My journey so far (Part 1)
If I were to be totally honest, my journey began long before I ever heard the term indie author. Continuing with the honesty theme, using the word “began” is a bit strong.
The first time I thought about writing a novel was in the late 1990s. I’ve tried to recall if there was a specific trigger, but I don’t remember one. It was more of a gradual awareness that I wanted to write a story. Somewhere, I even have some notes that I took. Nothing so structured as an outline. Just some thoughts on a premise, a couple of characters and a general setting.
And then nothing. At least nothing written down. Not for many years.
That’s not to say I lost the desire to write. The notion of writing a novel never completely died. But in the whirlwind that is life, words had no time to flow. Career (multiple careers, actually) and family dominated my life. As they should have. They are two important life elements.
But the farther I went in my career, the more I realized it wasn’t what I loved to do every day. As most people eventually learn, if you don’t truly enjoy what you do, then you really should consider doing something else.
This realization evolved. From an initial awareness that I’d prefer to do something else, into the specific knowledge that writing was what I’d prefer to do. At least when my corporate career was done. Maybe some other creative endeavors as well. But in terms of doing something that had the potential to also generate income, writing was at the top of the list.
Now, it wasn’t an “ah-ha” moment that was followed by buying a writing notebook, hanging out on park benches and plotting stories. It was all very gradual.
By 2016 I had several story concepts (basic ideas, really). And they spanned genres. Genres that resonated with me based on specific authors or stories I liked. As a history buff, historical fiction ideas were in play. Ken Follett was an inspiration (and yes, his spy and action novels are as good as his historical fiction). Dystopian stories I have a hard time putting down. Think The Hunger Games and Divergent. And I’ve read most of Michael Crichton’s work, so thriller concepts were in play.
What did I actually do in 2016? Nothing.
The competing story concepts began to self-prioritize. They assembled themselves into a list based on what I felt I could reasonably tackle. And with the prioritization came more specificity. By the summer of 2017, the first story I would write was taking shape. At least in my mind.
It is worth noting that I still had not heard the term indie author. I was still very much in a small bubble. So small my arms and legs probably stuck out.
At about the same time, I devoted some time and energy to learn more about the craft of fiction writing. I didn’t know much, but I knew enough to know I needed to learn. So I began to explore the ether of fiction writing knowledge. I found a large number of resources on writing. Whether it was books, websites or podcasts, there was no shortage of helpful information.
It was during my quest to learn and improve my writing skills that I stumbled across the terms self publishing and indie authors. I don’t recall ever really thinking about these concepts. I think I had always assumed I’d have to convince a traditional publisher to buy whatever I wrote.
Needless to say, the notion that I could essentially take control of publishing my own work was liberating. A bit scary too. But mostly liberating.
Anyway, my focus through the summer and early fall of 2017 was my first story. I can’t even count the hours I spent thinking through plot elements I could use for my crime/mystery concept. Truth be told, the concept started out to be more post-apocalyptic. But as I worked through potential pilot elements, the concept just didn’t seem to fit as nicely with that genre as I wanted. A mystery-thriller made more sense.
If you’ve noticed the timeline, you may have picked up that I was aiming for NaNoWriMo. That was something else I had stumbled upon and thought it would be a great motivator to actually get words down. Nothing like a challenge with a very specific goal.
I’ll assume that some of the people reading this are writers themselves. As you consider how to develop characters, you could consider different personality tools to help create consistency within a character. I know I do. Personally, my Myers-Briggs type is ISTJ. While there are several elements of this type that play into how I do things, one is that I prefer structure. As a writer, that translates into making me a plotter.
So I spent some time in September, and much time in October, plotting my story. My outline wasn’t ridiculously long, but was definitely around 7,000 words. One learning I would realize much later is that I spent (wasted?) too much time on the outline. I could have done an equally usable outline in a week or two.
Nevertheless, I hit the ground running on November 1, 2017. I cracked 1,500 words. Not bad. Not the pace I would ultimately need, but not bad for day one.
I worked through November, writing every day until I hit the 50,000 word goal. It turned out to not be as hard as I thought. Maybe my experience training for and running marathons helped. Long distance running can be simplified quite easily. One step at a time, until you hit the goal. I approached NaNoWriMo the same, replacing “step” with “word.”
The end came on the Sunday of Thanksgiving weekend. As it turned out, I was due to start a new job on the Monday, so finishing NaNoWriMo (the NaNo world uses the word “winning” which feels a bit weird to me) a few days early was a good thing. I had no time to write the last four days of the month.
So there I was at the end of NaNoWriMo with 50,000 words. I was about halfway through my story. That was good, but not great. For sure it was a solid accomplishment. But half a book wasn’t a book.
One almost paralyzing thought permeated my writing consciousness: How the hell was I going to finish?
That turned out to be the most important question. I had rearranged my schedule during November to make sure I had time to write. I reprioritized other life activities behind writing. But that was a special situation. I had a month-long challenge. It wasn’t too hard to manage for a month. But beyond that? I didn’t have a plan.
And it showed. Until I hit the break that covered Christmas and New Year’s day, I didn’t write another word. Over the break I found a few periods of time when I could put in solid effort. But it wasn’t daily. I added another 10,000 words, but was still a long way from finishing.
The first six months of 2018 looked a lot like the last month of 2017. Many days with no writing at all. I mean, I was busy with my job. I hadn’t figured out how to fit writing into my real schedule. By the end of June I was at 80,000 words. Pretty good, but still only about 3/4 complete.
The summer helped. The combination of vacation days and a lighter schedule of kids activities (my kids sports and teams were aligned with the school year) provided time to write. The perception that I was close became a powerful motivator. I didn’t write every day through the summer, but I wrote a lot more than I did the first half of 2018. On August 15 I wrote “The End” on a 110,000 word manuscript. I even printed it out and took a picture (the printout was for editing, not the picture).
In the end, the first draft of my first manuscript took 288 days. I had to admit it could have been worse.
In the seven months following the end of NaNoWriMo there were many days when it seemed like I would never finish. If that had happened, I have no doubt I would have packed in my aspirations of one day writing for a living (or a full time hobby). At the time, I didn’t realize how precarious the situation was. How close I came to failing. Like many things in life, when you are in the moment, you often aren’t able (or willing) to see the bigger picture.
As I close this post, that’s the takeaway. Never lose sight of the big picture. Don’t lose track of the dream. There’s no shortage of bad days, of barriers and challenges that seem like they want to stop you from succeeding. The next day can always be better.
Next time: My journey so far (Part 2)