On Self-publishing, Writing my Novel, and Finding Inspiration: Part 5 of 5
Continued from Part 4.
Towards the end of last year, I finally completed the manuscript for my first novel, Leather to the Corinthians. After the experience of writing it, I know that my second novel will come much easier, as I took a convoluted path and made several bizarre choices in completing the first.
Leather to the Corinthians began as a short story that I wrote in a creative writing class during my undergrad years. Writing it came quickly, and I was very pleased that it had a strong, unique voice. In all of my previous writing attempts, I often leaned on my influences for style, but this time around it was all me. Problem was, it wasn’t like anything I had read before, and I had no idea how to describe it to others. They just had to read the damn thing. This is not great for pitches and submissions.
One afternoon, I walked with my writing professor at the time and mentioned that I enjoyed writing the story and that I thought that I could build off it, maybe write some more that shared the strange world I had created.
My professor commented, “Sounds like you want to write a book.”
Lump in throat. “Umm, yeah. Maybe.”
To write a book, it’s not an easy thing. Many will tell you they want to, or that they are in the process. Some will actually do it. Spend five minutes on Twitter, and you’ll think everyone has a book to sell, but that’s not really the case. With today’s technology, it’s just much easier to get your work out there. In 1991, it was a different story. There were gatekeepers for that dream, and it was a daunting proposition.
I was 21 years old at the time. To write a book? Get published? I was a bit intimidated by the idea, but hooked.
I wrote a few more stories. I worked on all of the spoken word projects I mentioned in the last post of this series. I dreamt about it. I planned. I did a lot of prewriting. I did a lot of research, which the early to mid-‘90s meant going to the library. I put about 30k words together, writing on a DOS 6.0 IBM machine and an electric typewriter. Dot matrix printer FTW.
Then, I stopped. For quite a while. I worked in stage production, on a few films, and took a job travelling. I set the dream aside for many years. Although I understand why I did – that’s the deep down stuff that I will write about at some time in the future, but suffice to say it was a long, dark road of self-discovery. If I could have those years back, I’d take them.
In 2003 I moved to Florida to get my act together. My first step was to focus on a career, and I chose to become a teacher. With my BA in English, it was not difficult to obtain a temporary license and once I completed some course work and passed some exams, I had my full certificate. I found a great high school and settled in, teaching journalism and TV production.
When my first summer break came around, I knew that this was an opportunity to revisit old projects and revitalize them. I thought that this would be a great time to revisit the book idea. I searched through boxes and notebooks and gathered everything I had that related to the surreal world I first imagined those many years ago.
I pretty much found everything, and I spent time reading through it all. Could I connect it? Was it viable? Did I have something to say? Yes, yes, and yes.
This is the point where my weird process begins. I did not follow any set pattern and wasted a lot of time being concerned about details and not the writing itself. I will not repeat this process the next time! Here’s how it went:
I am a bit of a procrastinator when it comes to writing. I enjoy thinking about it, I enjoy planning it, and I love it when it’s done. The actual writing is very difficult (for me). It requires extreme focus, making the time, and a willingness to put yourself in an incredibly vulnerable position.
I am also a very curious procrastinator, as I will at least be productive at some level. My initial obsession was formatting. I felt that I had to completely understand how to format a manuscript in order to write one. I was also obsessed with how little I liked working with Word, and that I needed a different piece of software to write with.
So I wasted some time researching manuscript formats and evaluating software when I should have just been writing. I finally settled on Write It Now, because of its ability to compile a manuscript and work in chunks (chapters, scenes, whatever) as opposed to a huge Word doc.
Once that issue was settled, I still had about half the summer. Now it was time to begin writing. Hmmm, what do I do with all this material I already have? I only had print outs, no digital files? Should I type it in at my blistering 45 words a minute? What about a scanner? That would be better. I would scan what I had, then revise!
So after about a week of shopping around, I found a scanner and started scanning. That took another week. Then I had to go into each file and clean up the copy, the scanning process created many errors.
Finally I could start writing and revising, which I did. I was able to keep the momentum up until late October, when the school year and its all-consuming nature finally overtook me. This was a pattern that followed every year after.
When the next summer rolled around, I set upon working on the book once again. First, I had to reread everything I had up to that point (again, I would start every summer this way) for continuity, taking notes and doing a bit of revising. This second summer, I was writing much sooner, and I felt very productive. I turned out 12-15k words in about 10 weeks, then the October wall hit and I was done.
The following summer, the software became corrupted and all of my Write It Now files were corrupted. Dead. Fortunately I had a compiled manuscript. Spent another week evaluating software, and decided to go into another direction, Scrivener. I have been using it ever since. I had to cut and paste every chapter and every scene into the damn thing. The one plus is that I was able to do my annual summer content review and revision along the way. All said, I have probably read my book 10-15 times. Ugh.
Didn’t get to write much that summer as I mostly dealt with just getting the project back online. Kind of a bummer, but during the school year, I found an old writer buddy through Facebook and she was gracious and generous enough to go through my 55k words or so with a blazing red pen of justice, chewing it up, providing rich feedback, and constructive criticism. If one day you read my book and think it sucks, well…it sucked at lot worse before she went through it. If you love it, she was a big part of helping it get to where it is today.
When I was released for summer once again, I set upon all of the revisions that I had notes for, and managed a bit more writing. It was nice to really be in it, and that was a feeling that I would have to savor for a nice bit of time as the following year I got married and began an intensive one-year Master’s degree program. Needless to say, the book went back on the back burner once again.
I haven’t seen a June, July, or August off since. I slammed back into the classroom, and then found a teaching position at a university. They needed me about 5 minutes after I turned the lights off at the high school. No rest for the wicked.
The book, the dream, the project would all sit for another year. University teaching was a full time investment, and I simply wasn’t interested in spending my off-time writing. Too much work. Much better to sit in the corner, rocking slowly and sucking my thumb. I was near exhausted, but university life was treating me well. I was promoted to a different department, given a mission that would influence the teaching at my school at a Meta level, and my supervisor offered me a wonderful vision of all of the projects that I would develop.
Then he died.
It was that sudden. No warning. He wasn’t feeling well, spent a few weeks working from home, and then died.
My department was shell-shocked. Heartbroken (he was an AMAZING man). Directionless. My colleagues and I did our best to keep things going, but it was some time before leadership was restored. During this time, I was quite lost and fairly depressed. I needed something to bring me back into focus, and that was the book. I did something that I should have done in the beginning (and I will definitely do it moving forward). It was very simple. I made myself write 1000 words a day, Monday to Friday. That was it. Once I started, I couldn’t get up from the computer until I hit it. If I wanted to write more, that was fine, but no less than 1000 words a day.
In six weeks, my manuscript was done.
I started sending out query letters. Lots of them. I received many fine, polite rejections. It’s tough, but we all know that. I knew that I just had to keep hammering away; someone was bound to take a chance on me.
I would still be doing that if I hadn’t had the opportunity to attend a workshop on indie publishing. The tools that are available today are incredible. Much different than when I was self-publishing my comics. Super cheap, and fairly easy. I stopped sending out query letters. New mission. Self publish, on my own imprint, and distribute through Amazon, Kindle, and Smashwords.
Two days ago, I finished another content revision on the manuscript (it’s going to be perfect and polished, has to be – this is my baby) and sent it to a professional proofreader. I have a professional artist working on the cover art. I am building my production timeline, and I am determined to get this out by the holidays.
I will be blogging about the process throughout, in the hopes that my journey can help those that are starting theirs. I hope that you will stop by and check it out.
Visiting for the first time? Read the complete series!