First Shoots

James’s Writing Journey: Part 3

So, I’ve now spent an inordinate amount of time ambling rather randomly through the creation of a world (well, a few years anyway).  As you’ll have read in my first blog, it all started as a story (or at least part of a story), so this perhaps feels a bit strange.  But there are a few reasons for this relative inactivity:

  1. I was younger and out partying somewhat more;
  2. I didn’t have a clue where to start; and
  3. I didn’t share what I was doing very widely, and so didn’t have the encouragement of friends / family.

And I think that in itself is worth a mention: I was a bit embarrassed to talk about writing (even though at this stage, I wasn’t even writing!)  I didn’t share what I was up to openly, and this remained true right up until very recently – just last year in fact.  Perhaps it’s because I didn’t have faith in what I had produced (which is certainly true), but I’ve always known that the ‘story’ is decent, and feedback so far has been supportive.  But it is quite a leap of faith to ask someone to read your stuff – a stumbling block that all writers must presumably get over.  And I think that as you get better (and you know that you get better), the confidence does come … slowly.  I don’t know when I’ll be entirely comfortable with my output – perhaps never, as I have read in some other blogs – but getting ‘out there’ and not being blown to bits will be of help.  I think.

Anyway, back to writing.  Eventually, I was encouraged to start by some of the few people that knew what I was doing.  Now, it’s fair to say that at this point, I was not a writer.  I had a broad story (or in fact, a few scenes in my head with some rickety scaffolding between them), and some random world-building brain dumps.  This included a few ‘short stories’ and other optimistic produce, but I fear to even look over these.  So, where did I start?  What would you do?

You might imagine that I would set out a detailed plan of the novel that I was about to write.  Wrong.

Ok, you might expect me to at least flesh out a broad arc: wrong again!

What about bulking out the characters, or even creating a list of key characters and their personal directional journey?  Nope.

What about bottoming out the simple stuff, like the written point of view?  Not even that!

The problem was that I knew none of this stuff, and being a bit lazy, had no impetus to go searching it out.  How I wish I had consulted some books on writing – such as Stephen King’s part biographical and part educational, On Writing.  But I didn’t.  I just started writing.

It was (about) 2006.

Now, it is in my character that I work better alone.  It just seems to be in my nature that I prefer to keep control over all aspects of the task, and though I have of course worked successfully in teams, I do genuinely operate best on my own.  And this is what I was doing with my writing: going solo.  So what did I do?  Well …

… I just started writing.  I was completely ignorant if truth be told, but I didn’t know that at the time.  I just wrote.  These were my first lines:

“There was little movement in the hills.  After all, there rarely is.  The entire valley is dead and lifeless, as it is every year just after the close of winter.  Spring is the time of life, the season of birth, a time of hope and joy.  But not in the pass of Jalengo.  The shrubbery of the valley doesn’t flower, and rarely sports any foliage.  The weather is cold and harsh, and wildlife is forced to retreat underground.  The valley is a dead and desolate place of no interest to anyone, and an extremely important trade route.”

Pretty bad, huh?  Especially for the opening of a book.

And if I’m honest with myself, I even knew it was bad.  When I actually got to the stage of “reviewing” or “proof-reading” my work, I didn’t like reading it back.  But for some reason I kidded myself that it was because of some innate inability to read my own work, rather than it being genuinely bad.  I had some strange idea that the writing was the ‘easy’ bit, and that the review just wasn’t what I did well.  I think this was probably because when I was writing, I was imagining something which I liked, and writing something else, which I didn’t.  Fool.

I was also conscious of the amount of time it took to write – it was about 2009 before I had what could be considered something “complete”.  So I didn’t want to do wholesale re-writing because I’d still be going in a decade!  Well, turns out that’s what was required.

And if I look at my writing process now, I now think that it is the initial writing that is the tough bit.  It is the “polishing” and “restructuring” that is really exciting, because that’s where you see the writing come to life for (relatively) less effort.  So all in all, my perspective on writing has done a complete U-turn.

Hence, all in all, I was a bit of a fool.  But we all have to start somewhere, and I have eventually ended up in a decent place.  Could I have gotten there quicker by being (a lot) cleverer about my approach?  Probably, yes.  But equally, I think that writing is as much experience as it is learning, and we will all have different natural paces of development.  And did I learn a lot by taking this path?  Definitely, yes.  So was it worthwhile?  Definitely, yes.

But despite the retrospective criticism I might offer myself, I did start writing, and finished a full-blown novel (in excess of 200,000 words!)  It’s fair to say that it’s very different to the same novel in its current guise (Fear’s Union, being released later this year), but it is the same base – you’ll have to trust me on that.  I still have that old version kicking about, and could link to it online if I get enough requests – hint…

So my advice (if I was forced to offer any) would be to get writing.  It’s the only way to develop yourself.

Picture Credit: sjbscotland via Flickr

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