Every writer knows the feeling. You give your blood, sweat and tears to a story and the day you finish it is one for the books. You think: “Wow this is the greatest thing I’ve ever written.” Or: “This is going to be a best seller. Watch me become the next J.K Rowling.”
Not that anybody wants to be like J.K Rowling (that woman has way more controversy than I can count) but her blooming success in the writing industry is something that I think most of us strive for, even if we don’t like to admit it. So it doesn’t hurt to daydream.
But I didn’t become the next great American writer and my novel reminds me of where I used to be and how far I’ve come. And that isn’t a bad thing either. I think that was the stepping stone to my fifth book and I think I’ll make better choices with that story because of the things I learned from Set Me Free.
So I wanted to share some of those thoughts with you guys!
Hear me out. I know the plot is kind of important to the story so if that sucks then what do you have? Nothing. You have nothing.
In my case, Set Me Free is only 165 pages. Maybe a little less. That’s not enough room to truly explore a world and have the plot move at a steady pace. Looking back on it now, I think that I had a good direction on where to go, but poor execution.
That doesn’t mean there isn’t one, but it’s more of a skeleton rather than a full fledged story. There are so many areas that I could’ve explored or expanded more on that would’ve made the story more compelling, but I didn’t.
Remember, I started this story when I was fourteen and published it when I was seventeen, so my amount of knowledge about the world and racism and police brutality was relatively confined to my own experience. And at the time, my experience was very minimal. I think that lack of true awareness showed up in my writing and negatively affected my plot. So doing more research was critical to really fleshing it out and I didn’t do that.
No shade to fourteen year old Kae, but girl we have to do better!
Now, I won’t say all of my characters are horrible, but some of them could use a little work.
My main character, Laura Freeman, is probably the most three dimensional character in the entire book and that’s because she’s based off of me. So much so, that I think I lack the ability to create anyone who doesn’t resemble a lot of my own features. It kind of sounds a little narcissistic now that I think about it.
I’m not saying your main character can’t have elements of you in them, but they also have to be their own person, not a carbon copy. This is actually something that I’m struggling with in my current novel, which is why I’m glad I’m only on the first draft so I can fix it early. I think it’s important to create characters that are authentic and unique.
Now for my three male characters, Chris, Max and Nathan, I found it difficult to truly capture a masculine energy for them. Clearly I’m female, so my knowledge on males is pretty limited, especially back then. I was never around a lot of males my age, especially black males, so I didn’t really have anybody that I could study or give questions to. I tried my best with the knowledge I did have, but I wish I could’ve made them a little more authentic because I think they lean too far into the unrealistic category as the book progresses.
Now that I’ve met different groups of people and I’ve had the chance to interact with males in my age group, I think I have a better sense on what to look for. I also have friends and a boyfriend that I can consult if I ever have questions, so it should make it a lot easier going forward.
Outside of that, there was actually a few minor characters that I should’ve explored more because I think it would’ve added a few more layers to the novel.
Now I do think that I did a good job with Chris and Laura’s relationship as siblings and the budding relationship between Laura and Nathan, but that’s a weak point that I should’ve addressed then, but plan on addressing in my future works.
So we’ll start with my writing style.
Actually I don’t hate it! But I think there are a few moments where it’s choppy or it could’ve been stripped down because some of it doesn’t really add anything to the story. My writing style hasn’t really changed too significantly since releasing Set Me Free, but I do find myself cutting to the point a little quicker unless I’m deep in my characters’ thoughts.
As for my dialogue, the biggest gripe I have with it is how long it is. And how it sounds the same so each character doesn’t truly have their own voice.
Of course it depends on the person, but I feel like most people aren’t giving monologues every ten seconds and if they do have something to say they usually beat around the bush. I feel like a lot of my characters just said how they felt without any real push and pull from their own mind or someone else.
So in my current book that’s something I’ve actually started to pay attention to because the last thing I need is for all my characters to sound like emotional robots!
Second Pair Of Eyes
Now I don’t exactly have this luxury now and I really didn’t have it back then, so this might be null and void, but I still feel like it’s important to note.
I think that every writer should have a second pair of eyes. And if you don’t have one, then put your book to the side for a while until you can look at it with a fresh gaze. If you have to try printing it out if you typed it or vice versa.
For me, I didn’t have someone else to read it and I didn’t spend enough time away from it. Recipe for disaster if you ask me. It’s so important that you do this because as a writer, you know the story forwards and backwards. Because of this, you’re not going to catch certain things that need to be fixed.
This is what happened to me. And by the time I actually had other people read it, it was already on the road to being published or they weren’t really being supportive, so I never received the feedback that I critically needed.
Going forward, I want to try out beta readers. It’s a little difficult for me because I hate relinquishing control like that, but it held me back then and it’s holding me back now. And I’m going to actually take a step back for more than a couple weeks so I can let my story breathe. I’m sure it’s going to make me a better writer in the long run and it’ll really help improve my story.
Microsoft Word sucks. That’s all I’m going to say.
Formatting was an absolute bitch on that software so now fast forward three years and I’m stuck with something that isn’t uniform and I’m procrastinating the e-book because I have to completely re-do it.
An easy fix to this is to actually know how to format a book on Microsoft Word (which I didn’t then and still don’t now) or get a program like Scrivener so it can do all the work for you. Of course that’s still a learning curve all on it’s on, but when I wrote Mourning Doves, I used that to format it. Let me tell you something: formatting it for different versions (i.e. ebook and hardcover) was ten times easier. Still a headache, but less of one.
I saved the best for last. I actually did this with all four of my books and I regret not marketing it more. I think the lack of marketing didn’t create enough of a hype around my book so that’s why I think it fell flat.
You can market all you want after you publish the book, but I feel like it gains better traction if you start getting the wheels turning for it a couple of months in advance. I also didn’t really have a branded author page at the time. It was like half that and half other shit or mostly poetry and it was just a mess. Needless to say I’m trying to switch that around for the new year and hopefully trying a new marketing approach on my fifth book might help it gain a better audience.
I also have to keep up with the marketing. I promise you I stopped plugging Set Me Free after a few months and now I barely talk about it. It’s not that I’m ashamed, but I don’t think it reflects who I am now. Just like my previous two before Set Me Free. It’s part of my past, but not part of my future. But that doesn’t make it any less important because it was apart of my journey of becoming the writer I am today. So I need to remember that every time I cringe at what I created because at one point in time that story was my whole world.
So that concludes my thoughts about my first novel. If you’re a writer who’s working on their first book, take some of my tips into consideration. And if you’ve already published your first book and you feel similar to me, remember that nothing is perfect on the first try. But that doesn’t mean you have to forget about the work you put in. You can always see where to improve so you know what to apply to your future work, but that doesn’t mean you have to hate what you created. Let it be a reminder on where you started and how successful you will be as you keep going.
Until next time!