A Year in the Making

A year ago today, I began writing Everborne. Wow, where has the time gone? Not only that, where has Tom gone?

It’s been a couple of months since my last post. I wanted to write an update before August but… allow me to explain. Now that I’ve had time to process my thoughts.

Following my impromptu break from writing, I hit a low point—mentally and creatively. That lasted a good month, maybe six weeks. I say good—it felt far from it. Up until then, I’d been working tirelessly on my dream. Then it all steadily became this big mess—thoughts and ideas tangled like last year’s Christmas lights. I didn’t really know how to go on.

It became hard to talk about writing when I didn’t know what to think about it. I also wanted my next post to be positive, even if that meant a delay.

I was in my very own Mines of Moria, stuck in the dank darkness of an unknown intersection, not knowing which way to go. Unfortunately, I didn’t have a silver-bearded wizard to guide me on ahead.

Essentially, I needed time to flounder. To feel despair. And to either let that despair stop me, or to propel me forward. Fortunately, it was the latter. Not a clean shot, more the pinged madness of a steel ball trying to find the target inside a pinball machine, but a shot nonetheless.

I couldn’t quite let go of my dream, nor let myself give up. While this fire did come from within me, it was nursed, nourished and encouraged by my parents and Emily. Without their unflinching support, I might not have reached the same decision.

By the start of August I began to gain momentum with one of my three book ideas. I’d previously been switching between two of them—the supernatural thriller and the one set in a post-apocalyptic Britain—for about a month, slowly forming ideas but not defining any real shape. It wasn’t until one auspicious morning which I spent weeding my parents’ drive that I had a sudden spark of imagination for my third book idea; the fantasy, the one closest to my original idea.

It was an initial thought, unprovoked and unassuming; one I immediately began to question and pursue as I continued to work on the drive. (Over the summer, I worked part-time in a nursery—the one with leaves, not children—and found manual work a great stimulant for creative thought.) The idea held, and more followed over the next few days and weeks. At first they arrived slowly, hesitantly, like new students on the first day of the school year, but it wasn’t long before they began to rush, like students on the last day of exams.

It’s a tremendous feeling, for a writer (or, more accurately, for someone who so desperately wants to be a writer) to have the sudden onslaught of new ideas. I love it.

I didn’t make the conscious decision to commit to the third book idea; it swept me up. Without meaning to, all my new ideas began to relate to this idea, which at the time of writing is still going to be called Everborne. I had previously switched between the other two books ideas, but once Everborne had readjusted its grip on my mind there was no question over what I would be writing.

As for the other two book ideas, I would very much like to revisit them in the future. For now, though, I’m happy for them to wait up on the shelf; hopefully they’ll collect further ideas, instead of dust.

I was more than happy with where my new ideas were taking me. My new vision of Everborne still included many of the same characters, settings, themes, story threads and other ideas from my original attempt—though probably not enough to keep much of what I’ve already written, we’ll see. It was also the book idea which excited me the most as it meant I could really push my imagination—after all, that’s what fantasies are about.

I guess all the reasons why I loved this idea is why it took me longer to return to it, as I first had to gain a greater distance before I could regain perspective.

As they’ve developed, I’ve realised some of my new ideas aren’t even all that new. Rather, the basis for them had already been there in some other form, just not as well-thought out, or defined. In some cases, the changes have been slight. In others, they’ve been much more significant.

Before, when asked the inevitable question of what’s your book about, either by friends, or family, or new acquaintances at parties, I would say the same thing.

“It’s a multi-narrative story, mixed genre. The narratives start seemingly separate but then begin to entwine…”

As well as sounding unconvinced to whomever I was talking to, I couldn’t really convince myself what the story was about. I think my problem—aside from being naive and over-ambitious—was that, when I came to first plan Everborne, I had a lot of ideas. Instead of filtering them, I just said “excellent” and bunged them in together.  In other words, I had too many ingredients.

