Early December, 2009, I lost my job through redundancy. Instead of considering the impact this was going to have on my life, or worrying about how I would get another job in the middle of a recession, my first thought was: ‘at last – some time to write my book’. Having lived with the seeds of a plot for a science fiction thriller rattling around in my head for well over a decade, I was really looking forward to planting those seeds and watching them grow. Little else mattered.
In the run-up to Christmas, I took time out to relax, unwind, and to allow my book’s basic plot to flesh out a little and its main characters to introduce themselves to me. For the first two months of the New Year, I then thoroughly researched some of the key topics and locations that would feature in the book. And finally, at the start of the last week of February, I began writing my first novel, ORIGINS.
Initially, I only told immediate family and close friends that I was writing a book – partly to put an end to questions about job searching and applications, but mostly because I was afraid that, despite my best intentions, I might not be cut out for creative writing, and didn’t want to spread the word too far afield in case my efforts amounted to little more than a few pages of unintelligible gibberish. Fortunately, after penning my first tentative paragraph, my fears were allayed, and I knew that I at least had the ability within me to get the story in my head down on paper. But, better still, I knew that no matter how long it took me I would finish my book – because, despite having completed just a couple of hundred words, I was well and truly hooked. And so began my obsession with writing.
Writing, for me, is a disjointed process. Prior to starting ORIGINS, I’d had a very stereotypical image of authors: sitting in front of their typewriters or computers, tapping away at the keys and, almost magically, producing a perfect, unbroken string of prose and dialogue on the page or screen. That’s not me. I write a sentence or two, go back and change a few words. Write another, change a few more words. Then, maybe, I’ll chop the sentences up and reorder them, or even delete one entirely … I find myself continually drafting and redrafting until I’m one hundred percent happy with the way a paragraph reads, and then I move on to the next one. Obsessive, yes; unconventional, perhaps – but hey, it works for me.
Treating my writing as a full-time job, on average, I clocked up eight to ten hours a day, five or six days a week. Most days I only churned out a couple of pages, some days as many as six – but whatever the day’s page count, they were pages I was happy with and proud to have written.
With only a basic, provisional plot to work from, I let my story carve out its own path, and, little by little, watched it unfold through the eyes of its main characters. And as those characters developed – and I learned more about their lives, their loves, and their fates – I grew increasingly attached to them. Whether I was writing about them, or not, I found myself thinking about them: wondering what joys or perils tomorrow would bestow upon them – and worrying about how they would cope. They became my constant companions … my new extended family … my close friends. So much so that when, reluctantly (for the sake of the plot), I was forced to kill off one of them, their loss, to me, felt every bit as painful and distressing as a real bereavement.
Eight months in, I reached the arbitrary target length, for my book, that I’d set myself when I first began writing it: 300 pages … and my story was still only half-told. I was ecstatic. I’d obsessed about that target (far more than I cared to admit) – worrying I’d run out of ideas or words long before reaching it, and be forced to downsize the novel I so wanted to write, to a novella or, worse still, a short story. Now though, at last, I could stop fretting over how my book would physically stack up to the others on my bookshelves, and spend some quality time with my fictional friends. And I enjoyed every minute of it.
Seven months (and 326 pages) later, with the first draft of ORIGINS finally complete, I bid my new friends a sad, fond farewell, and we went our separate ways. But my obsession with them, and their adventures, was far from done – editing and proofreading allowed me to relive the amazing time we’d spent together, over and over again.
If I’d considered writing an obsessive pursuit, I found editing and proofreading doubly so. Despite having initially been one hundred percent happy with each paragraph I’d penned, on re-reading them I now spotted numerous typos I’d previously missed, plot inconsistencies I would need to rectify, sloppy dialogue that required tightening up … my manuscript was far from polished. So I set about obsessively polishing it – eight to ten hours a day, five or six days a week – trying to make it shine as best I could.
After months of editing, and no fewer than three cover-to-cover proofreads, I had to force myself to stop – afraid that if I didn’t, not only was I going to lose what was left of my sanity, but my book was never going to get published. So, I printed out a copy of my ‘completed’ manuscript and proudly handed it over to a good friend (and avid reader or all things sci-fi) for one final, independent proofread. On its return – many minor edits and corrected typos later – I decided, albeit reluctantly, that my book was now ready for release … only then to be faced with two more obsessive tasks: formatting the book for Kindle, and trying to market it – but those are, perhaps, topics for another post.
If I’m truly honest, writing my first novel caused me to doubt myself and my abilities far more than most of the challenges I’ve faced in my life to date. And I’m certain that, at times, the obsessive nature of the authoring process threatened both my mental and physical wellbeing – I lost over ten pounds whilst working on ORIGINS, and I was far from overweight to begin with. However, writing my book has also been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life so far. It gave me something new and exciting to focus my energy and efforts on, following my redundancy. It introduced me to new realities, new possibilities, and new friends. And it is the single most enjoyable thing I have ever done that, in some people’s eyes, would be classified as ‘work’. I am immensely proud of ORIGINS – and will remain so, even if it only ever sells a handful of copies.
It saddens me that my fictional friends are no longer with me. But I’m writing my second novel now, featuring a couple of the minor characters from ORIGINS. So I have some new friends – and I’m really looking forward to getting to know them a little better.