A writer’s year (2013)

Earlier today I watched Joanna Penn on Sky News talking about making a change in your career, and she said something profound that really struck me.

What she said was: “Think back to what you wanted to be when you were 13 or 14. Are you doing that now?”

Well, at 13 all I ever wanted to be was a writer.

And, even worse, at 23 I was! A real writer, with an agent, a publisher, and a book in the library. Sure, the advance was laughable and I never earned it out, but I had reached my goal in life, and over the next few years I published three more books and a few short stories.

And then… well, I took my eye off the ball. I gave up.

But 2013 was the year I seriously decided to get back into my writing. I’ve been playing around for a while, but I admit now it was only playing. I started in on my first book in 30 years 5 years ago, a detective novel. Later I took down the copies of my old Science Fiction novels and thought, hey, I can scan these in and bring them out as eBooks. Except, when I started reading them through I thought, oh-oh, maybe not.

So I wrote for a while.

I even wrote under a pseudonym to see if I could still make it and sold a few copies of what I wrote, but it wasn’t anything I wanted to tell anyone else about.

Then around a year ago I thought “Well, if you’re really serious, spend a little money and learn what you need to do.”

So last year I did exactly that.

I read what felt like a thousand blogs, bought a score of books, attended a couple of writer’s and reader’s conferences, took several courses, and now I’ve finished the book I was working on. Next month it goes to an editor (yes, more money), and I’m having a cover created as well (you know what I’m going to say).

Over the last year I’ve undertaken the following experiences:

Book in a Month

I enrolled in a Book in a Month Workshop. It was a little like NaNoWriMo but with a tutor.

This kick started me to actually finish writing the book I started a year ago. I had been driving my wife mad because I talked about it all the time but I wasn’t getting it done.

This course certainly got it done.

Over a period of less than 30 days I wrote every chance I got and ended up with 100,000 words.

Was it worth the effort? Yes.

Will I do the same again with the next book? No.

I learned a few things about the process of creation over the month, and the biggest thing I learned is that yes, I need to write fast and write with my editing head turned off, but writing as fast as I did had a negative effect afterwards. I was so burned out by the process it took me a few months to get back into it.

But, if you need a kick up the backside to get you to finish a book, I’d recommend everyone try this once.

Crime Writing Festivals

Coming back to writing I decided I wanted to switch genre from what I used to do. Gone was the science-fiction (for now). I wanted to write Crime. So I attended the Chipping Norton Literary Festival and later the Harrogate Crime Writing Festival.

I enjoyed Chipping Norton, but Harrogate was an epiphany. Here were the people I wanted to hang around with. Everyone there loves books and writing. Everyone. It was like I’d been on a ten year trip and finally arrived home!

At Harrogate I attended a short workshop on plotting, a part of the process I knew needed attention, and this led me to the next phase.

Guardian Masterclass in Crime Writing

I’ve blogged about this elsewhere so I won’t repeat myself here, other than to say this taught me more than anything else I’ve done all year. If you can find the time, and money, these Masterclasses are recommended.

One thing I did take away from the class that I didn’t mention in my post was the lesson Matthew Hall taught me: Spend time on constructing your story. He says he spends 5 or 6 weeks on plotting before writing anything. And after going through the mill with my new book I intend to follow his advice from now on. Get the plot nailed down first, and then start writing.

And so, after what seems to have been a pretty busy year I’m now sitting here with a finished novel wondering what to do with it.

I thought long and hard about whether to go the traditional route with the book. You know: submit to an agent, hang around to see if anyone’s interested, maybe get a publisher to nibble, hang around another year or eighteen months while it goes through the mill, and I decided… ahh, no, maybe not.

I know how self-publishing works. I know my own weaknesses, hence the editor and cover designer. I also know most traditionally published writers don’t make enough to live off. I’ve reached the stage in my life where I can see a light at the end of the tunnel, and that light is time. Time to do what I really want to do. Time to market my own book, and to write another (already plotted) and another after than (also already plotted). After that… oh, I have so many ideas I need a forty year retirement to fit it all in.

See, I’ve still got ambitions.

Author: David Penny

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