2017 turned out to be a very peculiar year. To cut a long story short, I got cancer; I got rid of cancer, now I’m recovering from the cure.
In terms of writing the whole year has almost been a write-off, but I’m not dead so I’m not complaining.
Amid the crippling fatigue, insomnia, nausea, inability to concentrate and confusion (scratch that last one, that’s nothing new) I have managed to battle my way to the end of the second draft of a whole new book. Not the next instalment of Jack Canner’s adventures, but a stand alone sci-fi horror.
I now have an interesting writing decision to make. Do I carry on and complete this new book before doing anything else. Or do I leave it for a while to mellow and instead write the first draft of another new book and return to the other later?
It’s a split decision, one or the other; they both have lots going for them.
I have been sitting on my current Work In Progress for longer than I usually do, mainly due to not being able to string five words together for the past year, so it feels a little stale. Writing something completely different for three months would do the trick, I’m sure. After such a break I could return to my old project with renewed vigour. However, there is a lot to be said for persevering with a project until it done, wiping the slate clean and starting something fresh.
The other slight complication with starting the new project is that the book would link to others and I’d have to plan them all in detail before breaking ground on the first. To some this will sound daunting, outlining three stories and figuring out how they overlap, but I think it sounds like fun, in a mind-bending sort of way, but then I am a glutton for punishment, a literary red shirt. Also if I start a new project I could have both books published close together in the second half of the year, like I did with my first two, and I like the sound of that, a symmetry that appeals to my mild OCD.
While waffling at this post, I think I’ve managed to convince myself to start a fresh WIP. I quite like the idea of taking a break from the current WIP and coming back to it later with a refreshed perspective. In the long run I’m sure that will be better for the book and me and the other me, well, it will shut him up for a while.
What’s next with the blog? Well, assuming improving health throughout 2018 and not a relapse, I hope to blog more regularly, see if I can get into the habit. Also, I’ve decided to dispense with the categories of blog posts I was using, they only seemed to be getting in the way and not contributing much. So from now on, I’m going to blog whatever comes to mind, regardless of how it fits in. Hopefully this will feel less restrictive and allow me to be more spontaneous, while still making some kind of sense.
Time will tell. If last year proved anything to me it’s that you never know what’s around the corner.
The title of this entry is a bit of a spoiler, so it will be no surprise to you that I have a very low opinion of prologues. In fact, my opinion is so low that I’ve been known to close a book and not read it if it starts with a prologue.
Years ago I came to the conclusion that not a single novel I’d ever read had been improved by the prologue it started with. I later confirmed this by skipping prologues and only reading them after I’d finished the rest of the book and – without exception – I found the prologues to be unnecessary. Since then I haven’t found a single novel that I ruined or rendered unreadable by skipping the prologue.
Later, when I began to write, my relationship with books changed (sadly, in most cases, not for the better – but that’s for a later post). I began to analyse the mechanics of prologues and found, in most cases, the author had included one just to prop up shoddy writing. There seem to be two scenarios that convince an author that a prologue is not actually a hideous wordy pustule but something like a good idea.
One: Apparently, sometimes an author feels it’s so important to state a vital piece of information, up front, that they’ll add a prologue just for that purpose. Such prologues often appear as nothing more than info dumps, which are a kind of literary cancer anyway (so why you’d do this as the first thing anyone would read is beyond me). This either shows poor planning or the author’s lack of faith that their own writing is understandable, or worse, they don’t credit the reader with the gumption to understand what they’ve written in the main text.
Two: More often, an author seems to feel the need to include a prologue simply to make their book begin at a more interesting point in the story. If the author recognises the first half or their book is dull and in need of perking up, then as a potential reader, I’m not going to be fooled by an action filled prologue they’ve just tacked on the front to try and disguise the fact.
Neither gives me any confidence that the writer knows what they’re doing, and that’s why I will close the book and read no further.
However, I have made the odd exception, usually when I’ve been persuaded by a friend, as with the Belgariad series of fantasy books by David Eddings, and the Millennium trilogy by Larson. In both cases I was coerced into reading beyond the prologue and I was glad for it, but I would still maintain that these examples would have been just as enjoyable without the prologues.
