Biography of an Author
What Made Me Start Writing
I started writing just before I turned 20 (in 1987), so I have been writing for a long time. In that time, I’ve written several full-length novels. But some of them…
…well, they were bad.
I mean really bad.
As in, don’t even ask to see them.
I’d had story ideas floating around in my mind for some time before I started writing. I’d known for a while that I was going to start writing them in full at ‘some point,’ but it took a catalyst to get me started.
This came when reading “Lord Foul’s Bane” by Stephen Donaldson, from a disturbing scene near the beginning. I won’t give any spoilers away, but I imagine everyone who has read it knows what scene I’m referring to.
It triggered a host of emotions within me that I didn’t quite know what to do with. It was this that started me writing, in an attempt to deal with the emotion and find an ‘answer.’
I didn’t really have much of a clue about writing, back then. Most of my early works were little more than a set of personal dreams and wishes strung into a vague storyline. The main characters were invariably an idealised version of ME in full Mary-Sue mode as the paragon of perfection in all he did. And they invariably centred around the concept of boy meets girl and…well, you get the idea.
Like I said. Bad.
I didn’t show any of them to anyone else.
Gradually, just through the sheer number of words I wrote, I began to get better at crafting stories and understanding how stories actually work. I also began to realise that by giving characters flaws and bad sides and emotional baggage, it not only made them more interesting to anyone who Isn’t Me, it also allowed me to have some fun by giving them a hard time whenever my life got lemony.
Why I don’t Stop Writing
As I improved, and my characters and plots began to resemble real people in real situations, so I began showing my stories to other people, and found they liked them. Granted, they were family and friends, so somewhat biased, but their responses encouraged me to begin to think about getting my work published.
I did manage to get some short stories published, mostly in magazines (most of them now defunct), but I never hit lucky with my novels.
This was back in the late nineties and early noughties, when indie publishing was not a realistic option. I discovered that getting into the publishing world was not as easy as ‘wanting it.’
After trawling through “The Writer’s and Artist’s Yearbook” and whittling it down to publishers who accepted my genre, I got in touch with them.
In a true paradox, I learned that most publishers were only interested if you already had an agent; while most agents were only interested if you already had a publisher lined up.
I finally got down to, maybe four, publishers willing to accept unsolicited manuscripts.
I sent them out.
They sent them back.
I ran through the process every time I completed a manuscript.
And through it all, I continued writing.
Because, it is the writing that I love.
I love the process of finding the seed of a story, and turning it into a full-grown tale that has strength and power.
I love writing, and because I love it, I want my stories out there. I want other people to read them and come to love them as well.
In fairness, looking back on them now, I recognise those manuscripts were not ready for publication back then.
I have been doing a lot of work on improving my writing since then.
And now, having recently learned that indie publishing is a viable option, I am working to bring these manuscripts up to strength, to turn them into the stories I want to tell now, to improve them to the point that they can – finally – be released into the world.
I want my stories to be out there. I want my stories to be read by other people.
But I write because I need to write.
That is who I am.
How I Write
I start a new project with a series of ideas.
There is little or no conscious thought involved in that side of the process. It’s just how my mind works. I don’t sit down and try to create a story from nothing – and when I have tried, I’ve found the process to be long, hard and boring, and the resultant ideas don’t excite me and I make little effort with them.
Like relationships: if I don’t love the idea, I can’t commit to it.
When an idea gets beyond this stage, then I begin conscious work on it, and I start writing the idea into a story.
I do this in the old-fashioned way. Not quite quill and parchment, but certainly pen and paper. When I’m working on a new project, there is a lot of thinking involved, and I think best when I’ve got a pen in my hand and a piece of paper in front of me. I like the physical act of putting my thoughts down and making them tangible on the page. Then, as ideas blend and merge and mature, I can see the process on the paper and make alterations, links and connections in a way that I find impossible on a computer screen. It also means I can do it anywhere. As long as I have a notebook and pen – and I never go anywhere without those two things – then I can write. I’m not tied to a computer, a table or a power outlet.
Writing long hand has another advantage. When I come to type it all up onto the computer – which I try and do on a weekly basis – I get to go through it all again and can make further alterations based on what I have learned about where the story is going. Thus, when I print out my ‘first draft’ it has already had two editing processes.
Once I’ve got the first draft done, I go back to pen and paper. Armed with a top-bound reporter’s note pad, an A4 pad of loose-leaf lined paper, a black pen and a red pen, I go through the manuscript and turn it into a sodden mess of red-ink markings – corrections, deletions, blocks of text to move to other locations and asterisks linking to copious amounts of new text on the A4 sheets.
Once I’ve got all this typed onto the computer (having first saved a copy of the original first draft text!!*) I’m ready to show it to other people
I do this with Hopeful-Dread:
I Hope to hear “My God – this is AWESOME!!”
I Dread to hear “Who WROTE this drivel?!”
Then, based on their comments, I run through the whole process again.
* Having once deleted an entire novel because I thought the folder that contained it held something ELSE, I now save and back up everything I write.
Fortunately, because of the way I work, I still had that novel in hard copy – I never throw away old hard copy until I have a new printed version. I had to re-type the entire thing, but at least I was able to recover it.
Where I Write
I can write pretty much anywhere. So long as I have pen and paper (and I always have pen and paper) then I can write.
Indoors, outdoors; day, night; summer, winter
Perched on a rocky ledge, part way down a cliff overlooking the Atlantic? I wrote.
But my favourite place to write is in coffee shops.
You see, when I'm in the zone then I can write, but it takes time to get into the zone and until I am in it then my writing is intermittent. I can procrastinate big time, and at home, there are just too many distractions, too many other things than need to be done - or things that simply can be done. I once stopped writing to go and change my toothbrush, because I suddenly remembered I'd been using it for a long time
Yeah. I know.
Coffee shops are good because I go there TO WRITE and there isn't much else there that I can do. I can sit and people watch, listen to conversations or the music, look out of the window at the world going by - all the things that generate story ideas. I've got a table that I'm pretty much tied to - once all my stuff is spread out, I can't wander off very far or for too long, so I'm committed to getting on with some work.
Most of my writing has been done in coffee shops
Although the caffeine can make my handwriting a bit erratic.