Monday, May 18, 2015

What I've Learned from Writing Two Novels

Hey everyone, hope you're all well. :-)

Yep, in case you missed it, I have finished writing the first draft of my second novel. :-) It came in at around 137K and took me a while!

I began writing it in January of 2014 and managed around 20K before I hit some kind of writer's-anxiety wall - felt like I'd fallen out of the bus and ended up in a neighborhood that I'd never visited before and knew nothing about.

It wasn't that I hadn't planned / plotted out the events of the second novel (and book 3) - I had. Looking back now, I realize that what was actually keeping me from writing Book 2 was the fact that I was terrified of it.

You see, one of the first things I learned as a writer is that writing will exhaust you, emotionally and mentally. And the second thing I learned (after that 20K-struggle) is that we put ourselves under immense pressure, especially when writing what will be a trilogy.

Book 1 took shape over the course of around 9 years. 9 YEARS. The actual writing of it took a year and a month. But I'd fucked around with the plot, the characters and the world for almost a decade. I didn't have that luxury when it came to writing Book 2.

I'm no Ishiguru. Book 1 was my debut (as well as the first novel I'd ever written to completion) and as a writer at that level you're only as memorable in a reader's memory as the time it takes you to write your second novel. So, on one side I had readers asking how the writing of Book 2 was going, when would they get to read it, etc. and on the other hand (being a bookseller and a reader) I was intensely cognizant of how long a reader's patience lasts before they put aside an author who is taking too long to write his / her next book.

Understand, my publisher hadn't given me a deadline - I had given myself a deadline, and that deadline's weight increased with every passing week that I didn't write. So, when September 2014 came around and I was at around 25K, I shat myself and forced myself to wake up and sit down and write.

And I did - for months I would write Monday to Friday, from around 11PM to 1AM, while working full time and making sure I made time for my personal life, too. I finished the book, yes, but I'll be lying if I say it didn't take a toll on me. 5 hours of sleep a day makes for very lazy stay-at-home weekends. I did hit a body-rhythm, of sorts, in that I began to get used to sleeping less - once I finished the book, however, I spent something like 4 days sleeping until I woke up. :-)

So, the pressure we as writers put ourselves under is as much about deadlines as it is psychological, and even though Book 2 is now at my publisher and I'm taking a break from the trilogy (at least for another month), I can tell you honestly that writing Book 1 was way easier. Saying to yourself that you've begun something and now have to follow through and end it is entirely and massively different from knowing it and understanding it. :-)

I have to admit to a certain anxiety when I think about writing Book 3 - and I know that anxiety will always be there and will always return when I sit down to write every novel that I will write. You have no idea how long I've just browsed author-updates on Facebook and smiled (or groaned in sympathy), because it's helped to show me that I'm not the only one going through this particular anxiety.

So, that's another thing you (writer, whether published or not) can look forward to: stressing your tushy off about something that mostly exists in your head. ;-)

Another thing that I've had to learn to force myself to do is to learn patience. Sounds a bit weird, I know (considering that one must be patient when writing a novel), but it's true, especially when it comes to waiting for reviews / interest, etc.

Just to put it in perspective, the last time I checked Goodreads there were around 30 to 40 readers who had marked "Betrayal's Shadow" as 'To Read' or 'To Be Read', and the book has existed in that status for between 6 to 8 months. Now, as a book-reviewer I know for a fact that sometimes you just don't get round to reading that book you really want to, or even have to.

I haven't finished Tad Williams' 'Memory, Sorrow and Thorn' and 'Otherland' novels, I'm way behind on Star Wars novels, I haven't read MD Lachlan's sequels to 'Wolfsangel' nor Jasper Kent's sequels to 'Twelve' and 'Thirteen Years Later' ... and many, many more. Seriously, the 'want to read' section of my personal library is bigger than the 'read' section! So I completely understand that many, many readers who have shown an interest in my novel haven't read it yet. And yet, the patience-thing is difficult to maintain... :-)

I've also had interest from two big publishers regarding "Betrayal's Shadow" and an agent with an extremely respected and capable agency has the novel, too - what am I getting at? While you're waiting to hear what these big industry-peeps think of your work, write. Easier said than done, sure, but must be done. Keep busy.

Because we writers thrive on communication and, yes, recognition. It's wrong, because a writer should actually think of themselves as storytellers - a storyteller will never stop, will they? Despite everything and anything that could and will happen. Nowadays we're actually quite lucky - we don't have to travel from town to town and hope that we'll get a chance to regale a crowd of eager listeners with our tales; we can sit at home and type and email and Facebook. It doesn't make it any easier, of course, but neither does it make what we do less difficult.

What is also difficult -and this ties into our need for recognition, reinforcement and communication- is understanding that your publisher is not only your publisher but someone else's publisher, too. Many others, actually. We need to remember that our job as the writer and storyteller is to write, and that it's also not only a job - hell, I need to remember that every single day! Our publishers have seen promise in our work and they're helping us to make our work as damned near to perfect as is possible. Our publishers are also human beings and have lives, loves, must eat, sleep and defecate (nice mental image there for you!) just as we have to live. And together with them we have to try and find our way through all this marketing / spread-the-word business, too.

So, for anyone reading this who thinks that writing is easy -you just write something and push it out there and sit back to write more while the money ticks into your bank account- THINK AGAIN. It's damned difficult. And everything you will ever write has the chance of breaking you.

So, to be succinct, KNOW why you're writing. I'm a dreamer, I live in my head, I'm constantly wondering and thinking 'what if?' thoughts, and I try to explore what's happening in my head on a daily basis by writing, by creating stories and characters. I'm doing this for myself - not lying about that. I'm just incredibly lucky that so many people have handed over money to read my tales. The money is a by-product, you understand. And it's wonderful, make no mistake, but writing and telling stories is my outlet, what I do so that I don't have to get more and more expensive meds. ;)

I think I may have completely wondered off the path (which is probably why I don't write self-help books) and I hope you've understood at least a bit of what I was trying to get at with this post. :)

Until next time,