There may be good prologues out there, I wouldn’t know because I’ve been avoiding them. I’ve heard that the Harry Potter books have well written prologues, that they serve as abridged summaries to ease the reader into the new book?
But these examples do not convince me to change my opinion, life is too short, and reading time is too precious. Unless I have persuasive evidence to the contrary, if I see a prologue I will automatically assume that the text that follows is not worth reading.
In the future, my reader will no doubt criticise my writing for many things, but my inappropriate use of prologues will not be one of them.
As you might have noticed, I’ve been slowly growing a web presence as a prelude to actually publishing a real book that a real person will want to buy. It might come as a surprise but I have given the matter some thought, and will continue to do so, but much of what I’ve done has evolved naturally from the intent to simply entertain. But I don’t want to get all preachy, these are just my thoughts so far, that you may or may not find useful.
I haven’t figured out Facebook yet, or how to make the best of it, and this website and blog is still developing. However, I’ve found Twitter accessible and I’m having a lot of fun building what I hope is an interesting Twitter personality. I don’t just want to post endless tweets about my new book, or about my latest book reviews. Although, I will post some tweets like that, but hopefully not too many. But why? Isn’t that what social media is for? To help you sell stuff? Well, yes, partly, but what is it that I’m trying to sell?
I’m a writer, and soon I’ll be an author, the former because I can’t help it and the latter because I want to share. I’m writing my books to entertain, and here’s the crux of the matter because I want everything I do to emphasise that. I want my web presence itself to be entertaining. I don’t want a potential reader to look at my blog or twitter feed and think – blimey what a bore, I bet his books are just as dull, because if they do then I’ve torpedoed myself. I think this is so important, and it adds value. So yes, I want my reader to buy my books – when I publish them – but I don’t want that to be all I do.
I’m not saying for one minute that I’ve got all the answers, or that I’ve got it right, but I am saying that I’m trying to make everything I do as interesting as possible. That’s not such a bad goal is it? I just want to entertain.
I suppose it’s up to you, dear reader, to decide if I’ve actually been successful so far.
It’s taken me about three months to get the second draft of the second book finished, and that’s with a lengthy decorating interruption early on, so all things considered I don’t think it’s too shabby.
But woo, what a feeling, I’ve finished a few books in my time, but never before have I done so knowing that it would certainly be published. I would say I feel so Money Super Market, but I won’t because I’d hate myself.
Anyway, this means that sometime soon, another person, perhaps you, perhaps someone I’ve never met and likely will never meet will read those words and peek inside my head, and that’s both scary and exhilarating. Towards the end, as the number of pages yet to be edited dwindled, this thought grew until it became a serious preoccupation, it never stopped me, but it was there, like someone looking over my shoulder as I wrote. I began to imagine what my reader would say, and it was a fight for me to ignore that thought and simply write the truth of the story.
But wow, what a thrill, I could say it almost felt as good as washing with Herbal Essences but I won’t because I’d hate myself and you’d hate me too.
I’m guessing that this feeling will fade with each subsequent novel I write, but I hope not.
I didn’t give myself too much time to bask in my own self-assumed glory and cracked on with the changes I needed to make to the first book to make it fit with the second. That wasn’t too difficult, but it was surprising the things I’d forgotten, like family members and habits and hair colour (things I should have written down in the first place) and it was difficult not to beat myself up over these lapses. Not only did I have to retrofit changes into book one, but I found new changes I had to make to book two, which this took several iterations to complete.
However, here I am with two complete novels, so what’s next?
Well, it’s off to copy editor to clean them both up and make them presentable, and in the meantime I need to work on the jacket blurbs and the cover art which is a step outside my comfort zone.
I’m starting to get very excited and just a bit scared, a bit like standing in line for a new roller coaster…
In my early writing days I wondered if ‘the block’ was to writers what ‘the wall’ is to marathon runners. I now know what ‘the wall’ feels like, it’s a physical barrier when the body runs out of fuel, and it was only natural to assume that the same thing could happen to a writer when the well of inspiration dries up.
