The trials and tribulations of a first-time author.
Writing Date 9260.6 (pm)
Hi gang - welcome to the Captain’s Log. This journal’s been running since October 1998, but I’ve never gone public with it before, so … be gentle.
My name’s Phil Busby (Wiglaf on Mythic Scribes). I live with my wonderful wife Susie and our two fantastic teenage kids on the edge of the Pennine Hills near Manchester, England. Work-wise, I’m currently an adviser and administrator for a small distance-learning college - The Writers Bureau, but way back in 1993 (in the quaint old village of Braine-le-Comte in the Belgian Ardennes) I started writing what’s now become a trilogy of fantasy novels called The Other Place.
At the time this all began, I was acting and leading workshops for small theatres around the city of Liege. I’d already written a couple of plays, and knocking out a quick fantasy yarn was going to be a piece-o-cake, or so I thought. As things turned out though, it’s been bloody hard work. And it’s still not finished! So why’s it all taken so long? Well, lots of reasons, but three of the most obvious have been: material, technique and planning.
For the material, I always wanted to write a meeting of worlds - fantasy and reality. So, being a massive Tolkien fan, I started out with an Oxford professor who, himself, was writing a sword & sorcery epic. At first it was great – loads of fun. But after a while the whole thing ground to a halt because … I’ve never actually been to Oxford. Apart from some bits I picked up in J.R.R’s biography, I know jack-s**t about the lives of the dons who teach there. And that’s not enough for a protagonist to lead the way through three fat volumes of romping, world-hopping adventures – not for me anyway.
Eventually I gave up on The Other Place 1.1 and went back to my roots. I started writing about a gang of teenage heavy metal fans growing up in the suburbs - it was a great move. Out of all those long-haired guys and hippy chicks, I managed to build a cast of characters that I really liked, and understood. I put together a sampler of the first 10 chapters, and showed it to some mates. They were very supportive, but all said the same thing about my writing: “You use the same words over and over.” And they were right.
Mainly they were talking about adjectives and superlatives. I wasn’t doing much editing back then, and I was really lazy with vocabulary. So it turned out a great observation and great criticism from a great bunch of editors to a not-so-great young writer …
Course, once I’d digested it, I got really paranoid. For a while every word had to be considered and measured. I started using a thesaurus two or three times a paragraph, and this was the 90s - there wasn’t even a spellchecker on my clunky old SE30 Mac, I had to use a book - it took forever! On my worst ever writing day I put down just 150 words, which was quite disturbing. Technique’s important, granted, and if you want to write for an audience you do need to be rigorous about spelling, grammar and vocabulary. But there’s no point worrying about all that stuff when you’re just trying to get the bones of a story out of your head!
To break the deadlock, I ended up completely changing the way I write. Instead of shutting myself off and tapping away on a keyboard in complete silence, I took to writing longhand with a cheap biro and an A4 pad, pretty much anywhere – in the pub, on the train, at the side of the swimming pool while my kids were doing lessons … and it worked! For editing and polishing, I use a laptop. But for a first draft give me a 50p Bic and some low grade paper, then sit me on the crowded 7.49 to Manchester – it all just comes pouring out.
Which leaves planning, and the big debate – to look ahead, or fly by the seat of your pants? Originally I was a pantser all the way – free creativity and unfettered imagining; how else could you possibly write fantasy? Well … I know it works for lots of folks, but for me - I get distracted. One of my long-haired metal-heads is a writer, and the first thing he writes is the story of a D&D quest he’s playing. I thought it would be good to put some of this quest into the book, to show him getting going as a storyteller. But once I started it, I couldn’t stop. I’d written over 50,000 words before it was finally put up on a shelf as another novel altogether. And that was months of work. It’s not the only tangent I’ve been off on either – there have been several.
So now, I plan everything – timelines, story-boards, chapter outlines … and that works too. Along with my metal-heads, and pumping out first drafts on the morning commute, I’ve actually managed to put together a whole first volume - The Wild Wood - 96,000 words. The last few chapters are being proofed as I’m writing this, and it should be ready for publication some time early next year. I can hardly believe it.
All of which makes me think of a quote from good ol’ Ernest Hemingway. And I’m not trying to suggest that I’m anything like him as an author, but this gives me hope when I think about my personal journey and the struggles I’ve had along the way – “It's none of their business that you have to learn how to write. Let them think you were born that way.” Which I will (once the job’s done).
Thanks for reading.
See y’all next time
Growing up, there were three things that changed Wiglaf (a.k.a. Phil Busby)’s life forever – Marvel Comics, Motorhead live in concert, and The Lord of the Rings. Now married with two fantastic teenage kids, living in the hills overlooking Manchester, England, he still loves the MCU and pounding rock ‘n’ roll, and wishes he was really a hobbit, going on an adventure …Sam Williams likes this.