On writing

Writers—getting better over time

One thing wannabe writers are told is to write a million words. This makes sense. That’s the equivalent of ten novels. Or, if you rewrite—and of course you rewrite, don’t you—at least four or five. If your writing hasn’t improved by the time you have written a million words, you’re doing something wrong.

What they don’t tell you is that the improvement isn’t a steady upward line. At least, it wasn’t for us. We’d write along at the same level for a while, then get a sudden insight and improve a lot, so that the quality of one book was much improved from the previous two or three.

When we finished writing Linesman we thought it one of the best things we’d written to date. But not the best. It was one of three novels we wrote around the same time which were on a par, writing-wise.

It’s definitely the best now, because it’s been through three major rewrites since.

When we sent LINESMAN off to our agent we thought it was pretty good. Our agent made suggestions and we re-wrote chunks of it. After she started sending it out and we got feedback from editors we re-wrote it again. Then, once a publisher took it on, our editor made further suggestions and we rewrote once more.

While the base story is the same, there have been some massive changes to a story we thought was good enough to send out. We have learned a lot from our agent and editor’s input. We hope to use what we have learned to improve our stories in the future.

But your writing doesn’t always improve. The first story we wrote after we got our agent (which our agent hasn’t seen) wasn’t very good. Sometimes you slide backward in ability before you start to climb again.

That’s not to say the story isn’t better than, say, BARRAIN, which is nearly ten years old. Because it is. It’s much, much better. Even we, biased authors that we are, can see that. It’s just that we can also see it clearly needs more work to fix than the book we have just finished.

That’s probably the best part. That we can see it needs more work. Five years ago we probably couldn’t have seen that.

Combined, we’ve done our million words, or close to it. Over that time, our writing has improved. It just hasn’t been the continual ‘always improving’ that we expected it to be.

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