The Journey to my First Book

Writing my first book was one of the most exhilarating experiences of my life, where the imagination opened, amid a rush of emotion. You’re exploring that coursing emotion through you and words are pouring out of your mind through your fingertips. There was no hard thinking at this stage, just a titanic release of thoughts, images, and exploration in a fascinating setting. But make no mistake, the journey doesn’t happen in one day!

The Antpod Faction by Alex James

Intent

The intent to write a book is a strange thing. Many people are determined to write a book, on their preferred topic, but sometimes that determination can override the natural unfolding of happiness and exhilaration you experience when your intent is more concerned with feeling than it is with mental intent. I experienced this much later, when I tried to think too hard to write a book.

My first book was a good example of a natural intent developing over the course of a few years. It started as an image in my mind of the setting of a desert planet, where strange beings interacted, and because the idea took hold of me it stuck there. It was a fixed intent that I was absorbed in. I had both the focus and the creative element intertwined. I was ready to move forward.

Planning

As I may point out in a few other resources or blog posts, planning isn’t essential, but for my first idea it was. I had to write down some specifics about the characters if only to get a vague idea of who they were and what they were doing in the setting. It didn’t matter too much to me if I changed my mind when I started writing, but writing specifics on paper enabled me to take more of an interest in the development of the idea, which would fuel my writing later on.

I went through a few planning and writing phases. My first drafts would appear horrible to me now, years later, but at the time they were a massive achievement and I was proud of myself. If you’ve never written your own story in chapters before and you just have, you’ve done very well. As Obi-Wan Kenobi would say, ‘You’ve taken your first step into a larger world.’ During this time there was no compulsive need to keep writing or planning. I simply noticed there were things I could have done better when looking at my drafts, or at the accuracy of my plans. My drafts weren’t long enough, for one, and the characters in my plans were robotic. Seeing these problems inspired me to re-plan and to change the focus of the story in a way that was more exciting and familiar to me. They say that writers often do write what they know best, and I think I instinctively did this.

First Draft

Writing a first draft was the exciting bit, and I mean really exciting. It was the first time I had written so many words, and momentum led me on. I didn’t stop. I had to know what was going to happen in the story. I was as immersed as a reader is at reading their favourite book, even if it was my own. I didn’t understand back then that I could have written different types of scenes and eventualities in the same story. No, I thought the way the story unfolded was special somehow; that there was one way it was meant to be told and I had to know all the answers, so I continued writing, thousands of words. It took me three whole months, but I had 120,000 words at the end of it, and more importantly, I had the end of the story.

What I wasn’t really aware of was the funny thing about the way you tell your story, as an individual human being, by writing purely from instinct in a first draft. You put it together in a haphazard jumble. Every scene you write is like a first scene into a new world, though they relate in sequence and character names. It’s a mess, but it was your best chance at getting that first draft down onto digital paper and that was what mattered, and it is somehow special in that sense. I made the mistake of hugging onto that first draft format too tightly for a period of time, which is a classic amateur writer mistake. Save your first draft, and then rework changes into a new file. Don’t resist positive change and suggestion ‘because it wasn’t the way the story was meant to be told’. Tell yourself that and hear how foolish it sounds!

Self-editing and publishing preparation
Photo by Bad Wisdom Photography from the Leeds Steampunk Market
Here I am at the Leeds Steampunk Market at my first event with my first book. Photo by Bad Wisdom Photography from the Leeds Steampunk Market.

Self-editing wasn’t really something I thought I would want to do and its importance, even when I was doing it, wasn’t apparent. The motivation was the need to prepare my book for self-publishing, and changing my first draft was an extension of this motivation. Even amateur writers know it’s not recommended to upload the first draft to be published as it is. There comes the fearful thought: what if the public sees my story and it’s in a mess?

Years down the line, the better I was at seeing my story from more distance and different angles, I realised it was published as a bigger mess than I thought. But I don’t regret this because I made a solid effort at writing, preparing my writing for publishing, and then self-publishing it. After all, my efforts at self-editing my writing did make a difference and gave me skills I didn’t have before, such as how to see the same sentences from different angles, identify spelling corrections, write blurbs, gain feedback and knowledge from the process, format a manuscript into an ebook, and decide which changes should be made for the sake of my readers. Yes, just as with writing, preparing a book for publishing is about vision, having a product the way I wanted it, and good organisational skills helped with this.

Publishing and marketing

Publishing was quite easy, at the press of the button. What comes after publishing is left to your imagination if you didn’t have a plan. Finding opportunities was instrumental in getting the word out about my book and this involved blog posts; booking stalls at steampunk, comic, craft, and book fairs; social media posts. There is no news quite like new news and announcing to the world that your book is available is exciting news to deliver.

Ordering physical books was a key part of having stalls, and sometimes I over-ordered. It’s good to have an idea about demand for books and to visit events as a customer before being a stallholder, for this reason.

Your first book can become your signature story, as it did with mine: the book you are known for or that is bought more often than others. First impressions matter, a lot.

Lots of antpod books in a box.
Lots of antpod books in a box.
Overall

The journey to my first book was one of great anticipation, where I learnt new skills, motivated by the reality of becoming a published author. The power of hope and fulfilment was combined. The journey didn’t even stop after I had published my first book; it continues in different forms as the years go by and defines who you are. It was well worth it!

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