Now that I have finished planning, writing, editing, and publishing my first novel, I thought it would be good to reflect on the process and share my experience with those who may be considering a similar undertaking, and anyone else who has a perverse interest in the world of writing.
My first thought is that the time went by very quickly. I started in mid-October last year and finished the draft manuscript on January 15, 2012 — a little more than twelve weeks altogether. The bulk of the 80,000 word manuscript was written in the evenings after dinner and on Saturday’s during marathon 5-8 hour writing sessions at the local Starbuck’s. I made significant progress in the ‘meaty’ part of the story during the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day. I took the week off and spent at least 8 hours each day writing. It was a glimpse of what it would be like to write full time. I liked it. I really, really liked it.
Another interesting realization is that the story ended up being only a shadow of what I intended to write. I had heard other writers describe ‘the process’ as having a life of its own, and always wondered what this ‘muse’ business was all about. Apparently mine — my muse, that is — was hiding somewhere just behind the curtains, and decided to introduce herself during the first act of my novel. When she showed up, the story went off in a direction I could not have planned nor foresaw. She and I are good friends now. We dine together regularly.
I am thankful for having good coaches during the process. They insisted that I adopt a traditional writing workflow, even though I was intending to self-publish. While the purpose of writing the novel was not necessarily to sell a million copies, I did not want to add to the already considerable number of poorly executed dreams that currently inhabit the e-book marketplace. If was going to spend months of my life writing a book, I wanted it to be the highest quality product I could make it.
So, I did what any good writer does. I dutifully subjected my scribblings to the Master of Red Ink — the editor. I reached out to an old college buddy who is a PhD. Historian, and an accomplished author. He also has a solid background in the genre and I knew he would be brutally honest in his commentary, while not causing me to jump off a bridge. He did his job very well. And I thank him for introducing me to my new friend — the comma. He sometimes joins me and my muse for drinks in the parlor.
One thing about the workflow that I will change is the editing process. I would write five or six chapters, then send them off to my editor. This worked fine, but it caused me to resist making drastic structural changes to earlier chapters as the story developed. For the next book, I will complete the draft manuscript, then submit it to my editor. This will give me greater flexibility and keep the editor from having weeks long pauses between editing sessions.
Another bit of advice that really paid off was engaging a group of people as beta readers. I selected five people whose job was to point out any remaining spelling or grammatical errors, but mostly to focus on the story. I asked them to react to plot elements, characters, continuity, dialogue, etc. They also functioned as the ‘genre police’ to tell me if anything I wrote was overtly derivative of an earlier work. As one who has read several hundred science fiction and fantasy novels, I am bound to unconsciously borrow an idea here and there. While this book does make use of some popular technologies — most notably the space elevator, and the fusion pulse drive — I felt they were done in a way that obviously paid homage to Clarke (for the space elevator), and the fusion pulse drive has been sufficiently put into the ‘public domain’ of scifi technology, so no apology necessary there.
My choice of writing software, the brilliant Scrivener from Literature & Latte, made the whole project such a joy. I never worried about losing my work, and always had the right tool at hand when I needed it. The name generator alone saved me literally hours of agonizing character name construction. And the ability to press a button and compile the manuscript in a variety of output formats made distributing files to my editor and beta readers a snap.
My next blog will delve into the less sexy yet still important part of ‘the process’ — publishing as an independent author. Stay tuned.