In honour of the letteredness of the event, I have resorted to letters in lieu of numbers. Here, therefore, are J things I learned during [Inter]National Novel Writing Month.
A. I can actually do it – even when I’m tired. Even when I’d rather curl up in bed with a book and/or fall asleep. It helps to set a smaller goal – say, 500 words – and promise myself I can stop after that. It gets the momentum going.
B. If I find myself extremely reluctant – practically unable to get to work, it’s a sign there’s something unresolved that needs fixing in the next scene. Much better to stop trying to write and instead focus on finding a fix.
It’s been a long road to this point of being a published author, and I have learned a lot. Some things I have learned from others, and some things I have learned the hard way. Here are a selection, in roughly the order I learned them.
I Some writers can produce remarkable work in odd bits and bobs of time. I am not one of those writers. It takes me a good half hour to submerge. Find out how you work best and don’t listen to those who say that there is only one right way to go to work.
II Making it up as you go along is not the only way to write – nor is is necessarily the best or most authentic way to write. It certainly works better for me if I take some time to brood and hatch out a skellington ahead of time. Again, find out how you work best and don’t listen to those who say that there is only one right way to go to work.
IIILyX is great. I type into a nice clear large-print text file, and when I click a button, it shows me how it will look on the page – all properly formatted like a Real Book. How much of this was set up by the Caped Gooseberry and how much comes straight out of the virtual box, I know not, but any way you slice it, I recommend LyX.
IV However good your word-processing/typesetting program is, you will still have to make a million decisions. Really. You have no idea how many decisions go into a book until you try it, and all the decisions will need to be made regardless of how little you care about them. (Rather like organizing a wedding in that respect.)
Font, margins, running heads and/or feet (with placement & content thereof), leadings, headings, et cetera ad nauseam. Don’t even get me started on the typographical complexities induced by the inclusion of another language (real or imaginary). On the plus side, all this decision-making means your book comes out looking just how you want it.
V On which point, details are not my forte, particularly typographical details. The Caped Gooseberry, on the other hand, is an excellent proof-reader. “This says leaned, but eighty pages ago you said leant – which is it to be?” (Yes, he is a man of myriad usefulnesses. No, you can’t have him. He is mine, all mine, muahahahaha.)
VI Nothing is ever simple. On average, you can expect one moderately major detour or road-bump for every decision you make. And sometimes there will be dead ends when you least expect them. The one thing which went much more smoothly than I expected turned out to lead to a brick wall.
VII Graphic designers design. Mac Operators carry out others’ designs. While a graphic designer may choose to take on mac operator work, mac operators don’t do graphic design work.
VIII Some ebook distributors won’t accept Creative Commons-licensed works, citing the vendors’ non-acceptance of Creative Commons & Public Domain works. However, a quick search of Amazon.com (the biggest fish in the pond), reveals that not only do they still list public domain works by Austen, Brontës, Dickens etc, but that they also list Creative Commons-licensed books by Cory Doctorow and Lawrence Lessig.
IX Other ebook distributors insist on putting on DRM, regardless of the author/publisher’s wishes. (Some of them also insist on taking a large part of the profits, despite incurring almost no cost whatsoever.)
X The wholesale discount includes 15% for the distributor, so a wholesale discount of 55% means 40% of the list price for the bookseller (generally the minimum brick-and-mortar booksellers will accept in order to stock a book). This leaves 45% for the publisher (in the case of self-published books, also the author) from which the printing and shipping costs are deducted.
Depending on the cost of printing and the list price, there may be very little left – and that’s before you take into account that the bookseller will expect to be refunded for any copies they don’t sell (and will either destroy them or charge you for shipping them back).
XI When the National Library of New Zealand CiP form says “What is the book about? (Describe the main topics, themes, and/or places covered. Please be as specific as possible.)” what it means is “please provide a brief description to be published verbatim.” (Embarrassing.)
XII You can’t use a Young Adult Fiction BISAC code unless the book is primarily classified as Young Adult Fiction – which ensures it will be shelved in places where adults fear to tread. Young adult readers, on the other hand, are not afraid of venturing into the adult section. (Yay for young readers!)
XIII A matte finish dims the colours of a cover more than you might expect. On the other hand, they feel lovely. Choose wisely.
Yes, some of these are definitely more serious than others (VI and X are pretty major), but if anything I’ve written here lets another writer learn something the easy way, I shall be delighted.
And if there are any other self-publishing Creative-Commons-using New Zealand-based writers out there, whether further along the road than me or not – drop me a line. I’d love to know that it’s Not Just Me.
I’ve been working on this particular WIP since before I started this blog, so long I can’t even remember when I first had the dream that started it.
This isn’t actually the first draft as such, it’s the first full draft. The first first draft (with its many rewritten beginnings and approximate word-count of 27,387) lay down and died of apathy in June last year, and by that October I was ready to hit the road running, having taken some time to plan.
Admittedly, I did at that point think I could finish the first draft by the end of the year while working full-time. I did finish it by the end of the year, just not that year.
The reason it took so long is that it is so long: the approximate final word-count was 158,840 words. Yup. One hundred and fifty-eight thousand, eight hundred and forty. There are languages with fewer words than that.
The reason for this length, I suspect, is that I wrote down everything. Screeds of stuff that I know won’t be in the final draft, details that are inessential to the plot, but all things that I needed to know. I couldn’t just write “She climbed the cliff-face,” I had to know each hand- and foot-hold. (And now that I know, I can edit them out.)
That’s one of the many insights I’ve had about myself as a writer during the course of this draft. There have been a few.
A short stint is more fruitful than nothing, but more frustrating (see above).
Inspiration can strike at any time, but a pen acts as a lightning rod. A pen in the hand, that is. Lightning rods don’t lie flat.
I need to re-learn the mechanics of writing, so my wrist and hand don’t start to ache after six pages or so.
When I’m writing, I often appear to be staring out the window. I don’t always see what’s happening outside. (I brake break for posties!)
Once I know exactly what happens next, I can hit speeds that surprise even me: yesterday I wrote eighteen pages. Long-hand. In the last week, I wrote over fifty pages, forty-two of them in three days. (Yes, my wrist hurts.)
According to some, the current length is “epic”, although I’m sure it’ll be much smaller once I’ve finished the doubtless epic series of rewrites that lie ahead of me.
But not just yet. I think I’ll potter for the rest of the month, and probably work on something else first in the new year, just to give myself the distance that lends perspective.
And to celebrate my “epic” achievement, I’m going to invest in a brand-new shiny fountain pen, just like I promised myself.