Debut novelist Jennifer Smart on deadlines, drafts and a dash of Dom Perignon

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Australian Writers’ Centre graduate Jennifer Smart’s debut novel, The Wardrobe Girl, was published earlier this year through Random House – exploring the behind the scenes world of a fictional soap opera.

the-wardrobe-girlHaving worked behind the scenes herself in film and television (including five years with soap, Home and Away and even penning a couple of episodes of Australia’s favourite beachside soap), Jennifer admits she had a truckload of material to draw on for her book. She had also completed many AWC writing courses – including Creative Writing Stage 1 and Start Your Novel. But there were still plenty of surprises during the publication process.

We interviewed Jennifer in Episode 9 of our top-rating podcast, So you want to be a writer. And she gave us three lessons she had learned from her own writing and publishing experience…

Lesson 1: Deadlines, deadlines, deadlines

No, it’s not all three lessons; she simply repeated it a few times for effect. Because – you guessed it – Jennifer thinks deadlines are very important!

From the moment her agent set her an overnight deadline to test whether to give her a contract, Jennifer knew that deadlines were vital. “If you can’t meet your deadlines, then don’t bother going down this path,” she suggests. “You’ve got some leeway, but they’re so important and there are so many people relying on you to deliver when you say you’re going to deliver.”

For Jennifer’s part, despite having a youngish family, she made sure she met every single one of her deadlines. And there are a lot of them. “It’s not just one edit process,” she explains. “You have several along the way, and you have all of these different deadlines that you’ve got to meet.”

Lesson 2: Write, rewrite, repeat

Jennifer wrote 47 drafts of The Wardrobe Girl before even showing her agent the manuscript. That’s right, 47. But she has plenty of good reason to back up her indulgence, as she explains. “I did a course with Pamela Freeman at the Australian Writers’ Centre, and she actually said, ‘you will only be as good a writer as the number of drafts you’re prepared to do’. That’s why I ended up doing so many!”Jennifer Smart Headshot

When it came to the publishing process, first-timer Jennifer didn’t really know what to expect. But she did know that there would be editing, She had heard tales of “Oh, God, they make you rewrite the middle 20,000 words” or characters being completely rewritten to change their behaviours. But thankfully, she was pleasantly surprised. “I was expecting to get quite a lot of work to do,” she says. “But it wasn’t too bad. Because I’d done 47 drafts!”

She’s certainly a big believer in rewriting. “I reckon I could go 107 [drafts] and I’d still never reach the heights that I’d want to aspire to…”

Lesson 3: Try and enjoy some of it

“It’s really hard along the way to maybe sit back and enjoy it,” she reckons, suggesting that the process is such a unique experience, and you’ll never again have a ‘first time’. And when you’ve finally reached the end of the journey, crack open some celebratory bubbles. “I guess that there’s lots of little moments that you can actually take in, so when you open that package and your very first copy falls out, and it’s just you and your book … that’s amazing.”

So don’t forget those three Ds: deadlines, drafts and … Dom Perignon!

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