Where to start…

Posted: 30/01/2011 by C. Matt Hewes in About Writing
Tags: , , , , , , ,

Indeed, where to start writing a book. Not just a short story but a full-blown size book. I never thought I had it in me but now, less than a year after I really started writing, I’m one full manuscript, the second manuscript halfway and several shorts further. My motivation to start? Boredom; being shackled to the sofa due to an operation and bored out of my skull, my Missus recommended me to try writing.

She had read several “spur-of-the-moment” pieces I’ve written, and convinced me I had a writer hiding within me. All good and well, but it still doesn’t explain how to start. Bear in mind that I am hardly the authority to tell people how they should start writing as all I have is Dutch High School English, and the practical experience I gained in the Navy. Oh, and the crash course my Mum gave me and my sister when I was about five or six; direct cause of my English cousins moving (back) to Holland. “Just so you’ll be able to talk with them, and maybe make them feel a little bit at home”, Mum said. It was this simple line that kick-started my fascination for foreign languages.

I seem to be able to pick up foreign languages easily; even if I haven’t got a clue ’bout for example Spanish grammar, I was praised by a Linguist in service of the Spanish Government, for my pronunciation of the language. Okay, I did make him and his family snicker when I explained I needed a new snake for the garden, rather than a garden hose but hey… there’s one translation for a hose and a snake in Dutch, so how was I to know.. (it might not have been exactly this example but something similar; it was well over 25 years ago..)

Back to topic…

I remember the first ‘writing session’ as if it was just a couple of hours ago; I opened up a new Word document and stared at the blank page for a while… “what first: title or story?” Since I didn’t have a clue what the story was going to be about, or how it would evolve, I just named it “my story”. I still have the first saved files named “My Story” stored somewhere on my laptop. OK… so where does the story start? Crikey… I hadn’t even started and already I’m facing a dilemma… don’t tell me it’s going to be like this all thru the story. One thing I knew; it’d have to be Sci-Fi. I’ve always been a sucker for Sci-Fi and I really enjoyed reading several writers in the genre, the two jumping out being Robert Heinlein and Jack Vance.Heinlein for being well ahead his own time, and Jack Vance for his use of language (albeit that I read his work in Dutch, I can still identify with his writing, and I can only hope my writing is anywhere similar to his).

Hence, Sci-Fi it is… So how do I start…? A space ship… duhh, you don’t say! Shit… Does this mean I have to make up names? For characters? Planets? Galaxies, aliens, technologies? Yes, genius, it does…! Oh, okay… pen ‘n’ paper time, I guess. I jotted down some names (it won’t be a surprise that the Main Character’s name is mine, in any form or shape, and that there are names in there which could slightly resemble the names of people I know…), and checked their existence in Google (I’ve always had a hang to being different; for some reason it suits me). Luckily, most names I came up with didn’t exist… well, not on the ‘Net. — “At least the disclaimer won’t have to be explicit” he says, already dreaming of being published -not a word on paper.

Now, most characters are there; time for the story… Whilst I knew it was going to be Science Fiction, I didn’t want it to end up a carbon print from the likes of Star Trek, Babylon or Star Wars. Sci-Fi, yes… Space Cadet, no… I wanted my story to be nothing like that, but instead be more focused on the relationships as they evolve through the story. Still no beginning of my story. Now, do I provide information throughout the story, or in an info-dump? The rule is, so I’ve learned the last year, to not put all information in an info-dump. Little did I know when I started writing, so here’s me, cramming all the details about the space ship and its crew in the first chapters. And then another one about the planet… Exactly; against all literary rules…

As the crew and the space ship slowly come to live, I started worrying -again- about the actual story. All I have sofar is a ship and crew, but what happens to/with them? As I said, I don’t want them to get mixed up in some Space Chase and kill off half the population of some planet on the other side of the Galaxy, instead I’d like them to meet their peers from The Other Planet, and get acquainted with them and their habits… I know…! As it stands, I work in IT, and more often than not, go-live of software gets buggered by some human error! An error is made, and due to human error they don’t end up where they were sent in the first place… Oh well, it’s a start… all I need to do now is ‘put it on paper’… And I did…

In the six weeks I was confined to the sofa, I churned out the first draft of the complete work. Where do I go from here? Bugger knows… “Let’s ask Auntie Google…” I punched in book publishers, and Aunt Google spit out a list of publishing houses and other related sites. I visited some websites after reading things like ‘query letter’, submission’ ,synopsis’ and what not… “AARGHH..!” I thought it was all just a case of looking for the right publisher, and send my stuff off, attached in an E-mail. I couldn’t have been more wrong… Lots of writing related sites recommended getting involved on Writers’ forums, so I went back to Anut Google: ‘Writers’ forums’ Again, she spat at me with a list as long as tomorrow, with anything writing related. Among the results was one that stood out to me. It was defined as a ‘Writers Community’; Authonomy. Having read as much as a person can physically read about a website, I joined and MAN!! am I glad I did… I submitted my firstborn to be criticised by the members whom, in my view, are more than qualified to do so; remember, I have NO official qualifications in the English language whatsoever.

My work was well read, and slowly the comments started to drizzle in. I was soon to learn that a lot of the comments made on it, were mere back scratching, rather than genuine comments. I soon worked out the difference between ‘generic’ and sincere comments. The sincere comments pointed out where I had gone wrong in the story, what my bad habits were, and suggestions for grammatically incorrect built-up sentences. Whilst disappointed, I was also grateful for the comments as it made the story better, and somewhere along the line I noticed that most of my story was filled with the same errors: Editing time…

I’ve edited my ‘first’ about four times; chopped up the info-dumps, axed false passages and obsolete words and ended up with, in my humble opinion, a story worth reading, even worth publishing. Will the professional editors find issues in my writing? Very likely, and when they do, it’s back to the drawing board for another editing session…

But first I need to find that publisher, or rather, they will have to stumble upon me. At the moment, Tee’Rha is under consideration with a Publisher, so fingers crossed..

Am I going to do this again? Hell yes! My second is halfway finished, and there are about four new projects work in progress, and ideas for about two more…

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Comments
  1. dldzioba says:

    Looks like you’re ahead of me. I sat down at thirteen and proudly stated I was going to write a book. I’ve yet to finish a complete draft of a novel in the ten years since but I’m incredibly close.

    Glad you’ve got the determination to keep going. 😀

    • Keep the faith, and keep fighting the pen-lag…

      Oh, and music, just in the background; helps you to keep your muse going.
      Well… it does for me anyway… 😉

  2. I have managed 4 complete books in about 14 months and half 4 others halfway through now. How this has happened God only knows. Problem is the 4 half finished ones, the pen has dried up now and so I wait and wait and…

  3. dldzioba says:

    My muse used to like music in the background but it has to be classical or instrumental so I don’t start singing along. I haven’t used music for a while now since overdosing myself on Vivaldi’s Four Seasons for an entire month.

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