Every writer, great and small, seems doomed to face the dreaded ‘block’ at least once in their writing lifetimes, and sure enough, one day, it happened to me. I was midway through the first draft of a longish – never to be published – novel set in a faraway land, and I froze. The babble of voices in my head were suddenly silent, the keyboard felt alien to my fingertips, and trying to hold the story narrative was like trying to catch smoke with a butterfly net. I sat and waited but nothing happened, and I kept on waiting for weeks before whatever logjam had been clogging up my brain finally gave way. It eventually did and I eventually finished the book – who knows I may revisit it one day, dust it off and see how it reads, but my experience with The Block left me wondering.
Why had I run into the block? And, how had I somehow got around it?
I realised, that for me at least, The Block was simply my unrecognised unwillingness to write, either through laziness or fear, and it had paralysed my imagination. I’d inadvertently managed to get over it by simply forcing myself to write. Many of those – post Block – words were later discarded, because they were forced and mechanical and by the numbers, but I ground on, word by word, until they started coming to me more easily again.
So, the next time The Block happened, I was ready for it and ready to admit to myself that I was just being lazy. So I put the current project to one side and wrote something different, and I stuck at it, grinding the gears at first, but then with greater fluency until finally the words flowed with ease again. Then I revisited the original project, looking for what had made me lose interest, and I realised I had to cut three lacklustre chapters, and in doing so found my writing groove again.
I had simply lost interest in what I was writing, it was uninspiring, and I had to write something different before I realised it. This is the most common kind of Block I face, where I simply haven’t realised that what I’m writing is dull, and it usually takes a break from the project and writing something else to see my mistake. Once or twice I’ve been paralysed by fear, particularly where an approaching deadline or when I think a little success might be on the horizon, my Block kicks in to delay the inevitable or scupper my chances. Again, the best way I have to get around this is to write something else, particularly something that doesn’t matter.
Sometimes, these small distraction projects are not wasted because they often contain nuggets of ideas I can use elsewhere.
Maybe this doesn’t describe everyone’s Block, and maybe different writers have different ways to deal with it when it happens, but this is my Block and this is how I get over it.
The time has finally come to begin the second draft of book two. How do I know? The pressure, I feel like an overheating boiler, all vibrating rivets and whistling jets of escaping steam, because the book is taking up more and more of my thinking time, becoming more distracting by the day. I feel like my hat is on too tight. The more I try to avoid it and think about something else, the worse it gets, I can’t stop thinking about it. I can’t wait to tear into it. That’s how I know I’m ready. It’s not because I think it’s about time, or that my schedule says so, it’s because I can’t do anything else, I don’t want to work on any other project. Even writing this is tougher than it should be.
Along with the pressure is a sense of heightened anticipation. This is an exciting time, because I’m going to get to read the book properly, cover to cover, for the first time, as if I’m my own first reader. Of course, it’s not quite the same experience because I remember how the story goes and how it ends and I think I remember all the twists, I certainly remember the most memorable scenes. But that’s not the point, whenever I do this, and I’ve done it a few times now, there is genuine anxiety mixed in with the excitement. There is always the danger the book is not as good as I remember, or worse, I’ll discover I’ve been kidding myself and I really can’t write all.
There are two things I need to do. Number one, make the book better. I’ve done this before with other projects, and it mainly involves cutting a lot out and clarifying what’s left. Number two, is take note of were book two overlaps book one, so I can tie the two together. I’ve never written a sequel before, so this is something new, and right now I don’t know how it’s going to work. My initial idea is, as I go through book two, to write down every fact (to check against the first book), everything I want to foreshadow, every linked plot point. Then, once I have that list, use it to go through book one. It might work or I might find a better way, I’ll have to see.
I thought it might be fun to post my progress on twitter. Partly to give my reader something to look at, but also a way of maintaining my own momentum, just as it’s easier to keep going to the gym with a buddy, it must be easier to keep going with someone following me. Well, that’s the theory anyway.
