Nothing in writing is ever wasted. I firmly believe that. An idea may not work, but it often sets another idea in motion. Or it tells you what doesn’t work, which takes you closer to something that will work. Or something you hadn’t considered before.
That’s when I get excited – when I discover something new. It could be something I didn’t know about the character or a neat plot twist. Often, it’s a problem I’m struggling to resolve. A scene that refuses to flow or work, a plot that isn’t challenging or that something extra which can bring a scene to life.
I often have these ideas when I’m shaving in the morning. Once out of the bathroom, I’m head for the study. My desk is covered in scraps of paper. My current notes are mainly snatches of dialogue, relating to the chapter I’m writing. One note simply says, ‘sweaty armpits’.
I don’t always use these notes, but they’re never wasted. They form part of the story’s development, part of the process that helps me improve.
Back in 2000, I wrote the second Kent Fisher novel, Too Many Memories. I can’t remember whether I had ideas while I was shaving, but I was excited by the story and plot. I had another almost perfect murder to solve, domestic problems getting in the way, and a new, stronger Kent Fisher to drive it along. I completed the first draft in 2001 and put it aside for a month. I used this time to research agents and publishers and learn how to write a winning query letter.
Several agents and publishers in England and the USA asked to see the first three chapters. As broadband hadn’t been invented, it was printing and snail mail. As the months passed, I built up a collection of rejection cards and letters. Then, an agent in England asked to see three more chapters. This went on in increments until she read the whole manuscript. My hopes were high, but in the end, she didn’t take the book or me on.
The agent liked the story, but Kent Fisher didn’t leap off the page.
I had no idea why. I spent weeks analysing, trying to find an answer. I didn’t. I liked the character. He was brave, determined, noble, a little headstrong perhaps, and a maverick, naturally. He was different, like no other detective. So, why did he ultimately disappoint?
I had to give up smoking and try something quite different to find the answer.