Fourth Time’s a Charm

I’ve finally finished my debut novel and I’m really proud of what I’ve accomplished. But it’s involved far more work than I would have ever imagined.

The delay in getting it into production has been a mixture of work related stress, lack of time to work on it, plus my many doubts about my ability. You see, this isn’t my first novel. Depending on how you count it, it’s actually my fourth (or maybe three-and-a-half’th!) So, what happened to the others?

For that, we’ll have to go back to the beginning.

I’ve always wanted to write stories, ever since I was in school devouring every book I could get my hands on. I’d take every possible opportunity to turn class assignments into an opportunity to write a story. This was frowned upon by my teachers and I certainly wasn’t encouraged in my “literary” efforts–quite the opposite in fact.

So I put the idea away and tried to do other “normal” things though it was always latent. I was part of an early games company start-up and as well as programming, 3D, and the other duties (we did everything in those days!), I was always the one writing backstory, creating the world environments and fictional histories.

Jump forward a few years and I found myself commuting to work by train. This journey was supposed to take around forty-five minutes but in reality was usually closer to double that. So that was two or three hours a day of mind-numbing boredom. Something had to be done.

I could have put in extra work for my job, but as I wouldn’t get paid for that or receive any other benefit, that wasn’t going to happen. (If I could have done job work and had a shorter day because of it, I’d have happily taken that option.) So, after some thought, I decided I would try my hand at writing.

I had no real plans at this point as to Continue reading “Fourth Time’s a Charm”

The Longest Writer’s Journey

“Every day is a journey, and the journey itself is home.” –Matsuo Basho

When I started writing I often wondered how anyone managed to write a novel. They’re typically anything from seventy to a hundred and fifty thousand words and that’s a lot of words even on the short end. As it turned out the first thing I wrote was novel length and although it’s never been published (I’m saving it to be “discovered” by my fans after I’m dead!) it turned out that it wasn’t as hard as it seemed. Just keep putting in the time, day after day and you get there eventually.

More Than A Word count

Then I started to question the plot and structure. How could I make sure that what I was writing was actually interesting and made sense. That was harder than achieving a word count and I started to realize that writing is about more than just accumulating words. So I started reading various books and articles on how to write. I studied fiction I’d already read to work out how they did things. I started redrafting pieces I’d already done; polishing and tweaking bit by bit until I was happier with them.

Beat Your Characters Into Submission

Then I started to obsess about characters. How could I make them feel real, make them engaging, self-consistent, motivated and a natural fit for the story? Back to the research. I looked at character archetypes, the hero’s journey, psychology, quirks and internal and external motivations. Characters are funny things. I find they have a habit of trying to take control of the story and move it their own way, so you have to keep beating them into submission.  I suggest a bullwhip, or at the very least a cat o’nine tails.

The Nitty-gritty

After that I started to worry about details. Was my dialog working for the character; was it fulfilling the right need for the plot? Was my world self-consistent, logical, and rich? These took much longer to get to grips with. For one thing they’re highly subjective, so the advice I found was often contradicted by other well-intentioned and plausible advice. But again I’ve worked on it. I now have a redrafting procedure with built-in checkpoints designed to pinpoint my weak areas.

Never Let It Go

I’ve been working on all of this for over ten years now. Sometimes I’ve felt lost, sometimes overwhelmed. I’ve often not felt like a writer (something many writers seem to suffer from) and I’ve wondered sometimes if I really know how to be a writer. One thing I can honestly say though, is that I’ve never stopped enjoying it. I love writing and even if I won the lottery tomorrow I’d never stop not even if no one ever read what I wrote. Deep inside I know that I have something to say, and at some point, “maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow but soon and for the rest of your life.”(hmm that sounds kinda familiar…) someone will connect and a special kind of magic will happen, the way it for me did when I read my favorite authors.

Good things take time, whether it’s writing or anything else. Billy Gibbons once said that ZZ Top were an overnight success – it just took fifteen years to get there. There will always be people who will try to tell you that you can’t accomplish something, that you’re no good, have no talent or worse – but they’re wrong; it just takes effort, dedication and love. It takes time to develop skills and become accomplished at anything worthwhile. If you love something, don’t let it go – keep doing it and do it the best that you possibly can

Some of the resources that helped me:

  • Plot and Structure – James Scott Bell
  • Conflict and Suspense – James Scott Bell
  • Revision and Self-editing – James Scott Bell
  • The First Five Pages – Noah Lukeman
  • Writing the Breakout Novel – Donald Maass
  • The Craft Of Writing Science Fiction That Sells – Ben Bova
  • How To Write Science Fiction And Fantasy – Orson Scott Card
  • Elements of Fiction Writing: Characters & Viewpoint – Orson Scott Card
  • The Writers Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers – Chrispher Vogler