Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Build on solide ground

"Custer" wrote the following comment on the previous post "Change in the Wind":
It's a difficult stage in the writing project – there is going to come a time when the preparations have to be put aside, and Chapter One has to start.

Of course, the research/preparation stage could include some shorter stories in the same setting, either connected to characters from the main tale or almost completely unrelated, to help you get used to the world you are creating... maybe the wise old mentor had some adventures when he was young, or your main character's parents met in an interesting way?
Thank you, Custer for leaving me a message!! ^_^
Allow me to answer by telling the story of the story I'm writing... Ô_o'

The very first time I finished a book for that project, between 2002 and 2004, I had NO preparation, NO plan ... only outline in my mind. I started with nothing, I wrote as I saw fit and I simply let the story become what it wanted to be. It was the first time I worked that way and ... I didn't really enjoyed that method.

I found annoying to be at the stage of writing and come to wonder "what happens next?", and then having to stop writing for several days, until I found what'd be next in the story. That project, of course, didn't work (got refused by publishers for several newbie problems, including poor structuring).

The research and preparations are not as thrilling as the step of writing the story itself, that's true. By cons, this is not what's most boring! I personally find that working as an accounting clerk is – by far! – a lot more boring than doing my research to make my project more solid! It is the same for preparations. Of all the steps to bring a manuscript to publication, the one I dislike the most is the last one: the correction and adjustment of the text – "polishing" and once I finished my part, if a publisher accepts my text, s/he'll ask me to do even more correction, adjustment and polishing... but I won't complain if it is to have my book published! =P

At the point where I am in the preparation, I am not yet ready to start writing the book itself. There are too many dark corners.

At a Boreal congress (about french science fiction, fantasy and fantasy (SFFF) literature in Quebec province), someone told us, to us beginners: "I'll show you the length of the preparations that Elizabeth Vonarburg writes for her novels; it is longer than the novels themselves! " *lol*

On this side, it doesn't scare me to do a lot of preparations. I have few failures under my belt, but I've also attended to several writing workshops, I have contacts with other Quebecois and French SFFF writers, I have gained experience and I learn from my mistakes, though I know I still have much to learn.

Writing a book, finish a book, millions of people do it. It's easy. Every finished book is unfortunately not necessarily publishable. Publishing a book is to write in a professional manner. It's a bit like constructing a building, while the structure is not yet safe and strong... it won't hold.

The other point to consider, is that I'm not a part time cashier anymore, with most of my time free for hobbies (when I was a part time cashier, I had a verbal agreement with my managers that if there were no customers in the store, and all my tasks were finished, I would write for my personal projects. I have never – never! – gave a bad customer service; I always dropped my things as soon as I saw someone close to my cash register, and unfortunately for the store, but luckily for me, 75% of my time in the store was allocated to writing).

Now, with a child and one full-time job – where I have to work for real – necessarily, the project is not moving at the same pace... So perhaps the time matter seems more monumental than it actually is. If before, I could work 2 to 8 hours per day on my project, today it's more around 2 to 8 hours per week, at the max (when I'm lucky)! That's very little!

The last Boreal congress I've attended to, was most outstanding because I met the editors of the publisher I would dream to work with! One of them would probably be "closed" to what I do (as a novice) because, as he confirmed to the public of the congress, he prefers to publish experienced writers, even if that means only to translate and no longer encourage the writers of the Francophonie.

The second editor, however, was most interested in new talent in SFFF. By cons, his experience led him to ask (for projects in series, like the one I'm working on), to see ALL the books written at the first submission for publication, to avoid future issues (structure and continuity problems between the books...

If I spent two years writing my first project that received a refusal... I'll well take ten years (or even more!) to write the whole story in my head, without any insurance to publish! That would be totally absurd, in my opinion! What I understand of his comment is that he wants the proof that everything it thought ahead and nothing is left to hazard.

For that reason, among others, I intend to make complete files for the characters, tribes, islands, religions and beliefs, how magic is working, politics and sociology, etc. and also detailed plans of every books that completes the series – meaning ten to fifteen pages of "summary" per book. So when I'll be ready to start writing Book One, I'll know precisely how Book Two will end, what happens in Book Three, Four, etc. At every important passage, I'll know which words to choose to echo something else that will happen in another book or two later... See what I mean? (I know I sound Utopian in the way I explain this... I just mean that when I'll start writing, most of the period of reflection will be completed for all books).

Another thing that changed with time: today, I personally know 3-4 writers as friend or mentors, to whom I could easily ask to read what I write and ask to help me in the writing (one of them worked for the publisher I quoted in second). In time, I could write Chapter One, send it to them, and right there, they would be able to comment on my writing style, my way of weaving the plot, in order for me to adjust the text before reaching the point where it's discouraging and painful to start over again.

Regarding the second portion of Custer's comment:
Of course, the stage of research and preparation could include some short stories in the same frame, is connected to the characters of the main plot or completely independent, ***to help you get used to the world that you create***.

Yes, you're absolutely right! =)

I realized it when I wrote the first version of this project... I was not sure where I was going, I was discovering on the way... Then, when I tried a second writing (still without preparations), I knew my characters so well that it was much faster and smoother to write.

According to my dear Elizabeth, a book should be written several times before publication, since at the first writing, we don't know the story or the characters well, and reversals of our own plot can sometimes surprises ourselves! By making very detailed plans, I would begin the process of writing the same story several times.

It took me two years to work on my first version and once sent to a publisher, it took six months to receive denials. For me, it is clear that I would NEVER be finished by Christmas 2010... or even Christmas 2011! The editor of Solaris, Joël Champetier, said it took him five years to work and publish his book "Le Voleur des Steppes" (but it's a long time for a professional writer...but like many writers of SFFF in Quebec, unfortunately, writing is not the #1 source of income for Joël (his a publisher too; Elisabeth is also a translator, and so on for most writer I've met)...)

For now, I have no idea how long it's going to take me to work and submit Book One to a publisher, but in a situation where I'm working on something else for a living, for sure as I have for at least two to five years!  =S


  1. It was good to be allowed to write at work, between customers; I remember a bookshop in London where the chap at the counter was banging away on a typewriter when he could. Your time may be more limited now, but you seem to be making good use of it.

    It sounds as if you have some good friends and contacts inside the sf/fantasy publishing field, so just keep working away at getting the project ready, and then dive in when the time is right. I still think some (slightly) related stories would be a fun way of getting more deeply into your world, and it would have the added bonus of meaning you could offer them to local magazines to help get people interested, and get a bit of feedback.

  2. Yes, that's what the "Lost Pages" side project would be for ;o) Since one of my Lost Pages became Book Zero, I still have one "lost pages" short story in mind...

    We'll see, I'm sure I'll find more in time (when I'll be at the stage of building "what will be on the book"; the somewhat interesting stories cut from the final series will eventually get into the Lost Pages books =P