Thursday, 9 February 2017

This is how I wrote my book

I can't begin to explain how excited I am to hold this wad of paper in my hands, finally. Writing a novel has been a life goal of mine for a very long time. When I was a kid, when people asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I said 'Author'. Not writer. Author. I wanted to write novels. To tell stories. That is, after I discovered that being a Vet wasn't just about cuddling animals, but touching poo and vomit (much like parenting), healing injured ones and putting some of them to sleep

I started writing this book ten years ago. I was in my early 30s. I had just skidded out of my 20s, bruised and battered by failed relationships, disappointment and instability. I'd been bouncing from one job and rental property to another for the best part of a decade and had finally settled down in a flat for a couple of years straight, and a job that looked like it could be a long term thing. I went overseas on my own, doing a Contiki through Europe on the cusp of my 31st birthday, when the tour guide himself was still negotiating his 20s. I came back determined to be a grown up.

In the meantime, my now husband had returned to Australia from a year long working holiday in the Canadian Alps and our paths crossed shortly after. My lease was up and my brother needed a flat mate, so I moved in with him the weekend after we met.

So, I finally found myself adulting. Living in stable accommodation, holding down a secure job and in a serious relationship. It was time to write. Then, I began this story. About a young woman, much like myself, who was living with her brother and working as a public servant. I had some ideas in mind about what I wanted her to experience. In some way, to tell my own story and reveal the themes that had guided my life to that point. I didn't have a set plan, just a bunch of thoughts and ideas and the desire to write.

I did that. On a regular basis. I would fish out my cheap laptop, turn it on, punch away at the keys, and develop a story. In fact, it was the characters I was creating. The people in my story who would come to life in my mind and embark on their own journey, sometimes seemingly separate from me.

But as is the case with being a grown up, life gets busy. My partner and I went overseas, feeling the urge to travel together before we settled down. We came home and bought our first property and got hitched. Then we started a family. Things literally snowballed. A year into our marriage we had our first child and then ten months later we conceived twins. To say things got a tad chaotic is an understatement. I suddenly found myself at home, unemployed and looking after three children under the age of two.

A short time before I gave birth to my first baby, I found out about 'Push Presents'. Apparently, people buy or are given a material incentive for giving birth. I'd never heard of this, but wanted to cash in. Side note here, I never pushed. I had two cesareans. But that's beside the point. Instead of wanting jewellery or a fleeting massage or some other pointless commodity, I told my husband that I wanted a writing class. 

Image via:
Catherine Deveny was running her first Gunnas Writing Masterclass in Sydney for the Sydney Writers' Festival and I wanted in. Heavily pregnant, I waddled into the city and sat through a day of 'aha!' moments among my kind of people. It was the fuel I needed to resolve to finishing my book. The perfect opportunity was about to present itself, in the form of a longer than expected maternity leave. I would put the nine-to-five grind of working a day job behind me for a while, in fact much longer than I'd expected, and this gave me the time I needed to focus on finishing the book. I started to see myself as a novelist and when I found out about self publishing, it only propelled me even further forward. I realised I wouldn't have to send out a manuscript to a whole bunch of publishers and then have to sit on my hands and wait for someone to 'get me'. I could make a book myself. I would have complete control over every aspect of its design and construction and I would be able to create my own deadlines and basically own and oversee every step of the process. It was completely irresistible.

In the weeks before I had the baby, I started this blog. I found an online site that would pay me for writing articles called and I pushed myself to finish my book. I made writing my full time job. Albeit mostly unpaid, but whatever. I had savings and a financially supportive partner and was in fact working harder than I'd ever worked in my life. I knew that eventually I would return to paid employment once the kids were in care and that this short time was a drop in the ocean in my working life. I had nothing to lose and everything to gain. I had to at least try. I'd kick myself if I didn't at least do that. 

As busy as it is having a newborn, I found the time. When the baby napped or was settled, I wrote. And wrote. And wrote. It kept me sane during the days I felt isolated and motivated me when I was exhausted. When the twins came, everything was magnified again, but I did another Gunnas Masterclass - Self Publishing with Julie Postance and a further writing one with Catherine, and I became even more determined to finish what had become a project, beyond merely writing a book. In fact, the story and characters had grown so much in me, that I envisaged a second and third book and a business plan started to take shape.

While wrangling three toddlers, I pushed on with not only writing the stories, but conceiving the cover, registering a business and getting a logo designed, starting a Facebook page and website; editing, proofreading, typesetting and building the architecture of a book. It was daunting and I was riddled with doubts and insecurity, but those niggles weren't strong enough to defeat the joy and the satisfaction I got from doing it. I grew attached to the narrative, the fictional people, their lives and relationships, and the process of making a book. I worked in small increments of time, whenever I had a moment to myself or the kids were occupied with themselves. Even five minutes of writing or organising fulfilled me and gave me pleasure.

Before too long the book was finished and while it was being proofread and edited, I busied myself with the business side of things and commenced the sequel. The second book has been much easier to write in some ways. I have experience and a premise. The sequel's protagonist is a character from the first book, it reveals her back story, and the stories intersect. In other ways, different challenges have presented themselves as I can't just let the characters lead me into the story, I have to adhere to the established narrative and characterisation. In so many ways, these obstacles have made me a better and more creative writer. 

The editing process of the first book educated me about the pitfalls of writing, such as style, grammar and punctuation and I think, I hope, that I have improved. The third book is swimming around in my mind. The business end is established and I believe that it won't take me as long or be as arduous a process, in terms of creating a physical book and making it available for purchase.

All in all, I decided one day, that I was going to write a book and when I took that first step, and kept putting one foot in front of the other, eventually I got there. And looking back, it's been a huge and very satisfying learning curve.

The hardest part now, and I think what has been the most difficult all along, is sharing it. You want people to like what you do. Especially if it's an artistic pursuit. You want people to connect and to feel the things you felt when you created it. It's not about being liked or feeling good all the time or getting approval. It's about connection and you want people to have a positive and constructive response. So, for example, even if people don't like something a character says or does, you hope that it is within the context of empathising with them. The fact of the matter is that some people will like your work and others will hate it. Some will be completely indifferent. I am prepared for that. What I wish for most is that the story and the characters are interesting, believable and at least a little bit entertaining. 

More than anything though, I wrote this book because I liked writing it. I am writing the next two because I want to finish telling this story. I will keep writing because that is the one thing I do that makes me want to punch the air in jubilation. I am so lucky to say I have found that thing that makes me go 'fuck yes!'. It is something that everyone should find in their lives.

Space: Everybody Shut Up, I'm Trying To Think will be available for purchase through my website and Facebook page from February 14th 2017.