Today I am joined by novelist Emily Williams, who has just published her debut, Letters to Eloise
It was a long road to publication for Emily and here she chats about that process on my stop on the blog tour.
A very practical and informative post, so do please continue reading as I hand you over to Emily now…
From blank page to publication
Writing Letters to Eloise
It has been a long road from blank page to the publication of my novel Letters to Eloise.
Over four years in fact.
The writing process has been incredibly rewarding and personal to me, and I have enjoyed everything about it; even the frustrating evenings formatting something throughout the entire novel as I realised what I had got wrong!
I have learnt an incredible amount along the journey from the very first day with that blank page.
Letters to Eloise is the heart-wrenching debut epistolary novel by Emily Williams; a love story of misunderstandings, loss, and betrayal but ultimately the incredible bond between mother and child.
‘Receiving a hand written letter is something that always puts a smile on my face, no matter who the sender is.’ Flora Tierney.
When post-graduate student Flora falls unexpectedly pregnant during her final year studies she hits a huge predicament; continue a recent affair with her handsome but mysterious lecturer who dazzles her with love letters taken from the ancient tale of ‘Abelard and Heloise’, or chase after the past with her estranged first love?
But will either man be there to support her during the turmoil ahead?
‘Banish me, therefore, for ever from your heart’ – Abelard to Heloise.
Letters to Eloise has a very special place in my heart now.
I hope you enjoy the novel … and enjoy reading about how I achieved the process from blank page to publication.
Generating the first ideas for ‘Letters to Eloise’ was a long process.
I carried a notebook and jotted down rough notes and ideas, but nothing ‘grabbed’ my interest. Then, I was lucky; the idea came to me suddenly like a lightening strike. This one idea (with Flora as the central character) sprang to mind and I scribbled down a timeline and plot.
Looking back at those notes, most of the ideas for ‘Letters to Eloise’ came from those initial jottings on that day. I used a hardback notebook for the plan of the novel, devoting the first few pages for character notes and photos I had cut out of magazines to try and visualise the characters; then a grid overview of each chapter, leading up to the finish.
Once the plan was finalised, I sat down and started writing!
Overcoming writers block
Writers block, for me, is more to do with procrastination and not actually starting!
I found that once I had started the novel, I wrote quickly and became immersed in the plot and characters lives. I wrote ‘Letters to Eloise’ letter by letter, but not in any particular order. I found that this was the best way to overcome writers block; I just picked which letter I felt like writing. It did mean that I had to change the initial overview plan several times as the story took me ‘off grid’!
Several characters, such as Brian and Brooke, developed further as the story unfolded, which changed the plot outline a little and added new elements. I had to ‘rein in’ the characters a little from taking over! I also had to go through with a fine tooth-comb to check I had not slipped up and made plot holes due to the chopping and changing.
Editing and proof reading
This part took the most time!
I started ‘Letters to Eloise’ over four years ago. I set myself a deadline and stuck to it; by booking myself into a writer’s workshop at Regents College in London, I had the motivation to finish. It took three months from the initial plot ideas to complete the first draft. Then I fell pregnant …
As Flora was also pregnant, I couldn’t bring myself to edit the novel. You will understand why when you read it!
So the book was put on hold (in the meantime it was read by some fantastic beta readers and then proof read) until I returned to all the editing notes after having my second child last July. Once I returned to the novel and again immersed myself in the story, editing and proofreading has taken another five long months (with help from others!). I am terrible with commas I have realised! I had been very lucky to have the input from amazing proof and beta readers and all their notes helped when I returned to the novel. Then, finally, more amazing editors and line editors that pulled it all together ready for publication. It really helped to read the book aloud to yourself to pick out typos before anyone reads it; my first draft was read by friends and family and contained many, many errors that could have been cut out long before they read the book. I was lucky to have a friend in publishing that created several proof copy drafts to give to people; reading from an actual book is so much nicer.
I have learnt a huge amount about formatting!
The idea would be to set up the page at the beginning, making it a lot easier than to go back through (as I had to many times) and change everything.
Pointers to look out for ~ indenting the paragraphs correctly, speech marks preferred by publishing companies in your country, spacing after punctuation, special symbols for scene breaks (I used a footprint from my son – scanned in and reduced – for a scene break in the letters), em dashes and en dashes and page breaks.
I saved a separate trial draft of the manuscript to practise changing things until I found it worked and then went back to the master. Page settings such as gutter margins, page trim, and numbering can come after the writing process. I kept a pile of UK published novels next to me, so I could quickly look and check the formatting to ensure I was doing it correctly. Even within UK publishing houses there are discrepancies, so some flexibility is allowed; find one you like.
The only problem I found is for the kindle version of ‘Letters to Eloise’ some of the formatting isn’t needed as it can mess up the page alignment etc. So I had to go back through afterwards and remove the scene break pictures, strip the fancy font away and re-check that everything lay properly on the pages.
I tried having two versions, paperback, and kindle, earlier on in the process. But, when further proof reading notes arrived, I would have to change on both versions. Therefore, I just sorted paperback first, and then just took out anything that would mess up the kindle formatting.
Time consuming, yes, worth it, most definitely.
It is hard to let go when you have been through all that process and spent hours and hours, night after night working on your novel. Then finally, the novel is finished, the rewrites and editing is complete, and you have approved the novel for publication.
I have found that stage liberating, but oddly unsettling.
I now have to move onto the next novel!
Fortunately, another lightning bolt idea stuck and I’m back furiously jotting notes down in books and on post-it notes ready to produce an overview plan. The whole process begins again!
Good luck with your novel writing process! If you are not a writer, but an avid reader, I hope you enjoy our novels. It certainly has made me appreciate every novel I read now I understand the process behind the scenes and the time and dedication authors put into their work.
Letter to Eloise is available to buy on kindle and paperback from the 17th February.
You can also follow Emily Williams on Twitter