Monday, 11 August 2014

Six years of writing and it ain't any easier...

I gave up my day job on 15th August 2008. If you look through this blog you'll find the entry I made on that day.
Ah, how young and foolish I was, back in those days when I still had hair and some of it was black.
So, how's it all been? If you're interested in being a writer, or just plain nosey, here's a rough outline of my career so far.

There have been ups and there have been downs.

Much like life in general.

These are a few moments that stick in my mind.

1. Taking my youngest to school on their first day. I wouldn't have been able to do that if I hadn't had this job. I'd have been at the office, letting someone else take part on my kid's life. This is CLEARLY the best thing about my life as a writer, this huge opportunity to participate in my children's upbringing. Whether they like it or not.

2. School visits. There have been so many but one of the earliest was at a school in the US. I'd been signing my debut, DEVIL'S KISS, and this huge boy lumbered up. HUGE. Now high school kids are a lot bigger than me, on the whole, and this guy would have made the Terminator gulp. I sat there, slightly shaking, when he put the book down on the desk and told me this was the first book he'd ever read cover to cover and he loved it.

There are few moments in my career that have ever come close to that moment. I made a reader.

3. My first book deal. That was for DEVIL'S KISS and kicked off not just my career, but also that of my agency, GREENHOUSE LITERARY AGENCY. Now Sarah Davies is an awesome agent and I thoroughly recommend her to everyone but back then it was just her and me and neither had any idea whether this was going anywhere. My wife and I were about to order our Friday night curry when the call came in that DISNEY-HYPERION had made an offer on DEVIL'S KISS. No-one forgets their first book deal.

4. Bursting into tears at the Puffin marketing meeting. In front of about 100 people from all aspects of the industry. Booksellers, journalists, bloggers and the heads of the whole company. That was not a good day.

5. Making my audience burst into tears at a small bookshop in New Jersey. I'd written a blood-soaked, nihilistic YA horror story  and the audience was a bunch of six year old girls in fairy costumes. Don't ask.

Made lots and lots of new friends but there are times when I miss my old job as an engineer.

Engineering is maths. You can only be right or wrong in maths. In writing there is no such thing. It's utterly subjective. I've written five books but still feel I know nothing. I read books that are awesome and don't sell and then pick up books written hideously badly that are best-sellers. And everything in between.

The above piccie is my latest project. Here's how it's been.

1. May 2013. Have this idea for an EPIC high fantasy. Start writing it.
2. November 2013. It's finished, about 80,000 words. I love it. Everyone else hates it.
3. I chuck it ALL in the bin and start again.
4. May 2014 I've a new story. Very different from anything else I've ever written. It's a feminist high fantasy centred around the bad guys (and gals). It's very, VERY different. It's also 86,000 words long.
5. July 2014 send it to my agent after cutting it to 74,000 words. She has comments, all positive so I do a big redraft.
6. What you see in the piccie is my revising of the plot. I don't lay it out in much detail at the beginning because I want it to be fluid. But once I know I have the bones of the story I stick it up on the wall, chapter by chapter to see how it flows. Have I repeated myself? What scenes work, what scenes can be cut or combined together. WHAT IS THE STORY? This is different from a series of semi-connected events.
7. August 2014. Down from 74,000 to 68,000 words. I now park it.
8. September 2014. The plan is, but by letting it rest for three weeks, you gain an objective distance. I'll give it another going over, check spellings and grammar and then it's back to the agent. Then we shall see what we shall see.

Anyway, that's how it is for me.


Robin Meng said...

I am still laughing at the part with the little girls in fairy costumes. Thanks for sharing your journey. All we writers can do is hold hands and keep going. Looking foward to reading more of your work.

Heather Kilgour said...

Thanks Sarwat that was fascinating, but I have to ask, did you ever make any one cry as an engineer?

SarwatC said...

Nope, but I was once told 'I'll never work in this town again'.

Which, ironically, somewhat later turned out to be true.

Many, MANY shouting matches though.

Steve Feasey said...

It's tough isn't it, Ash? The problem is that creative people rarely engender any sympathy when they bemoan their lot. "Try getting a real job," or "Ahhh, didums!" are the kind of responses you regularly read when writers and artists dare to suggest that life isn't easy for them.
The truth is, the market is struggling and the people suffering the most are those foolish enough to try and wring out a living by telling stories.
Keep the faith, sir (sometimes it's all you have).