NB: I am currently on hiatus throughout May so will not be responding to comments until June.
Today I welcome the lovely K. J. Aiello onto my blog, who shares with us her novel-writing process.
Stephen King said, “Write with the door closed” and he’s totally right. Trust me on this.
When I first started writing, I was, like many greenhorn writers, excited. I was proud of every word I pounded out and I wanted to share it all with the world as soon as my fingers hit the keys.
The more I wrote, the more ideas I had and the easier the writing became. By the end of 2017, I’d finished my first full-length manuscript. I’d done it. I was a writer.
I printed the whole thing off (all 432 pages), and with my red pen in hand, proceeded to edit. Line-edit that is. I didn’t take into consideration structural changes, or tone, or pacing. None of that.
As I wrote, I’d been sending parts to my friends and family and only ever received praise in return. I relished in the praise. And why wouldn’t they praise my work? They had a writer in the family—mostly meaning, the process of writing and indeed writing a full-length novel was completely foreign to them.
With my abundant confidence, I checked all the punctuation, grammar, spelling and sentence structure. Polished it to what I thought was a shiny nugget of gold and whipped up a query letter and synopsis.
Off it went. Again, and again, and again. It should come as little surprise my manuscript didn’t get any traction. Of course, it wouldn’t! I’d only really half completed the job.
In my despair, I put the manuscript aside and said to myself that it would never see the light of day again and my writerly self went into hibernation.
What did I do wrong?
Well, among many things, I wrote the first draft with the door open. I let the praise of my friends and family give me potentially false confidence.
Writers should feel confident, don’t get me wrong, but they should also hold healthy skepticism about their own writing. Didn’t Hemingway say, “the first draft of anything is sh*t”? Yes, yes he did. And I was no exception.
By the time my second novel started percolating in my mind, I hadn’t learned from my mistakes. I wrote with the door open. I shared my bits with a writers’ group I was a part of, and I relished in the praise, I took in the critique, and all before I’d even reached 20,000 words.
This changed both my writing voice and my confidence. With each change, I struggled to overcome each hurdle. And let’s face it, writing a full-length novel is filled with hurdles.
That last manuscript still sits in a folder buried deep in my external hard drive. My writerly self once again fell back into her deep slumber and this time, I feared she’d never wake.
And then the next idea began to brew. It bubbled in my mind for quite a few months, slowly coalescing into characters with names and faces and storylines.
When I started writing it, I took my time, I drew out every moment, each scene written with my headphones on, my music blasting in my ears, and my door closed—both literally and metaphorically. Not even my partner has read the story and I can honestly say, this one is my favourite.
But I still hadn’t learned my lesson. Once again, I printed the whole thing off (this time, 379 pages—yes, I’m a tree-killer), and set to line editing, red pen clicking away in my hand. I ripped off a query letter and synopsis and off it went.
Nothing. Form rejection after form rejection, followed by silence. The funny thing is, all that time I knew in the back of my mind that I hadn’t been sending out the best work I possibly could send. The manuscript was not polished and glittering and beautiful. Not yet anyway.
That’s when I realized it was time to open that door.
I emailed a writing mentor of mine asking if she knew anyone who could critique a query letter and synopsis. As it turned out, she did. She referred me to a well-established author and an absolutely incredible editor.
This woman zeroed in on my query letter with hawk-like precision and she immediately pointed out problems with my synopsis—problems I’d hoped no one would notice.
Piece of advice: if you think no one will notice a flaw, think again. Problems with your writing will stick out like a sore thumb and leave agents and publishers cringing.
After some back and forth with the query and synopsis, I thought about swinging the door even wider and asked if she would take on a full manuscript edit. To my excitement and absolute terror, she said she was.
It was agreed—the door would be thrown wide open and all the holes, character issues, pacing, and structure problems would soon be hung out in broad daylight for a veteran writer and editor to critique. And I couldn’t have made a better decision.
The edits will begin this summer and I’m excited and confident in my decision. In the meantime, the little world I created sits quietly waiting until we both can turn our eyes and heartfelt attention (and for me, bravery) to the characters held within the pages—characters who truly deserve to be let out into the light.
Open the door, fellow writers, but only once you have written those final words—the end. Keep your voice strong, unfiltered, and unadulterated.
Keep it yours. Once you’ve hit the last key, sit back and let it simmer. Then throw the door open and with a strong team, get out your hammer and chisel and make that manuscript the most glittering, gorgeous diamond it can possibly be.
After all those words, doesn’t it deserve it?
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About K. J. Aiello
K. J. Aiello is a Toronto-based writer, and founder of K. J. Aiello & Associates, an academic and creative writing coaching and editing business.
K. J. Aiello is currently working on a New Adult Urban Fantasy trilogy which centers around Lia Vinci and Sparrow Morgan as a world of magic, winged creatures, and ancient underground organizations unfolds.
When not writing or helping students, she travels, reads like the world is on fire, and tries to get the laundry into the dryer before it gets smelly.
The Genesis Deception (WIP)
The Genesis Deception tells the story of two young women who have never met—but whose fates are intricately bound.
Lia Vinci, an introverted and quiet woman, is on a quest to find her missing mother that takes her across the world. But terrifying powers are rapidly consuming her—visions of a young woman with blue hair with breathing troubles are haunting her every minute, keeping her from getting any rest.
Sparrow Morgan, a stubborn and loveable cystic fibrosis patient fighting for her last breath, is called to where her twin brother, Josiah, has just disappeared—only to learn that something ancient is lying dormant deep beneath the Antarctic ice. And now it has woken up.
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Thanks so much to K.J. for being today’s guest poster and sharing her experiences writing her manuscripts.
Please check out her links and if you have any questions, please leave them in the comment section below.