Being an Indie Author – Job description involving three hats – Part 1: Writer

 

I’m an indie author. That means I write and publish my books. So not only do I do the creative part i.e. write the novel, but I must also ensure the manuscript is polished and ready to publish, and then I have to make it available and market it. So it’s a job that requires the wearing of three different hats – writer, publisher and marketer.

N.B. The only hat I suit is the trilby – hence the photo. The other hats for the purposes of this series will therefore be metaphorical – hey, I’m a writer – I can do metaphorical.

This will be the first of three posts where I look at each role in turn.

(If you’re interested in why I chose the indie route you can read a recent guest post I did here on Kate – aka the quiet knitter’s – blog).

 

The Writer’s Hat

The role of writer of the book is of course common to all authors whether they’re traditionally or independently published.

There are lots of how-to books, courses and online lists of advice available, but it seems for every rule there is about writing a novel, there’s a corresponding one that instructs the writer to do the opposite. So what it boils down to is – do what works for you and adhere to one rule only – and that is TURN UP AND WRITE.

I have attended several writing courses from week-long residential to one-off half-day workshops. And gradually I’ve discovered what works for me.

My Writing Method

Story Elements:

Character and Setting

I’ve found for all my novels so far – and for possible future ones (which I already have notes for) – the stories start with a character or two. The character will just pop into my head when I’m least expecting it – often when I’m out walking. If I like the character enough I’ll then carry out a bit of an interrogation/interview with them in order to find out more about them. They’ll tell me where they live, what they do for a living, their family situation and so on.

This information will help me come up with a possible setting for the story.

For example, Rachel from Displacement came to me when I was hanging up the washing in my garden on the Isle of Skye. She told me she was a Skye crofter, but also a book illustrator as nobody can make a living from crofting only. She also revealed she lived alone, she was bereaved, and her mother had been a Jewish refugee who’d arrived in Scotland as a child just before the Second World War.

Plot

Once I have a character or two I’ll then try to find out what problems, dilemmas and/or challenges the character faces and that will lead to ideas for the plot.

Then once I have these ingredients in place it’s time to get writing.

Planning

I rarely know the full story in advance and I don’t plan it all out beforehand. I’m more of a pantster (as in fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants) as some writing experts call it. Apparently writers are either plotters or pantsters. But I suspect a lot of us are a bit of both. I usually have a rough outline based on the timeline of the novel and divided up into beginning, middle and end and it’s usually handwritten on one side of an A4 piece of paper. But as I go along I’ll also sketch out (also handwritten) individual scenes or a list of scene headings. And sometimes I’ll break scenes down into post-it notes. However, there are other times where the ideas just flow and don’t require any sort of prompts or notes.

For me, part of the enjoyment of writing a novel actually comes from not planning in too much detail. That element of surprise, of characters sometimes sort of taking over is fun and exciting.

Of course as my most recent two novels have been parts 1 and 2 of a 3 part series, I’ve had to be a bit more organised planning wise – both to maintain consistency with the earlier book – and to ensure credible development in character and plot across all three books. But even with the series there has been no very detailed or inflexible plan. Indeed I didn’t plan to write a series. That only came about because readers of book 1 wanted more.

Getting On With The Job:

Desk Time

I aim to write every day Monday to Friday and I aim for a particular word count per day – that way I can have an approximate date for completion of the first draft in the diary.

It also means my writing brain is used to/coaxed into co-operating. It knows it can’t wait around for the muse. It knows it has a job to do and it had better get on with it – with or without the fickle muse. Yes, there are days when the quality’s not great or when it’s a struggle just to do a few sentences, but that’s all part of the process. Writing is a job and, like any job, there are good days and bad days, but regardless you do have to show up.

I don’t edit much as I go along. I may make a note to check or research something later, or I may a tweak here and there, but mostly I just plough onwards until THE END.

Although it isn’t really THE END – not by a long way…

In part 2 in this series I’ll look at the next stage – at the process of redrafting and redrafting and redrafting – to get the manuscript ready for going off to the editor. I’ll also share how it is working with the editor and cover designer in order to get the book to its absolute best version.

 

Just Do It 4 – location, location, location

The terrestrial planets: Mercury, Venus, Earth...
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Setting

Welcome to the fourth and final post in this series on novel
writing for beginners. So, where were we? We’d overcome fear and
procrastination. We’d got to know some likely characters. We’d developed a
story idea into a plot. Now we need to consider setting.

And there are a few things to consider when deciding when
and where to situate the story. Obviously if it’s a historical novel, then
when, and most likely where, will be implicit in your story content. And the
same will be true, at least to some extent, with any type of genre fiction.
Science fiction is likely to be away from planet Earth, crime novels will involve
a police station and so on.

However, even with genre, there will still be decisions that
you have to make. Is your Victorian thriller set in the homes of the
aristocracy, the middle classes or amongst the poor on the streets? Is your
tale of the Roman occupation told from the emperor’s court or the subjugated
settlement?

With contemporary fiction, the choice of setting is wide. Is
the story centred around a family home, village, city, workplace, or in the
midst of a ritual such as a wedding or a funeral?

Sometimes the setting is almost a character in its own
right. It may dominate and determine the plot. It may evolve and change as the
story develops. For example, if your story is one about survival on a remote
mountain top, vast desert, or alien planet, the nature of the environment that
the characters are in is crucial to the events and outcomes.

Once you have decided on your setting you need to bring it
to life. It’s exciting – there might be houses to furnish, landscapes to form
and plant, cities and worlds to create from scratch. Then again you might set
it somewhere real and just tweak the details.

Whatever you do, make the setting consistent and coherent. I
draw floor-plans of the houses in my novels – so that I don’t inadvertently
move the kitchen from the back to the front of the house, or shift a staircase
from one side of the building to the other. Similarly with fictional villages
and towns – drawing a map is a good idea. Think about what the characters see
when they look out of the window, walk down the street, enter their workplace,
fly their spaceship, approach the battlefield, sit in their kitchen…

Make sure the setting is believable and has integrity. Even
when, or rather, especially when, creating a non-Earthly world. Even if a
planet or parallel world is completely manufactured by you, it should still
obey its own integral rules of physics.

Give enough detail – using all the senses – so that the
reader can begin to inhabit the world of your book. But don’t put in long
chunks of bulk description. Feed in the details as you would with character
traits. ‘Show don’t tell’ is just as applicable with setting. There’s also no
need to repeat these details. Once your reader knows that the main character
has a cream leather sofa, don’t go on about it. Trust your reader to remember.
Also, trust your reader to fill in the gaps – as you would do with the
characters’ physical appearance. Good writers give just enough detail to set
the reader on their own imaginary path. Just think how annoying it can be when
a book you love is dramatised for television, and the characters’ physical
appearances and the look of their homes and villages are dictated by the
casting director and the set designer.

So creating your novel’s setting should be fun, but keep it authentic
and credible. Give enough of a map that the reader can find their way in and
orientate themselves, but leave them enough room to explore and make sense of
your created world for themselves.

And that just about wraps up this ‘Just Do It’ series. The
intention was to get those of you who are aspiring writers to take the plunge
and become actual writers and to give first timers some basic tips on the
foundations of novel writing. There are further aspects such as use and quality
of tone, atmosphere and style and the all-important voice which are also
necessary to novel writing. But let’s keep these for another time, further down
the line.

For now get the characters, plot and setting assembled and
set off. Go on, just do it!