A debut author’s journey, from dreaming up a plot to publication
Over the years I’d had countless ideas for the book I’d be lead to believe was within each of us, but every time I crossed the 15,000 word marker, just as I was getting somewhere, I’d suddenly realise I had no idea what should happen next, and besides it was a rubbish idea any way. I didn’t care about my characters or what happened to them enough to write it, so I had no chance of persuading a reader to get beyond chapter three. I’d file it away, clogging up my crappy old laptop’s limited storage space, and hope for inspiration to come once more. It did, and the same thing happened, again and again.
But this time it was different.
I started to write Don’t Forget Me in December 2018. Without sounding too romantic, dramatic, or downright whimsical – for I am none of these things – the idea came to me in a dream. It was, in fact a nice dream filled with love and dedication, commitment and unwavering loyalty. I enjoyed the dream, but that wasn’t quite the book I wanted to write. The more I thought about the plot and the characters that had been born into my subconscious when I was least expecting it, the more these concepts with their good intentions began to take on a more sinister meaning.
‘She’ll follow him anywhere,’ I told my husband, and anyone else who would listen.
‘Creepy,’ he replied.
‘She’ll never give up, she just loves him so much.’
‘She sounds like a nightmare,’ he observed.
And bit by bit as we chatted, and I sketched out plot ideas and characters, Olivia, my protagonist became obsessed, and determined to get what she believed was rightfully hers, at any cost. So I started to write, but I was inexperienced despite numerous previous efforts, and had no qualifications. I needed help.
I bought an online set of tutorials delivered by Margaret Atwood, and this taught me how to get inside the head of my characters. How would she react in this or that situation, what would she say, what happened to her to make her the way she is. Olivia, Megan, and Adam, the focus of the novel all had back stories, clothing preferences, hair-dos, and quirks of character. They had favourite foods and annoying little habits. They were deeply flawed and I liked them much better that way.
I also attended a week-long tutored writing retreat with Arvon, where I was taught and advised by authors Claire Fuller and Andrew Taylor. I was 40,000 words in by this point, so I was a strange mixture of grateful and devastated when their advice on Olivia’s age, life experience, and character meant a fairly substantial rewrite. Back then I didn’t realise I would save Draft Version 18 before I started querying. It was worth it. It became increasingly apparent that it takes a village to raise a book.
I am a planner, and so I found the process of drawing diagrams and timelines and colour-coding plot points and sub point points extremely satisfying, and it helped me to measure my progress. Three major incidents down, two to go. The structure and direction meant it was easier to focus on having fun with the writing, creating the scenes, and finding out what Olivia was capable of. When I thought I’d finished (the first draft – and how we now laugh at my naivety), re-reading it to edit, and as it happened add another 10,000 words, whilst removing 15,000, and adding another 20,000, felt arduous, almost insurmountable.
I paid for a professional to read some passages, and following their feedback, added and removed a bunch more words. I did the same when I asked my family to review it, as potential readers rather than professionals. I discussed it with them, and their perceptions of my characters and their journeys told me when I hadn’t been clear enough, and where I needed to work harder with my words.
I started writing Don’t Forget Me in December 2018, and the first draft was complete in August 2019. By the end of that year I’d been rejected over thirty times, but in October 2020, I got an offer from a publisher, and then between us went through another five or six rounds of edits. The novel and I have been through a lot in the last couple of years. The lovely idea from the dream developed into a sinister plot, characters and events changed significantly, multiple times, and the range of emotions from excitement, satisfaction, to disappointment and almost giving up, and back to the excitement and now the fear I feel now as publication day looms has sometimes been a struggle.
I’ve learned a lot, but I doubt it will be any easier next time. And that’s okay, because ultimately the one thing writing remains, for me, is fun. I’m fortunate to have been able to harness that inspiration and develop it into an actual real book. On publication day I’ll be pinching myself. I just hope readers like it.
(c) Lisa Nicholas
About Don’t Forget Me:
Olivia has a plan.
Time stopped for Olivia when Adam left, but now she’s found him.
With Megan gone, and Adam lost in a tangled web of lies, Olivia is ready to take what’s hers.
She has waited too long. She is watching now. And she knows that soon enough the truth will come out.
He won’t forget her this time.
A twisty psychological thriller about love, obsession, and the desperation to belong.
Order your copy online here.