Tuesday, March 22, 2011

How I Got Here

Writing a novel sounds like an easy proposition to a lot of people. Generally, they’re people who’ve never written a novel, but that’s beside the point. I confess, I was one of those people a long time ago.

Back in my early twenties, I dreamed of being a famous author. I had read hundreds, maybe even thousands of books by that time. Sci fi, fantasy, horror, crime novels, mysteries, I read it all. My favorites by far were fantasy and sci fi novels. Raymond Feist, Jack Chalker, Peirs Anthony, Anne McCaffrey, David Eddings, Andre Norton, and dozens more.  I could practically quote their books. Their stories rattled around in my head, and I found that I had stories of my own that were struggling to get out.

So I bought myself a little Brother word processor and a copy of the writers’ market annual publication. I had a story in my head that I thought would be incredible. It was all about a man who was raised in a government facility, where he was experimented on until he developed psychic abilities. He would eventually escape, be pursued, find more of his own kind, and they would defeat the evil government agency that wanted to use them as weapons.

Yes, I know.  You’ve heard that story before.  It’s just as well I couldn’t write it.

The problem wasn’t that the story wasn’t fully formed in my mind.  It wasn’t even that I wasn’t interested in it. It was simply that I had no idea how to write a novel.

Eventually, life crept in, the need for a real job, a real paycheck. I also went through some troubling times, but we don’t need to go into all that here. But my writing fell to the wayside, and I almost forgot I’d ever had the dream.

When I started writing the Gatehouse books, I wanted to do it differently. Instead of reading books, I read about writing books.  I researched how successful writers worked. Peirs Anthony was quite a bit of inspiration for me. His Author’s Notes in the back of his books, and his autobiographical works, revealed a lot to me about the world of publishing and writing.

Obviously, I was successful, at least in finishing a novel. I went from having no idea how to write a book, to having successfully completed two novels. And you know what? It really was easy. Not easy in the sense that it didn’t take any effort. Easy in the sense that I enjoyed every moment of the process, and although the work was hard, it was incredibly rewarding. So really, what was different?

Other than the obvious, which is ten more years of life behind me, the main difference was technique. Every writer has a different technique for writing. When I started out, I was trying to just write the story.  No organization, just sit down at the keyboard and start typing. That works for some people, but it doesn’t work for me.

What did work was exhaustive outlining. I sat down with a basic idea, and a scene.  A small scene, and one which is surprisingly still in the book. Using that scene as a starting point, I started writing an outline of the entire novel.  I planned out each major scene, and then planned out the scenes that would connect them. I jotted down very detailed character bios, so that when I was writing dialog and actions for my characters, I would be able to predict them accurately.  I outlined each scene in fairly high detail, and then laid them out into chapters, with notations as to how long each of them would be. Initially, I worked in pages, but later changed to working with word count, as that’s a far better guage.  Once I had the entire novel outlined, I sat down with my outline for chapter one and started turning the notes into prose.  By hand, in pen, in notebooks. About a dozen notebooks, by the time I finished the entire book. I would pause every once in a while, type up what I had written so far, editing and expanding on the fly, and then give the manuscript to my sisters, who acted as my first readers. Step by step, scene by scene, a novel unfolded.

Was it good? First draft, not really. But as I edited, the story became better and better, and yes, by the time I was done, it was good. I’m not tooting my own horn; honestly, I always feel the book could be better. But I go back and re-read it, often, occasionally throwing a little polish and a little editing at it, and yes, it’s a good book.  It’s one I would recommend to a friend, even if I hadn’t written it.

So what’s the point of all this? The moral of the story? Don’t give up.  I gave up for ten years, and when I finally got around to it, I learned that I could have done this all along if I’d only known how.  I’m not saying I’m a great writer. In fact, I’ll be more than satisfied if I sell a few hundred books and get a reputation as a passable writer. But I am saying that, at long last, I am a writer.

My technique might not work for everyone, but there are dozens of writing techniques out there to learn from, and ways to find those techniques. The Internet especially has made this an entirely new world for writers, publishers, and readers. Join a writers’ group. Find writers online and start up conversations. But the most important thing, the most valuable advice, is simply to write, and to not give up. Write every day, even if it’s crap.

Who am I to give advice about writing?  I’m nobody. I’ve had one professional publishing credit in my entire 38 year life. I’m a wannabe.  But I’m someone who loves writing, and believes in it as both an avocation and, for some lucky folk, a career. And I’ve learned a lot about writing in the past five years of trying to get the book published!

Oh, and remember when I said I’d recommend this book, even if I hadn’t written it? Well, I did, but that’s not going to stop me.  Read this book! I really believe you’ll like it! Reserve your copy now at my Kickstarter site!

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