Friday, 22 June 2012

How Do You Go About Writing a Book?

How Do You Go About Writing a Book?

When I started writing Threshold Shift, I had no idea if I would finish or even get past the opening chapters.  I just had the notion that finally I was going to do it. I was going to write a book. Not just any book, but a book I would enjoy reading myself. No hard science, it would be fast, action packed, concentrate on characters that a reader would like, and have plot twists that would be unlikely but credible. From previous failed novel writing attempts I realised that I had various problems I needed to overcome. My first, was that I was very good at planning out the beginning of my story and then abruptly finding out it had nowhere to go. I decided that this time I would plan a storyline from start to finish with a beginning, middle and an end. I would keep it simple, and I would always have plot to to work through if I got stuck with other things.

My second problem was that I had the very bad habit of premature editing. What is premature editing? It's my term, but I'm sure most writers are familiar. It's looking at what you have just written, deciding it's not good enough and then re-editing it and then re-editing it again. By the third try you have come to the conclusion that you can't write, and what's more, you have only written five pages in three weeks. Why, in that time, your novel will be finished sometime in the next decade. At this point I would normally give up and eat some chocolate.

This time I decided it would be different, this time I would not edit until the novel was finished, and then no matter how bad it was, I would have the skeleton of the narrative completed. As it happens, the skeleton of the narrative is the most important thing. Once it's in place, you can go back and re-edit, literally put flesh on those bones. The way I was writing before, I would have a very complete fingernail, and nothing else.

The third problem was that I had the habit of 'not writing'. That's the hardest habit to break. You think to yourself, I won't write today, I'll write tomorrow. When tomorrow comes, you sit down, look at the screen, and also don't write. This is very closely related to problem two, where you have convinced yourself you can't write.

I overcame this issue in two ways. The first solution was to set myself a word limit for the day. A word limit that must be completed no matter what, no matter how bad I thought it was, I would hit that word count. My target, after much consideration was 1500 words. 1500 Words, that's easy, I hear you say. Actually it isn't. I found that I could stare at my screen, look at my notebook, surf the internet, and still not get anything done. The TV would go on, and it wouldn't happen. The 1500 word a day solution didn't work.

Actually, it didn't work by itself. The problem was work environment. So I contacted my friend Rick Fiore, who runs a photography studio. Rick sits in his studio all day dealing with customers, taking photos, editing wedding albums. Rick also has two desks and only occupies one. I arranged with Rick, that every working day I would arrive at his studio when it opened, take the free desk, and write my 1500 words. After a few weeks of this, I was very surprised to see that I had reached twenty thousand words. That was the most I had written in years!

Somehow, in between talking to Rick, making copious cups of coffee for both of us, chatting to customers, I got that 1500 words done every day I was there. Obviously it wasn't perfect. Christmas and New Year happened and I moved house, twice, with all the phone calls to movers, and all the packing\unpacking that entailed. Nevertheless, I finished the first draft of 'Threshold Shift' in just over three months at fifty nine thousand words.

I had read somewhere that you shouldn't touch a first draft for at least a month after you finish it. I also followed the advice that it should not be shown to anyone. The month apart allows time for you to regain a more objective view of your baby and do the painful second draft. By going on holiday with my wife I lasted two weeks, and when I came back, I waded in and began editing.

The novel was awful! Rough, missing words, with plot holes you could drive a truck through. After recovering from the initial shock I began to re-edit, and funnily enough, it was easy. In that time away a clear picture of characters and events had evolved in my mind.  I also found that now I could write at home. Because I had the skeleton of the narrative completed, I didn't need to go to Rick's studio. During the re-editing stage hours would go by and I didn't even notice. I missed a lot of lunches.

During this time I was sending these newly improved chapters to an editor friend of mine called Wendy Wizard. Once in a pub in Cambridge, I had mentioned to Wendy that I wanted to write a book. Wendy offered there and then to edit it for me for free. I don't know if she ever thought I would take her up on the offer, but she was true to her word, and edited my newly improved chapters while I was still churning them out.

After three weeks I had finished, and for the next month Wendy was sending me back the chapters with her corrections and suggestions. For me, just having someone else read the novel made it seem real. I had been writing in a bubble for so long, this was the moment of truth. Wendy liked the novel. 

You may ask, 'writing in a bubble'? It means that at no point in writing the first or second draft did I give the novel to friend or family to peruse. I was worried that any criticism would kill it. As it happens, a few people have read it now, and most of them have been very complimentary. I doubt they would have been if I had presented them the skeleton of the first draft.

Anyway, I digress. During this drafting period I had approached an old University friend, Carl Sowerby, who is a successful freelance animator. I asked Carl to create a front cover, and after much discussion, the cover was completed. Threshold really did  look like an alien Planet. I was almost there.

After more re-editing, the third draft was completed and I was ready to release it to Kindle. I felt a certain amount of trepidation at the prospect, but for better or worse I had finished. I had achieved what I set out to do.

 My strange hickledy pickledy method had worked.

The next problem will be seeing if the same tricks work twice.

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