is because, in practise, the writing is the easy part. It requires an idea, an ability to string words together in a fairly coherent order and a thing to write them on. Editing and drafting is where the science comes in. Where the hard slog from diamond in the rough to shining gem is done. It’s where, in many ways, the real writing is done. First drafts are all about storytelling. It is second, third, fifth, or in my case, twenty-second drafts that are about the craft of writing. So here are my five essentials that I won’t write without.
1. A Good Dictionary
Seems obvious but the amount of writers I know that don’t use one. We all think we know language and what words mean. But sometimes, it’s good to double-check, make sure the context of a word is right, or the connotation. And not just when you are writing but when you are reading as well. One of my favourite parts of the KindleApp is the click for definition. I have learnt so many new words that I would have otherwise skimmed past because the idea of getting up and grabbing a dictionary, breaking the spell of the world, didn’t seem enticing. Words that I have since picked up in my own writing.
I use three dictionaries. Firstly, the google “define” function (type ‘define: word’ into the search bar and it’ll retrieve a definition for you). Secondly, dictionary.com. It’s close and quick when I’m working on my laptop. And finally, the good old classic, The Oxford English. No bookshelf is complete without it.
2. A Thesaurus
A thesaurus, used correctly, can be the most powerful tool an author has at their disposal. I am a serial user of thesaurus.com. It’s quick and easy and gives, mostly, accurate answers. I always run the word I choose through a quick google-define search to make sure it means what I want it to mean because sometimes you get some real odd choices. Blutterbunged anyone? Also, fun fact, if you type “the” into the chrome search bar and then click tab (making sure it finds thesaurus.com, you may have to visit the site manually first), it’ll let you search within the thesaurus.com network without having to go through the main page.
3. A Grammar Guide
There are, I have found, two classes of writers. Those that love grammar, that thrive on all those fiddly little nuances that make English the most difficult language in the world to learn. And then there are those like me, that want to write well but find the whole thing a little… well… intimidating. Unless you have 100% faith in your grammar skills, I highly recommend a grammar guide that can sit on your desk. Look for one with a good index so flick searching is easy. The one I use is the Bloomsbury Grammar Guide by Gordon Jarvie and I would highly recommend it. And just one final comment on the topic. The more I research and learn grammar, the more I am realising just how much difference there is between British English (real English) and American English. I would advise that you choose which of the two you want to conform to and buy a guide that matches that. This is why I always recommend using several different online guides if you are looking for guidance on the internet. Gotta love a language that has two sets of rules, both of which are right but you have to match the right styles together to make a book flow.
4. A writing package you trust
… and moreover, have a system within it that works for you. Some people like corkboards and string. Some people like a floor full of paper and an awful lot of highlighters. Most people, I would wager, like MS Word with its high processing power and familiar workstation. And some people like more specialist writing packages, like Scrivener. Learn to love your new home because you are going to spend hours and hours there. Make sure it is the right home for you and your writing.
5. Something to write on at all times
As any author will tell you, inspiration is like a good old-fashioned English bus, it is irregular, never on time and completely unpredictable. Always be ready to jot down ideas. I remember vividly getting inspired halfway around the supermarket one day (must have been the Hobnobs that did it), so I took out my phone and started voice recording. It took me two more aisles before I realised I was garnering an awful lot of stares as I proceeded to record prophecies of doom aloud. My point is, just be ready. Ideas love 4am. Finally figuring out what it is about your latest chapter that isn’t working will, of course, come to you in the middle of the most important meeting of your career. And the shower… don’t even get me started on the shower. I have notes on everything. From torn off pieces of a waitress pad to voice recordings on my phone. From incoherent scribbles done in a semi-unconscious state in the middle of the night to shorthand written on my hand to be logged onto paper the first chance I get. And let me tell you, some of that stuff is some of the best stuff in my work. So like the Scouts always say “be prepared”.