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The Write Stuff

I wrote this on my own blog, and thought it may be interesting for fellow self-publishers to share my experience.

I wanted this blog to be about writing, so I thought I would share how I came to write my first book.

In July I left work after being made redundant. I had wanted to write a book since I can remember, and I finally had some spare time, I thought, to have a go.

I have notes on a novel I have been working on for a few years now, but didn’t feel ready to go with that. Instead, I thought I’d have a go at an airport novel – one of those books that I enjoy reading when I’m sat by the pool on holiday. One that keeps the brain ticking over, but without being too taxing. Something exciting and interesting and fun, but is essentially fluff – literature could wait.

So, where to start? I did a bit of googlage, just to get a sense of how many words I needed to make it a novel rather than a novella or short story or whatever, and 50,000 words seemed about right.

I had two weeks before the school holidays, 10 working days, so 5,000 words a day? That seemed about right.

I’d had a thought about doing a crime thriller, but I also fancied doing something about vampires – not least because vampires seem to sell, and it would be nice to actually shift some units, wouldn’t it?

And I wanted a twist – something that bit unusual, a bit different – how about Celtic Vampires, instead of the traditional Transylvanian Undead? Hmm.

So I got my word processing software and started to write. Usually I would wake up at around 6am, still being on a work body clock, then go down to the spare room/office/study/library/storage space for coats and fire up the Mac Mini, and just bash it out. Break to take kids to school, then back to the keyboard, with only Radio 6 Music or Test Match Special for company, writing, writing, writing. (The legacy of my listening can be found in the books, by the way, not least in some character names).

A good day was when the tea I made when I got back from the school run was cold and still full at lunchtime. A not so good day was one spent researching on Wikipedia (and thank the internet for that) or making four or five cups in a morning.

I would work out the plot and characters in a notebook, then try and flesh them out as I wrote. But most of all, I wrote, wringing out 5,000 words every day, give or take, until, 10 days later, I had 50,000 (and a bit) words. I now needed an edit.

Then I got on twitter, and asked for volunteers, and two people – one  a published writer – stuck their virtual hands up. I sent them each a pdf, then went off on holiday for a couple of weeks, read some more books (The Hunger Games Trilogy, a Dan Brown, and Wolf Hall among them, the latter being the best thing by a country mile that I read).

I came back from holidays and my twitter friends had kindly given me feedback – good action, good story but the characters are paper thin. I had to agree, as I was writing, I realised the secondary characters were barely even ciphers, just stock plot devices, and the main two characters had no relationships with anyone else, let alone each other.

So I wrote up, in my little notebook, a life history for the main protagonists and secondary characters. Where they were from, when they were born, their families, their career histories, then I returned to the manuscript and re-wrote it. After a few more weeks, I was happier with the characters, had caught more of the typos and sent it back out to my two volunteers.

They gave the thumbs up – believed in the characters, got a bit more from it, understood their motivation a bit more.

So I thought, let’s publish it. I’ll cover the how and what and wherefore of the mechanics in another blog. But I just wanted to get it out there, to see what happened.

The result is, I hope, an enjoyable thriller, with a fast-paced plot, a bit of historical interest, some decent action scenes, some erotic tension and a bit of resultant blue for the Dads.

It’s not particularly brilliant, it needs the proper polish of a good editor, it still as a typo or two and it’s still rough and ready, but it’s done, and it’s out there, in the big wide world, fending for itself.

So my tips for budding authors? Three quick ones, just for a start.

  • Just bloody write. Sit down, tap at that keyboard, get out that pen, just let it pour out of you. You’ll soon know if there’s a book in there
  • Get someone else to have a read of it, and listen to what they say. If you can afford a proper editor, there are services out there, otherwise get someone you trust and ask for their opinion.
  • Get to know your characters, give them a history and a full story, even if it doesn’t end up in the book, it’ll still be there in who they are, what they do and say.

Am I remotely qualified to give this advice? I am more qualified now than a few months ago, but take that advice and let me know.