Lessons from Year 0: My first year as a writer.

I finished my novel this week. I have finally written the whole story down on paper. I say whole story, but I know there are at least two more books to write in this series. However, the story of Book 1 is finished. I still have to edit the book, rigorously working through the text and elements to produce the best book I possibly can at this point. I know that my writing craft will improve overtime and the books I write ten years down the line will be very different from the books I can write now. I digress.
Today has been a day of taking stock and spending time with family. Several important anniversaries and birthdays occur around this time of year, naturally I spent the day thinking about what has gone before and how things have changed.
This time last year I decided to participate in NaNoWriMo challenge for the first time. I’d been lurking in writing communities, learning about the craft of writing and the ever changing landscape of publishing. I used NaNoWriMo to attempt to finally finish the story that had been running through my head for over two years. That decision removed the doubt about trying to make a living as a writer. I know that I have not chosen an easy career and I may not be able to pay the bills my wage covers, but I have to try.

Lesson 1: I’m a nicer person when I’m writing.

On days when I have written I feel calmer and happier. I am less likely to snap at my family and the routine chores of my life get done. I don’t mind having to iron clothes or clean the bathroom if I know that my writing has gone well that day. Conversely if my house is clean and tidy my writing flows better and more progress is made.

Lesson 2: I’m a plotter not a pantser.

Many blog posts have been written about the two styles of writer. Some like to plot out where the story is going, establishing character profiles and settings, before they begin the first draft. A Plotter.
In contrast, a Pantser will take their initial idea and just write, seeing what will emerge from their subconscious. This was the approach I took last year. Although I knew how the story began and ended, I wasn’t at all sure about what happened in the middle. I decided to blag it and ended up with an extremely messy incomplete first draft. Although I ‘won’ NaNoWriMo, I didn’t finish the story and it became stuck.
When I moved onto my next project to give myself some distance from that tale I planned it out more effectively. By thinking my way through different problems I was able to have the breakthrough that ultimately led to Portal Quest. Having a framework for the story has helped my writing considerably.
Although I still have pantsing tendencies, am firmly in the plotting camp although like most writers the truth is somewhere in between. Setting limits on the story allows me to focus in on the main parts of the action, thus making the piece better.

Lesson 3: Inspiration strikes at the strangest moments.

As I go about my daily life I often think about my stories. Sometimes while cycling, or showering or cleaning I will have an idea that shapes the course of the book. Some of these ideas are quite frankly a bit rubbish, but others aren’t too bad. The best example is probably the one that led to the creation of the Portals Universe in its current form and the inclusion of John Blackwater and his story into the world.
I was walking home from work one Sunday afternoon, wondering how I could explain the intricacies of the Tration Empire without bombarding the reader with information. I needed to provide a reason for the characters to show the world to the reader in a natural way. Of course if they had to show the world to a new visitor this would solve the problem.

Lesson 4: Working 40–50 hours a week is not good for writing.

At times this year my day job has required more of my time than normal. A lot more. Long hours and not much sleep has made writing difficult. In the spring I was regularly achieving a thousand words a day or so. During the summer this tailed off to a mere 500 words a week, as working pressures and childcare coincided to leave me feeling like not enough butter spread over too much bread. (Got to love a bit of Tolkien.)

Lesson 5: Keep going no matter what. Or. Small progress is still progress.

It would have been very easy to stop writing this summer. To step back and admit defeat or put off writing to some point in the far distant future. Except that it wasn’t, on days when I didn’t write I became grumpy. When I did write I was able to focus on my family more. I could have focused on my lack of progress but by adjusting my expectations and lowering word count goals I kept on writing.

Goals for year 1

  1. Earn money from my writing.
  2. Win NaNoWriMo again, this time with the story completed.
  3. Spend more time writing.
  4. Write and publish two books.
  5. Write more blog posts. (at least two a week.)
  6. Spend more time researching books and reading in general.
  7. Improve my mandolin playing.

These goals are fairly modest and achievable. I’ll let you know how writing year 1 goes this time next year. If the last year has been anything to go by. It’ll be hard work but enjoyable.