Saturday, January 19, 2013

Novel Writing: How I got started

Back in my cigarette smoking days, at some point I stopped smoking inside the house and went outside and sat under the pergola no matter how hot or cold the weather.  When I decided to quit smoking for good, I wanted to continue to enjoy my (hourly) frequent small breaks away from the kids and TV and housework by sitting at the round table I had outside.

So, when I first quit, I needed something else to do instead of sitting down and smoking which I strongly associated with sitting in my favourite chair facing the front gate which was closest to the front door. I had learned too, that I needed to keep my hands busy, it is amazing how used to holding a cigarette gives you something to do.

I took up writing to 'kill both birds'. At the time, I was having a lot of drama in my life, and there were many frustrations that were bogging me down no matter how often I whinged to my closest family and friends.  Somehow, complaining still wasn't enough. I don't remember when I stopped writing at the table outside and started writing in my study, or on the lounge, or while I am in bed, or at the dining table instead - it was probably a really hot, or really cold, summer or winter's day, and I just ran with it from there.

I received the advise that writing can be cathartic, so I wrote multi-page letters explaining how I felt about the situation for a range of situations all happening within my life.

At some point, a single person was annoying me so profusely, I decided to write a novel. I would be the main character (protagonist, of course), and the other person would naturally become the evil antagonist villain who readers would learn to hate. I wrote a story from start to happy ever after ending (the ending I craved, not true to life). I highlighted my virtues, downplayed my flaws, and did the reverse of this for my villain, showcasing every flaw, every fault, and only begrudgingly included irrelevant virtues because no-one relates to a pure-evil villain. Then, once I had satisfyingly released the poison from inside me I did something I am still really proud of myself for: I deleted the file and destroyed every back up and printed out copy.  I was NOT going to seek publication for this novelised story after all.

Can you believe it?  I knowingly deleted a one-hundred thousand word manuscript that had taken up approximately two months of my life to write almost non-stop! That's about the equivalent of a full published book about the size of J.K Rowling's Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban for anyone who doesn't understand the significance of that word count. One hundred thousand words is a lot!

I had disguised each of the characters, so I could have published and not been sued for defamation.  But I would know that I had publicly trashed a person.  And other people who knew me would be able to work out who each of the characters were.  They would work out that the story was not a work of fiction, it was all based on real people and real situations.  The silly thing is, it was probably good enough to be published - and that is not a claim I can make about other manuscripts I have written.  I think it was because the emotions were real. I knew the people, I knew the events, I knew the message I was trying to get other people to understand that just wasn't happening via voicing my opinion/beliefs aloud.

I don't regret not publishing that story, but I do have a small regret in relation to deleting the manuscript completely.  I would never want other people to read that story now, and I wouldn't want to re-read it my own self, because I destroyed it as my final act of letting the past go, but still, I got rid of something that I had worked really hard on, I no longer have proof of my own efforts to use as motivation to spur me on during times I struggle to write my next work-in-progress.

That story inspired me to continue writing though, and always, with the view of one day writing a story good enough to be traditionally published.  I have a couple of works-in-progress on my computer twelve to fifteen years later and many more abandoned efforts, but I am still unpublished - for good reason.  I still haven't completed a storyline worthy of submitting to publishers, to be accepted. And none of my stories are completed to consider self-publishing either.

I do have a full one hundred and twenty thousand word fantasy story that I submitted once.  I received positive feedback from the editor who stated repeatedly on the company website that he/she does not give personal feedback on rejected submissions, who provided me with personal feedback bluntly encouraging me to learn how to write a synopsis properly before submitting another story to him/her in the future because he/she is not interested in the storyline I submitted despite my writing showing 'a lot of credit'. Oh how I cherished those harsh words once I saw the encouragement more than the criticism.

The trouble is, that particular storyline blew up out of all proportions: what started out as a single book, following my uncontrolled imagination, ended up fitting in as Book 3 of a five book series. With such an ambitiously large project, it was hard to keep up with all the characters, twists and turns in the story, and, I still didn't have any idea how I could successfully end the story. I don't know how J.K Rowling managed the planning of seven books! I finally set the project aside craving something simpler to write.

I've read some author blogs to know that many struggle to come up with ideas.  I don't have this problem.  After deleting my 'My Life is Shit' manuscript (I only just came up with that title, finally it has a name!) I struggled for a while to come up with an idea for a couple of months, as I waited for fantastic blockbuster plot ideas to strike me while I sat on a train and didn't have pen or paper to write it down (yes, that is Jo Rowling's Harry Potter idea story not mine). I tried to force ideas to become story lines but that didn't work either.  Then one night, while I was sleeping, after months of saying to myself 'I wish I could come up with a good story idea', an idea that I considered rather good did come to me. I woke up, and raced to find pen and paper and jot the idea down before I forgot what it was.

This started a pattern of waking up in the middle of the night to record ideas for me, and it also caused me to develop a habit of keeping pen and paper beside me in bed so I could get back to sleep as quickly as possible.  It has taken almost ten years to break the Insomnia I developed because I wanted story ideas.  And my mind delivered:  not just the one story line, but heaps.  I can honestly say at the rate I am going I will never have time to write all of the books that I would like to write.  I have at least eight different story lines going at the moment that I could write from start to finish - if I had the time to write.

I started writing a single book fantasy story early last year which I was keen on - still am. But then, I came up with a Young Adult book story at the end of last year, which made me more excited to write than my fantasy storyline.  But the trouble for me at the moment is, I work full time in a demanding role, which leaves me exhausted at the end of the week. So I've been sleeping in on weekends in order to relax and unwind and build up the stamina to face the week ahead, and writing for me can be energy depleting, especially emotional moments in scenes. But this year, I aim to build up my writing habits.  A couple of times last year I looked into the idea of blogging, but although I visited blog websites to learn about how to sign and set up and account, I just didn't take the step I wanted until this week.

My sister mentioned that she had her own blog now, and surprised, because everyone in my family know I love writing and aspire to aim for publishing and she has turned her nose up at that despite being a much better writer than me, I confessed to her that I had been considering doing that myself for some time now.  She encouraged me to just do it, so I did.  And for that, I thank her.  She has unleashed my beast!  Sorry readers, but now that I have started, I will probably keep going.  Hopefully, I don't let expressing my thoughts and opinions distract me too much from working on my manuscript (this weekend aside, seeing I'm new and having fun writing posts that I've wanted to write for months now).

In an upcoming post, I will share how I have finished writing two full (lengthy) manuscripts because I've always liked learning other writers processes. And once I have reviewed my current work in progress, I'll share details on how I am progressing.

But for now, I will just leave you with the advice that if you want to write a novel: just do it. You don't need to aim for publication to begin with. But just do it.  Gain the personal satisfaction for having achieved finishing a large project like I have twice experienced.  Horrible first drafts can be polished up into something publishable later, so just do it: write your novel.

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