I recently finished the first draft of my fourth novel Monkey See, which I have been writing, on and off, for a year and a half. It is such an exciting moment to come to the end of a novel. The feeling that I only had one scene to write lasted almost a week. It kept turning out that there was just one more scene to write! But eventually I got there. 75,000 words. 200 pages. And a story I am feeling really confident about.
Monkey See is the first novel I have written using a plan. It is, I should point out, an extremely loose plan – essentially a table containing 8 key plot points. But I really felt that it helped to guide me. I have written this book more quickly than any book in the past. And I haven’t suffered from writer’s block at any point which is also a first for me. I’m sure having a plan played a role in this – I always felt I knew what direction I needed to steer in.
Having a plan felt more important than usual because Monkey See is the first book in a trilogy and it scared the bejeesus out of me to imagine pantsing my way through a three-book series. I might have gone completely in the wrong direction (which happened while writing my third novel, The Ark) and it would have been a long and wearying journey back to the straight and narrow.
However, I have had some guard rails in place to keep me from veering too wildly off course. I speak, of course, of my brilliant writing critique group: Amanda Curtin, Natasha Lester, Yvette Walker, Dawn Barker and Sara Foster. We meet around once a month to read each other’s work and it is an invaluable process. Each person brings something different to the table, but combining their skills is like having access to a writing superhero! Amanda has an ear for language, tuned by twenty years of editing experience, Yvette is attuned to emotional undercurrents, Sara notices discrepancies and gaps in logic. Natasha has an instinct for pacing and Dawn has a knack for suspense, plus with her psychiatric background frequently plays the role of medical consultant! As well as helping me to improve my writing through their technical feedback, these amazing women have been unfailingly supportive and encouraging throughout the writing process and their enthusiasm for the story has spurred me on.
I’m now in the process of editing the novel, weeding out the words I overuse, tying up loose ends and tightening it up in every conceivable way. I’ll check back in to let you know how the process is going. Wish me luck!