With my sleeves rolled up and a pencil behind my ear I made my first decision: I would complete the first draft of the book before beginning to look into self-publishing, so that’s just what I did. This may seem like a no brainer, but I suspect there are many would-be authors out there who jump the gun. At least with the first draft done I knew I had something to work with, like a rough block of stone ready to be chiselled at, the book is already there I just had to chip away the bits.
It was hard work, but it had to be done.
Of course, a first draft is not a publishable product; at least I don’t think so, although some web authors advocate publishing and then revising “live” – so to speak. For me, the idea of doing this gives me the collywobbles. Before I publish any book I want to be sure it’s so polished it wouldn’t look out of place in the hands of a silver service waiter.
But then, I went a bit further and decided to wait until I had two titles ready for publishing, the first two parts of a series. Of course, I know this reads like the very worst case of procrastination, but I did have good reasons. When I started the second book I soon realised I’d have to make some changes to the first, because they are very closely linked and between the two drafts the whole story had evolved in my head. While this seemed a pain at first, I soon realised both books would be stronger for it, and since I was writing two books I also realised there would be advantages to simultaneously publishing them both, not least of all, my potential reader would realise I’m serious about writing and not a one hit wonder.
My original vision for my authoring future was to publish electronically through Amazon, because they have the biggest market share with their Kindle readers. Yes, I know Amazon are unpopular at the moment but I decided not to cut my own nose off to spite my face. To do this, the prevailing wisdom seemed to require me to build up some sort of internet presence, I’ve later discovered that this is not essential, but I still feel it’s important: At the very least, I’m sure it can’t do any harm. So I set up a website using the WordPress free service, and Twitter and Facebook accounts. I found WordPress very easy to use and it didn’t take very long to create a useful and attractive website – I hope you agree. As for Twitter and Facebook, only time will tell how useful they will be; right now, they seem to be frustratingly good at swallowing up my time.
Since I had no idea what I was doing, the next thing I had to figure out how I was actually going to self-publish, so I rummaged around on the internet and found this book: “Createspace & Kindle Self-Publishing Masterclass.” This turned out to be an excellent buy and I’d recommend it to anyone thinking about self-publishing.
Until I read this I had only considered publishing electronically, but this book gave me the idea of using Createspace to also produce hard copies, which is a new and exciting thought.
So, I’ve got two first drafts ready for reworking – I’ll be soon Tweeting my daily progress with those, and I’ll be starting a Facebook business page soon, and as you’ve noticed I’ve started blogging about my self-publishing adventures.
Next, it’s pressing on with the second drafts, and then looking for a copy editor…
Over the years I’ve made some attempts to get published and have amassed a fairly respectable collection of rejection letters. I sought professional advice and as a result my writing improved and I gained the reassurance that I wasn’t kidding myself about my ability, but success still remained elusive.
It became apparent that no matter how good I was, landing a publishing deal was still largely a matter of luck. I understood that I could only improve my chances so far; I still had to get my manuscript onto the right desk at the right time. This, of course, should then be just a matter of time – an exercise in patience, but it still seemed too much like relying on luck.
Also, I came to understand how little publishers do to promote and market anything less than their top grossing authors. As a new author, flung in at the deep end, I would be expected to fend for myself anyway. Whereas, self-publishing was once the illegitimate runt of the publishing family, these days it has gained respectability, and is being seen less as the last resort of the desperate but more as the wise choice of the savvy. And, if I’m honest, going it alone appeals to me, it suits my personality.
I also want to publish across genres. As far as I can tell, if I was with a publisher, this would be difficult because book stockists tend to like to keep authors pigeon holed by genre. Authors who publish across genres tend to do it under pseudonyms, and publishers don’t like that because they effectively have to launch and market a new author each time.
The only real disadvantage I can see to self-publishing is having to sort out the editing and cover design stuff myself. The editing is obviously an extra expense but I think doing the cover might be quite fun. All the rest of it, the marketing and the networking, I’d have to do myself anyway.
I want to be widely read, and this seems like the perfect way to do it…