March 05, 2008

How to become a writer, by john.

How to Become a Paperback Writer, in 16 e-zee Steps:
Note: I didn't say "popular paperback writer" or "good paperback writer".
Just so you know, you were warned...

  1. Get laid off from your day job. Nothing motivates more than the fear of not having an income or a future.
    • In 2002, I was laid-off after my employer, a small high-tech firm, ran out of money. Pending new financing (which was never a sure thing), I was back in the job market. After a fairly aggressive job search for the first month or two, I needed some kind of creative project to keep me from going totally loony. I decided to start writing a spoof or parody/social drama of the detective/adventure thriller genre, featuring a cast of low-income, East Vancouver characters. I took structural inspiration from Ian Fleming's James Bond thrillers, which have been a favourite of mine since I was in my teens.
  2. Sketch out the motivations of your characters. Build the world in which they live.
    • I started scribbling in a notebook, perched on the side of my bed mornings or nights. I tried to pin down the most significant characteristics of my key characters, basing them on traits from real people in my life. Some traits would be exaggerated to help identify a "type" or class for the character (good guy, bad guy, helper/friend, victim, observer).
  3. Start writing. Keep doing it.
    • Kinda self-explanatory, but really the most difficult and time-consuming part. I had to just plunge into things on the page and not worry much about structural issues, just to get something down.
  4. Step back and check for realistic frames of reference: time, place, pacing and organization.
    • As my story evolved and became more complex, I discovered that I really needed to pin down a time frame within which the whole story would take place. I needed to be certain about which events would be happening when, if they'd overlap or interact, and how long (realistically) each event would take to happen. Basically, my hope is that if this kind of detail is tended to, it creates a foundation of realism that can support more fantastic or less-than-likely situations.
    • Whenever I was outside an area of personal expertise - if I wasn't sure about some fact or technical detail (like a detail in some character's past career), I'd find someone I could ask about it. In my case, I needed some terminology, procedures and place-names for a character who had retired from the military. I am fortunate to have a brother with a military background, and who has friends with similar backgrounds. I ended up with more information than I could use, but something of it will be useful in future stories, I expect.
  5. See Step 3. Also, see Step 3.
  6. Despair may set in. Don't give up.
    • I started my initial writing and character development back in September of 2002. I got as finished as I could with a "final draft" by February of 2008. That's basically five and a half years of on-again-off-again effort.
  7. Take a break from writing the story, and look at other aspects of the projects.
    • Occasionally, it was refreshing for me to spend a little time researching on the topics of publishing or book design. Almost all of this was done online. I ultimately decided to self-publish, primarily so that I could *ensure* that my novel would see the light of day under my own terms. I visualized a book being created - a physical novel being in my hands at the end of it. As I got more convinced that I was evolving an engaging work, it became easier to visualize it in some kind of finished form.
    • Sometimes this was an inspiration. Other times, it was a distraction. Don't take too much time off from writing like this, or the damn thing will never get done!
  8. I was going to self-publish, so it was time to pick a publisher.
    • I looked at AuthorHouse and Trafford. I selected Trafford because they are Canadian and local to me. You can make your own decision.
  9. When you think the story is done, it probably isn't. Be your own critic.
    • Take a break from it for a few days or a week. Then, read it through and see if you feel the same way.
  10. Repeat Step 9 as many times as it takes until you feel that the story is bullet-proof.
  11. Hire a Pro Editor and have them do Step 9 too.
    • I've written enough technical stuff in my career to know that even when I think it's rock solid and has been double-checked, someone else will always find something I missed. I'd much rather be informed of a mistake by a pro on the inside of my project, than by a customer on the outside.
  12. Close the deal with the publisher.
    • Read everything carefully, phone or email to ask questions about anything you aren't sure of, and finally, sign the contract, and pay the money to do the self-publishing thing.
  13. I like the design part too. Make it a good-looking book.
    • Even at the edge of some burnout on the project, I decided to create original illustrations and a book cover design for my novel. I decided that people may look more favourably upon a novel that has an attractive, engaging and colourful cover. I wanted my book to look different from the other self-published books. I researched source imagery on the web, and got out the pencils, India ink and paper. And a scanner. And Photoshop. But that's just me.
  14. Here I am, waiting, waiting, waiting...
    • I have now submitted my manuscript to the Editor, and have begun the cover design artwork myself. I expect to hear from the Publisher before too long, so that I can get a little hand-holding through the rest of the publishing process.
  15. If all goes well...
    • In a couple of months, I will have a bunch of books with my name on them, and my words in them. I intend to take a good long whiff of that lovely "new book smell" - savour the smell of success. It smells like... victory.
  16. So, is it selling? How well? Who's buying it? Anyone?
    • Who can tell what will happen here. I'll update this later...

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

We wait with great anticipation John...good luck and may it soon arrive..."hot off the press"....and on to the book shelves of the world...Riki Bagnell