Now, though, I’m more certain. I know I’m writing a fantasy. Despite what my university lecturer’s might have said, there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s more stripped down, more focused. There’s one narrative, likely split between past and present. I’ll have no more than four perspective characters. (Much more manageable than fifteen.) I still want Everborne to be ambitious; I want to prove fantasy exists beyond the bounds of medieval Europe, especially. Instead of flirting with 300,000 words, I’m considering 150,000—200,000 words to be my aim. I can also tell myself what Everborne is about (and I’m going to keep it that way, for now) and have a better understanding of the type of book I am trying to write.

Much of my planning has involved gardening in my mind, then making notes. The momentum of new ideas has been like working on a puzzle. You start with a few scattered pieces, perhaps finding a few of the edges first, before working your way inward, piece-by-piece building the overall picture.

A few pieces are still missing, but that’s OK. I expect to find them in the next couple of months. I also want to find some of the pieces as I write. Otherwise, where’s the fun in writing?

As aforementioned, I’ve  been reading to gain a more rounded view on writing. While I continue to develop my ideas for Everborne, I’m going to read a couple more books—though not too many more. Reading about writing isn’t the same as actually writing.

I’ve set myself the target of the end of the year to resume writing, but I hope it won’t be that long. I’m eager to return, but I need to find the right spot between ‘rushing’ and ‘over-preparing’.

Last week I re-read Stephen King’s On Writing. He’s very much of the opinion that a writer should find their characters, dump them in a situation and begin writing immediately for three months solid, finding the story along the way. He compares it to the uncovering of a fossil.

As tempting as it is to begin as soon as possible—I’ve had fragments forming in my mind—and as much as I needed to read get going, you can do this, I do have to remind myself: King is an exception. Even when it comes to published authors. He’s written over fifty novels, while I’m currently on my first.

Other authors, on the other hand, will spend much more time planning. I remember Brandon Sanderson saying in his lectures that he spends around three months planning, and this seems like a reasonable amount of time to me. Enough, but not too much.

I want to feel confident before I resume writing, that’s the main thing. As for my confidence, it’s still very much a cyclical beast—I’m sure it’ll remain that way for some time. That’s who I am. As long as I keep pushing myself forward, it shouldn’t be a problem.

November is my current goal, but that’ll be determined by how my planning goes. (I’m even flirting with the idea of NaNoWriMo, but that’s getting way ahead of myself.) I have a good idea of what I want done before I resume writing. Even before that, I have a busy September ahead of me, beginning tomorrow with a holiday to Rhodes with Emily.

So how does it feel to have been writing working on Everborne for a year?

It sucked to stop writing. Plain and simple. And it sucks I can’t say I have a first draft of my manuscript after a year. But that doesn’t sum up my year.

A team can lose a football match 1-0, but that doesn’t tell the whole story.

In the first three-and-a-half months, I wrote over 108,000 words. In many cases, that’s a full length novel. I’ve shown I can commit 9-5, 5 days a week, without getting distracted or giving up. For the next four months I redrafted what I had, cutting many words and writing many more. I know now not to do this until I have a whole first draft; the other road is paved with despair. But it wasn’t time wasted. It was lessons—painfully—learnt. Even when I stopped writing, I never stopped thinking about writing, or getting back to it.

All of it—including the set back—puts me closer to my dream of becoming a published author than I was a year ago.

I even regard my set back as an essential part of what I hope to be my future success.

I’ve learnt from everything that I feel went wrong with my original draft of Everborne. While there was plenty I liked about it, I don’t think it would’ve finished as strong as what I’m now envisioning.

Without the set back, I wouldn’t have attempted to gain a more rounded view of writing, in particular Fantasy. Without doing so, I wouldn’t have uncovered some of the common pitfalls—a few I’d avoided, either through luck or unconscious decision, maybe one or two through deliberate care, while others I’d blindly, if not willingly, fallen into. I might not have spent the last few months writing, but I did spend them working towards being able to tell the best story possible.

And I will tell this story. First, though, I must go pack for tomorrow!

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[They say a picture is worth a thousand words; I think this one could be worth a book, or at least a short novella. This was taken yesterday, when my brother and I went to Alton Towers to re-live our childhood memories. Re-live them we did.]

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