Once upon a time I used to write stories in school exercise books. They were far from literary masterpieces, but I was only ten years old and I had little life experience to draw on… and for that matter was still learning how to spell! Even then though, the stories were science fiction – that’s one thing that hasn’t changed. I quit writing my own stories, but I never stopped reading, and I never stopped dreaming my own stories.
From time to time I thought one day I could write a novel, but the barriers to entering the traditional publishing industry seemed too high. Like most people I had a family to feed and so I opted for a more conventional way of earning money with a “normal” day job, writing in computer languages rather than English. The dream of writing faded until in 2012 I discovered indie publishing and started reading self-published authors. That was the “light bulb” moment when I realized that publishing a novel was now within reach.
All I had to do was write one.
In May 2013, while on a beach holiday, I found my head once again full of a story, this time one about interstellar colonization. While soaking up the sun I figured out how it might work and what the characters could do. I started to wonder if I should write it down.
I began to write Foothold on an iPad, starting at the beginning and writing until I had some 30,000 words. The holiday ended. I wrote a little more in the weeks following, but parked it as my normal life resumed. But I kept digging into self-publishing and I read books on writing. One of the first pieces of advice I read is that one should write an outline for a book first, rather than “vomiting words forth onto the page”. That was unfortunate as I’d just barfed up the first third of Foothold! But then I read that Stephen King doesn’t use outlines, which made me feel much better. If it’s good enough for SK, it’s sure as hell good enough for me!
Early in 2014 I picked up where I left off the previous year and wrote until I finished, again writing the story as it came, no outline, just a few notes to help me keep it consistent. I’m not unhappy with the way the story panned out. One advantage of not using an outline is that the story can develop in unexpected ways – interesting for me and hopefully interesting for you too.
After writing came editing, first by me, then by an amateur editor – a friend who spent many years teaching English. Beta-readers followed, a small group of seven. Finally I considered the writing done and passed the manuscript to a book formatter to turn it into something I could submit to Amazon. By this time it was late November 2014, so all up I took a year and a half to write the book and prepare it for publishing.
The Seasoning followed at a much faster pace and I published it at the end of May 2015 – only six months. This book had an outline, which helped increase my writing speed.
The wheels fell off for book three, which didn’t hit the streets until December 2016, some 18 months after The Seasoning. What happened? Day job work pressure, a family crisis and a house renovation project combined to slam the brakes on production. Oh, and I switched to using a professional editor… and re-edited both Foothold and The Seasoning which took way longer than I thought it would. Classic planning fallacy – I underestimated the effort needed by me on both the renovation project and the re-editing. Lesson learned, I think! But I have no regrets about the re-editing, I should have used an editor right from the start.
The good news is that all these challenges are behind me now I’m back to a faster production schedule.