It took me two and a half years to finish my first novel, 'The Caves of Etretat', Book One of the Sirenne Saga. Two years later, I wrote 'The Greyman', the fourth and final book of the series, in four months. What happened to speed up the process?
When I sat down to write 'The Caves of Etretat', I did so without preparation. I thought writing a book would be a simple process of latching sentences together until the thing was done. I'd written a fair bit before, all of it short material.
I had no idea what I was getting into.
Writing book one proved cathartic. The errors I committed forced me to examine all of my personal weaknesses in order to fix my book. Nothing escaped. My habits, my fears, my basic approach to life, my desires versus my needs, all had to be torn apart and rebuilt in order to become a better writer. This was because I was writing reflexively. It was an unthinking process, creativity without structure, creativity from the subconscious.
Over the next three books of the Sirenne Saga, I faced my demons and learned my lessons, returning to book one and re-writing it more than ten times. The lessons I learned changed me into a competent writer, confident in my abilities and confident that the stories I wrote accomplish what I set out to do.
I'd like to list my five most important errors:
1) Writing without a story summary.
My first story was written on impulse. The end result was an original story but without much cohesion between the various story elements. My next books all had a story summary, increasingly refined as time went on. An interesting side effect was to eliminate writer's block. I couldn't write what I knew nothing about. The more complete my summary, the less trouble I had writing about it.
2) Writing without a schedule
Although 'The Caves of Etretat' was intended to be my first serious effort, I was still looking at writing as a part-time endeavour, not a career. The result was that I wrote when I felt like it, which was not all that often. Any life activity could interrupt writing. It was often at the bottom of the pile. Eventually, I developed a routine, based on my most creative time. For me, that was working between nine AM to twelve noon. Breaks were necessary, to deal with life requirements, but the mornings increasingly became sacrosanct. Eventually, I felt guilty if I did not sit down to write. I also found creativity tended to come more easily when regularly called upon.
3) Writing without prepared characters.
When I wrote book one, I had no characters to draw upon. The result was that I drew on real life for examples, using myself as the source for the main character, Paul Sirenne. His soulmate, Raymonde Leblanc, was loosely based on my partner. There's a limit to that and originality paid the price. I often got lost in who said what. Characters all sounded the same. Over the next three books, the characters developed sufficiently enough to choose their own reactions. They became individuals. Character comments became slanted, some expressions favored over others. My next book has twenty characters. I have not written a single word of it but I know all their names and their personal quirks. Each scene can be reviewed before writing, looking at the summary and memorising the characters involved.
4) Writing without research.
To write a convincing story, you simply cannot talk through your hat. Your facts must be verifiable. When you make a small observation, it has to be accurate. Do not write about what you don't know. Research became an essential aspect of story development. I would often find story links during research. Eventually, some research was done on the fly, specifics obtained on the day of writing, to be discarded once finished. It became a fast process, broken into three sections. Research for summary writing, research while writing, and research during editing. The last phase would be used to fill in specific dates and locations.
5) Writing perfectly.
When I started writing, I was always looking for the perfect phrase, the right word, the best expression, the funniest comment. The problem was, I was wasting my creative time looking for all these things instead of writing. Creativity has a flow. It improves the more you do it. If you constantly interrupt the process, your creativity never blossoms. It is stilted by seeking perfection. The solution is to write almost-perfect words instead and let it go until editing time. Editing is a key component to writing, or if you prefer, first draft-second draft. Use the second draft process to gloss up the book. The first draft is to give you material to gloss up.
The result of my efforts was a four-book epic series unlike any you have ever read, with meat on its bones and multiple levels to challenge you. It is a rollercoaster epic adventure, where nothing is as it seems; fiction with a powerful message.
Discover more about the Sirenne Saga at my website www.mattchatelain.com. You'll find audio excerpts, interviews and various articles as well as other goodies. 'The Caves of Etretat' is available at Kindle as Ebook for $3.95, and at Amazon.com in hardcopy for $14.95. Book two will be out by end of May 2012. All four books will be published by end of 2012. Sign up to win signed copies of the series on my website. Don't forget to leave a comment.
Guest post By Matt Chatelain
Matt will be awarding a $20 Amazon GC to one randomly drawn commenter during the tour as well as to the host whose post receives the most comments (excluding his or the host's) during the tour. So I encourage you to follow the tour and comment; the more you comment, the better your chances of winning. The tour dates can be found here: http://goddessfishpromotions.blogspot.com/2012/03/virtual-book-tour-caves-of-etretat-by.html