It finally happened. I finished writing a book. It’s a strange feeling, and in this article I look back on how I took my story from just another idea to a completed novella.
Once upon a time…
It began, as these things do, with an idea. A thread here on the Mythic Scribes forums sparked a discussion of what it really means for a character to be strong – from a storytelling point of view. My thought is that a strong character is one that’s able to carry the story forward, without necessarily being particularly strong or otherwise remarkable within the world of the story.
From that discussion an idea took shape. It was a vague and fuzzy idea – more of a concept really – but it felt good, and I couldn’t quite let it go.
Originally I intended the story to be a short one of just a few thousand words. I wanted something I could share here on the forums to try and prove my point, and to show off my writing. Pretty soon I realised a short story wouldn’t be enough.
I’d written over two thousand words, and I was barely done introducing the character and the setting, or any of the other things I felt were important to the story. I needed a plan, so I started to outline.
Outlining is a topic of its own and I won’t go into details of the process. Suffice to say that once I was done I had an outline for a story spanning thirteen chapters.
I know from experience that I’m a master of procrastination, and that I need to hold myself accountable in order to get anything done. To this end I let my friends and family know I was planning on writing a story, and that I would put up a new chapter on my blog once a week until the story was done. I did give myself a one week head start though – to have a buffer in case anything came up and I wouldn’t be able to finish a chapter on time.
This form of public accountability worked out well for me, and in thirteen weeks I had completed the first draft of my story.
During this time I was fortunate enough to have a beta reader who enjoyed my style of writing and who had plenty of free time on their hands. Before uploading a chapter to my blog I sent it to them for proofreading and double-checking. This helped both with making the story better, and with improving my confidence in my work.
Having my story checked by someone else gave it a kind of validation I wouldn’t have felt if I’d just put it up right away without anyone else’s eyes on it.
And then, everything else…
Now what? I had finished the first draft of my story, and I was very happy about it – both with the story itself and with the fact I’d actually finished it.
There’s an adage about how the first draft of everything is always rubbish. I didn’t quite agree with this, but I still felt I ought to get some feedback on the finished story. Someone who got to read it all in one go might have a different impression of it compared to someone who read one chapter a week. It’d be a bit of a different experience getting the whole story at once.
Turns out people had opinions – opinions and questions…
- Why is this happening in this way?
- Why is she acting like that?
- What’s happening here?
- Why is this important?
- What’s an anfylk and how do they look?
- What’s the big deal with the burrows?
Some of these questions were easy to address. I could just change a few words around or rewrite a paragraph and whatever it was became more clear. Other questions required a bit more thought and effort to answer.
When a reader wonders why something is important, and when that something is one of the main reasons the story happens in the first place, that’s not something to shrug off.
I took the questions to heart, tried my best to address the issues that caused them, and got someone else to read the new version of the story.
Over time, thirteen chapters became fourteen, fifteen, and finally seventeen. The version of my story that I finally published is the seventh draft.
I released the first draft of the first chapter in June of 2015, and I published the story nearly two and a half years later, in January 2018. Does this mean it took me over two years to write a story of less than 40,000 words?
The story spent a lot of time sitting around doing nothing. I’ve written other things, and I’ve started and finished other projects. I don’t know how much time I’ve put into this story, but I know it’s a lot.
In the end I just wanted to get it done and over with so I wouldn’t have it hanging at the back of my head anymore. After I added the new last chapter in the sixth draft of the story I didn’t even get anyone else to read it. I just wanted it done.
That’s how fed up I was with the entire thing at the time.
Fortunately, it worked out pretty well, and the new last chapter has received its approval from people who’ve read the earlier versions of the story. Still, I shouldn’t have done that.
My story has come a long way since I first started writing it, and so have I. My story has changed and grown and improved, and I with it. I’ve learned a lot from this journey of mine, and I’ll try and share some of the key points here.
I can’t do it alone
Writing may be a lonely task, but that doesn’t mean I have to do it all by myself. Discussing my writing and my ideas with other writers keeps me motivated and inspired. Sharing my progress with a beta reader lets me know whether I’m on the right track or not.
Technically, I could do it alone, but I’m certain the end result wouldn’t be as good, and I don’t think I’d enjoy it as much.
I can’t fix everything
One of the reasons my story took so long to finish is that I spent so much time tweaking all of the little details. I spent a lot of time changing things back and forth to try and resolve issues that a casual reader might not have noticed at all. Even in the early drafts the prose received a lot of polish.
This is something I enjoy doing, but it’s also a potential waste of time – depending on how you see it. There are three or four different versions of the book’s first chapter, and they’re all polished to a sheen. I could have settled for getting the point across and then once that was finalised I could have focused on making the prose pretty. It would have saved me a lot of time.
It’s difficult though. I’m finding that in my current project I still spend way too much time making sure the language flows smoothly, even in the first draft.
I can’t please everyone
People are different. We like different things, and even when we like the same things we might like them for different reasons. There are people out there who will never like my story no matter what I do with.
Some of them won’t like my style of writing. Some of them won’t like my main character. Some them won’t like the story, and some yet just won’t understand what I’m doing at all.
There are those who will like my style and my story and my main character. There are those who will get it. Those are the ones I need to care about, and it’s their opinions that matter.
The others? Well, there are other stories for them to read – if they enjoy reading, or stories.
I need to get an editor
I did not get this story professionally edited – and in this case I’m referring to copy editing. The next time around, I will. I figured that after seven drafts and at lease twelve pairs of eyes on it, all of the errors would have been found.
Once I’d decided I was done with the story I created a paperback version and I sent it out to my family and my beta readers as a Christmas present. I added a note about how I’d like them to get in touch with me if they found any errors, but didn’t expect to hear very much about it.
Turns out I’d written the word they twice in a row on page 59, and the same thing had happened with the word of on some other page. Pretty much everyone who contacted me had spotted that.
A few others found different errors like here instead of her and so on – basic mistakes that should have been ironed out years ago.
That wasn’t the end of it though.
Two of my test readers took to the promo copy with a vengeance and got back to me with a list of over seventy issues they suggested I address or consider. I ended up fixing most of these in line with their suggestions but kept a few “errors” in due to artistic reasons.
Next time around I’m going to get an editor for the final version of the story. My friends put in a tremendous amount of time and effort to help me out, and while I greatly appreciate it I don’t want to have to rely on them to do the same thing for my next story. I’d like to keep them as friends.
I had a lot of help from a lot of different people, and I think my story is significantly better for it. This time around I was able to get everyone who helped a print copy of the book, but that’s not something that I’ll be able to keep up for future releases. I will still make sure to include all of the people who helped out in the acknowledgements of the book though.
I didn’t create this story all by myself, and it wouldn’t be right of me to pretend that I did.
It took its sweet time, but I finally completed my story. To sum it all up in a small, bite-size chunks of canned wisdom, here are the two main things I’ve learned.
- I won’t get it right from the start.
- It’s better if I don’t try to do it all alone.
How about beta readers? They can be hard to find and even harder to keep. How do you find beta readers, and what’s your best tip for showing them the appreciation they deserve?
In a few weeks, once the book has been out a little longer, I will write a follow-up article where I share my experiences of publishing and promoting the book.
Also, since I should take every opportunity to promote my book, here’s the link: Emma’s Story.