Today my mum came round for lunch, carting with her a hefty folder holding my novel so far, and two A-4 sheets covered in notes and ideas and revisions for it.
Bless her; she had trawled through 90,000 words of my ramblings and endless repetitions, just cause she’s my mum.
She said, and I quote- “it’s good, it has the potential to get published (these were the magic words I was hoping to hear), but it still requires a lot of time and attention.” Luckily I was already aware of this.
I am currently in the process of writing a self help book, around the topic of recovery from serious mental illness such as schizophrenia or bi-polar disorder.
I personally have a diagnosis of paranoid schizophrenia, given to me eleven years ago when I was 20- and I won’t lie, the ride since then has been kinda bumpy.
I started to write my book in January, and at that point it was the result of about 200 pieces of paper that I’d scribbled ideas and notes down on, and then stuck in a drawer or somewhere equally random for safe-keeping. This process started about four years ago.
Four years ago I gave a speech on “Hope, and recovery from severe mental illness” at a day conference I’d been asked to attend by my CPN and social worker at the time. The speech went really well, and I got lots of compliments and positive feedback; in fact one guy was so enthusiastic I actually gave him my copy of the speech simply because I didn’t know what else to say or do for him.
He told me that I had really made him believe that he could get better again, and that my speech had given him hope. I was so pleased, and so moved that he felt that way. One of the social workers who was there that day said to me that I should turn my speech into a book: and thus the seeds were planted.
Since then the book has kind of taken shape itself; every time an idea relating to my recovery came into my head I would scribble it down somewhere, and over the course of years that pile of notes steadily grew.
Last January, I felt as though I had reached a point where I was actually ready to start putting the book together: I felt as though I was at a place in my life where I could look back and really grasp how far I have come.
This was definitely the kind of positive mind set that I wanted to start writing from.
So I started pulling together all the notes and transferring them onto my pc, which was a long painful process in itself because there were a lot of them, they were in no order and most of them weren’t written in actual sentences, just improvised short-hand. Once they were all on the computer I then set about trawling through them, and trying to create some sense of structure and order.
In the last nine months a book has emerged from all of that scribbling. It is still in it’s infancy, and needs a lot more work, but I can see it beginning to take shape.
About six weeks ago I sent it my second draft out to close friends and family who agreed to beta read it for me, and this evening I plan to email those kind people and ask them to send me their notes and comments. I have had a much needed break whilst they have been reading, and after seven and a half months of fairly intense work I definitely needed some time to focus on other things.
Next week, however, I am getting back into it.
The next stage is to reduce it from it’s current length of about 90,000 to ideally around 50,000- 55,000 words. It is a self help book for people with serious mental health issues, and I don’t think anything over about 55,000 words is realistic. I don’t want something which is going to intimidate somebody who is considering reading, I want it to feel manageable.
So how to reduce it’s length by almost 50%? This is going to be my major headache over the next few months.
Naturally, I am quite attached to what I have written so far, and cannot conceive of how I am going to let so much of it go. My boyfriend suggested that the chapters I let go of could be turned into blog posts, which does take some of the sting out of it, but it”s still going to be a difficult process.
As it is atm, I have 32 chapters, an introduction and a conclusion. This is simply too much. However a part of me does instinctively lean towards the idea of having many short chapters, rather than a few longer ones; just because again I think that the whole thing would be a lot easier to read this way.
Short chapters don’t take too long to get through, and mean that the reader can pick those that interest them, and kind of move through the book that way. It is easier to break up, and easier to approach. So I do like the idea of having lots of short, choppy, easily digestible chapters- but 32 is probably still too many.
Mum suggested that 20 would be about the maximum, so I would still need to reduce the number by a third. The idea of cutting out so much does still gives me butterflies- but I guess this is just a painful part of the editing process that I will need to get used to!
The next stage in this process is going to be following in mum’s footsteps and reading back through the whole book, all 90,000 words of it; and from there starting to make some tentative notes on where I have repeated myself, where I have rambled, and where I’m just writing crap.
I just need to keep my end-goal in sight, which ultimately is to hang on to the best 55,000 words, do lots of research into how to write self help books effectively, and lots of soul searching and thinking about how I feel I can best deliver a message of hope and recovery.
I plan to use this blog to document the process of writing and editing, and probably also vent some frustration when the going gets tough..
Wish me luck!