Last night I typed “the end” on the first draft of It’s In The Stars.
Now, before you say, ‘wow Jo, that’s great! Didn’t you send off the first draft of your Philly Barker novel only a few weeks ago? You’re a writing machine..’ let me put this one into perspective. But first, I need to take you back in time.
Once upon a time, in a land far far away – okay, it was Sydney and about ten years ago – I had an idea for a series of chick lit novels set in Melbourne that would be like Love Actually, if Love Actually was a series of chick lit novels set in Melbourne.
The idea was to write five novels, each stand-alone but tied to the others by supporting characters. In the final novel everyone would be brought together – just like in the final airport scene of Love Actually.
From the start I knew who my lead characters would be:
- Emily Cooper – an IT business analyst with a habit of dating men on the rebound from women they tend to rebound back to.
- Abby Brentnall – an accountant, brittle and damaged as the result of a childhood trauma she needs to resolve before she can find lasting happiness.
- Calliope Jones – an HR professional hung up on her undeserving ex-boyfriend and convinced all will be well if she can just get him back.
- Tiffany Samuels – a straight-talking uber ambitious corporate highflyer who doesn’t believe in love.
- Alice Delaney – an astrologer with a closer relationship to Temptation than she should have, and a book of rules designed to keep her out of the trouble that Temptation leads her into.
While Calliope, Tiffany and Alice are best friends, the others are loosely connected – as are the timelines of their stories – so I needed a way of keeping track of everything. To do this I used spreadsheets – one with character names and descriptions, and another with approximate dates the action was taking place over.
Even with these, for someone who doesn’t plan ahead, it’s been a nightmare to make the pieces match – and I’m sure there are some slightly out. It’s been made even more of a nightmare because I never know the plot of a novel until I’m actually writing it.
Alice’s story, It’s In The Stars, was always intended to be the last in the series – the one where everyone was brought together. I also knew that the vintage blue suede coat that Emily bought in Baby, It’s You with a bucket list in the pocket would make a reappearance. How this was going to happen though, I had no idea.
It would be an understatement to say I struggled. I wrote the first 50,000 words of this in Nanowrimo back in 2018, then I trashed them and wrote them again in Nanowrimo 2019. I picked the story up again during 2020 and 2021 and each time Alice had a different path she wanted to me to go down. Last year alone I changed the first three chapters at least three times before sticking with the way I originally wrote it. (Lesson to new authors, always keep the words you delete in a “trash” file in case you come back to them.)
I promised my editor I’d have it to her early last year – she got Escape To Curlew Cottage instead. I promised her she’d have it late last year – she got the first in the Philly Barker series. I truly began to wonder whether I could finish it. It had taken me three years to get Baby, It’s You to a publishable standard, and it was beginning to look very much as it would take even longer to get It’s In The Stars out there.
So, during the Christmas break, I sat down at my laptop determined to write the last 20,000 odd words – even though I still didn’t know how I was going to get there.
It took almost 30,000 extra words, but last night I got there.
I still need to run through it again to make sure I haven’t contradicted myself, and I’m still not entirely happy with the opening chapters (and suspect my editor won’t be either) but as someone who has written and sold a lot more books than I have once said – you can’t edit a blank page. It might have even been the same person who said something like all first drafts are crap. (Sorry Mum, I know you don’t like that word but it’s better than the other one I was going to use…)
Anyways, that first draft is done. We’ve still got a long way to go until it’s published, but it’s done.
As for what’s next?
I know this one was going to be the last in the series, but I have a hankering to write Ainsley St James’ story as a Christmas novel. Ainsley has appeared in Callie, Tiff and Alice’s books and is a bitch of the highest order (sorry Mum, I know you don’t like that word either), but maybe, just maybe, there’s a reason for that and maybe, just maybe, she has some redeeming features that are waiting under the surface to sneak out through the cracks.
Can I? Can I? Congratulations! You were hijacked by your character! Wonderful! It’s done. Draft #2 now!
I’m always getting hijacked by my characters, but Alice has been more capricious than the others…We’ve had words about it on more than one occasion.
Well I still think you’ve done a wonderful job, Jo. I think many readers forget what happens behind the scenes to get a storyline together, let alone a book ready to be published.I can see how having spreadsheets with different characters, storylines and trying to tie them all into one final book would be a nightmare. You are an inspiration! xx
I bet it is such a relief to have finished it! Well done!
Great job Jo – and thank you for this wonderful explanation of your process. Very encouraging for someone who has been working on her first draft for ten years. I’m encouraged by the quote too. And finishing the first draft is one of my dreams/goals for 2022.
I’m really loving your ‘behind the scenes’ on the process of book writing. Like everyone, I want to write a book one day and your explanations on the realities of writing are very reassuring and inspirational. My goal for 2022 is to make a start on my first draft! Thank you for sharing your work.
Jo, it makes sense that you use spreadsheets when creating your character’s stories. I can only imagine what it must be like to have all those different personalities and storylines running around in your head, especially when you know some of them very well and others are just emerging. Nothing can be assumed, or else your readers will be lost. What a special gift you have. Congratulations on completing the first draft of It’s In The Stars.
And double-yes to Ainsley appearing in a Christmas Novel!
Congratulations! You’re a writing machine! (Not to mention the fact you have so much other stuff on your plate!)
Congratulations! Well done…
This is brilliant Jo, I too love hearing about the behind the scenes stuff, how you keep track of all the goings on, characters etc! Thanks for letting us have a sneak peek at your writing life and I can’t wait to read this one too!
You might not think you’re a writing machine, but after reading that little explanation of your process, I think you’re definitely indefatigable (I had to check the spelling on that one!) Go you for pushing through to the end – and for keeping all those characters and storylines in your head – I have trouble remembering what I had for dinner last night!
Firstly Jo, I do think you’re a writing machine. I really don’t know how you do it. I really enjoyed reading this as I’m just about to start reading Baby It’s You. As you might remember, I’ve never really given romance ago. But in 2021 I read a few romances and even enjoyed them much to my surprise. So I’ve decided it’s time to give your books a go. The reason I’ve chosen Baby It’s Your for my first Jo book is the book challenge prompt ‘book with a household object on the cover’ . At a stretch, I reckon a bucket is a household object. Well done on getting all that writing done. It gives me a headache just thinking about it.
Thanks so much. Baby,It’s You was my first book – I’ve changed a lot since then. And yes, a bucket absolutely qualifies.
Congratulations Jo. I know you said it’s “only the first draft,” that’s a huge accomplishment in my book. Good luck with your next steps.
Gaiman’s words are so wise. I get so caught up on whether it should be ‘who’ or ‘whom’ that I can’t get on with the story. So proud of your ambition and drive and stick-to-it-ness. I have a feeling this is going to be YOUR year.
That’s so funny – I leave detail like that to the copy editor lol. I hope your feeling is right, and thanks, as always, for ducking in. Have a great week.
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