Six years, 13 drafts and a name change to become an overnight bestseller – Holly Seddon

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By Holly Seddon

I just found the note. The one I wrote on my phone when I first came up with the idea for the book that would become Try Not to Breathe. It’s dated 20th May 2010. Almost seven years to the day that I’m writing this guest post.♥

Journalist doing a piece on veg state, sees a woman who looks really familiar… She’s the same age as journalist, and was found left for dead back in 90s, following abduction, she’s a living cold case.

This is a direct quote and, actually, the finished story is not wildly different to that original idea. But how did I turn these 36 words into 93,000 published words?

1. I had a lot of bad ideas

Going through my original notes from when I started, many of which I’d forgotten, there are some real humdingers. Storylines that Dallas screenwriters would shake their heads and say, “that’s far too over the top”. But while some ideas were very ‘Bobby Ewing in the shower’, some of them were good, and some of them worked and many of them made it into the final story.

It’s important to let your imagination roam, to brainstorm ideas that might seem bonkers, or too difficult or embarrassing to research. Those mad ideas are often the spark for something crucial. And when those ideas move onto the page, it’s important to give yourself permission to write without censure. Write and write and then pan for gold and discard the silt.

2. I wrote every day, until I didn’t

At first, I wrote at least 1,000 words every day. I clocked up 40,000 words far quicker than any of my other aborted attempts to write a novel. And then I had to stop. I had work commitments and a young family, but I’d managed it around them. The tipping point was when my family experienced a very painful time, and the loss of a loved one.

Beyond the practicalities and how selfish I would have felt focusing on an unpublished manuscript, I just didn’t have the energy to write. I’m a very emotional writer, I feel a lot of what I’m writing and I push myself into a lot of mentally dark places. I just couldn’t do that then.

When I could, I resumed the writing. That’s the key. You don’t have to beat yourself up with daily writing goals and punishing schedules, or to write when you really shouldn’t. But eventually, you do have to get the words down.

3. I changed the name

Up until 31st July 2014 (a month or so before it was submitted to publishers), it was still called The Living Death. The. Living. Death. I know.

There’s no two ways about it, I’m bad at names. I just am. The fantastically named Don’t Close Your Eyes (out on July 6th) was named not by me, but by my editor. And thank god for that.

4. I redrafted it a lot

As The Living Death, I wrote nine drafts. As Try Not to Breathe, I wrote another four drafts.

This doesn’t mean I totally rewrote it – as I said right at the beginning, the basic story never really changed, it just got layered and sculpted, but my drafts ranged from structural, to major character rewrites to subtle tweaks. I spent far, far longer editing and rewriting than I did writing the first manuscript.

5. I had a lot of help

From early readers (a trusted few) to my agent, to my editors to the copyeditors, proofreaders, designers, marketers, promoters, sales people and others working behind the scenes.

It took a huge team of people to shape that original idea from May 2010 into the book that was published on January 7th 2016. It’s never too early to accept help, whether it’s talking through knots in the plot with a friend who loves to read, asking someone to mind children or pets so you can get some writing or thinking done or joining a writers’ group to workshop your work in progress, it takes a village to raise a book.

And just to be totally clear…

6. There’s no such thing as an overnight success in publishing

Holly Seddon is a full-time writer, living slap bang in the middle of Amsterdam with her husband James and a house full of children and pets. Holly has written for newspapers, websites and magazines since her early 20s after growing up in the English countryside, obsessed with music and books. Her first novel Try Not to Breathe was published worldwide in 2016 and became an international bestseller. Don’t Close Your Eyes is her second novel, and is published by Corvus in hardback and ebook.

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