I received a nice email from a reader asking about my writing journey from start till the present, how I came to write my first book, and how I came to self-publishing. I told them I’d write a blog entry about it, so here I am. Happy to share!
This is quite watered down, and more general, as the process is incredibly long, and I want to save the rest of my journey as more in-depth details for past and future blog posts. For now though, here’s an outline of what brought me to where I am today.
I started writing as a hobby when I was 13, but seriously got into fan-fiction at 14 years old. From then on, I was on-and-off writing for 4 years. If you’ve ever been to Singapore and seen the secondary and primary school education system, you would know why.
You have school from 7a.m.-2p.m. And after that, extra-curriculum activities. But we call them co-curriculum activities here, because extra would mean that it was optional. But even after all that, parents from middle-income and above, like I was, would often hire tutors for more studying after school. I had about 4 tutoring lessons a week.
When I went to polytechnic, I decided to really chase original works. I knew I wasn’t ready for a full manuscript, but I kept writing and trying. But I did mostly short stories and novelettes to keep my skills up.
One of the thing I learned during this time was taught to me by a mentor I had overseas. He told me to write properly at all times, using the best of my command of the language. After that, I stopped using acronyms in all my texts, even when gaming (which pissed off quite a few of my online friends). But my English did get significantly better after that. So this would be perhaps my best advice to anyone trying to get into writing. Keep writing. All the time. Every day. Every which way.
This went on until my conscription in 2012. In 2013, in order to combat my depression, I jumped head first into my first full length manuscript. 139: In Evening.
Detailing a Plot
A lot of people assumed that coming up with a story involves sitting at a coffee shop with pencil and paper, scribbling ideas into a book. Though sure, I guess some people do that, I personally hated it, scribbling ideas into a book. Too much thoughts cluttered onto a page and the process of writing things down slowed down the brainstorming part.
I have always firmly held the belief that a good story would stay on its own merit as a memory, and In Evening was something that came to me in a dream in 2009 and stayed for 4 years. When I first wrote it as its novelette form back then, I could not write past chapter 2, and the story did not resemble the one now.
But it survived the years of stewing, and came out pretty well-done. At least, I think it did. It took 4 years to craft the tale within my mind, and I’ve spent hours upon days to shape the casts. From background, characters’ iconic looks, personalities, to distinct voices in writing for each of their point of views.
This topic could end up as an entire post in itself. But for now, I’ll just stick to detailing the overall idea.
When creating a character, it’s important for you to not hold them back from doing what they would normally do. Don’t make a character jump in front of a bullet if they would not be self-sacrificial in most situation, especially just to introduce a plot point of move the story along. Have a start, have an end, and gently guide them.
Writing narratives is hard in that each character should have their own voice in YOUR writing. For example, in my latest serial novel, The Number 139, for the character of Adelaide Wiltkins, I distinctively wrote her chapters with a rebellious or condescending tones. There are more insults and aloofness involved.
For her co-starring casts, The Watcher have a playful, questioning, exciting, and a general feeling of amazement to his tone. While Nadier gets very detailed, nitted and gritted. His pacing is more controlled and dark.
This all is, of course, aside from the normal rules of writing characters. Practice speeches out loud. Perform actions to better describe them. Personalities. Distinct looks. Stella from In Evening had her famous strawberry blonde hair while her brother, Clay, has ghost white hair. Stuff like that.
Actually Writing the Book
One of my biggest issues before starting on In Evening was overcoming the little problem called procrastination. I would always end up delaying writing, no matter what method I tried. So I buckled down and said, “If I want this to work, I’m going to have to start.”
Slowly, I shifted from a 1 chapter a month schedule, to 2. And finally, to a chapter a week. This may not seem like a lot, but I basically times 12 my old habit of writing a chapter every quarter year. After that, I doubled my story with 139 Years to the End of the World, basically putting out roughly 8 chapters a month. 24 times more than I used to.
And that was the biggest hurdle I had to overcome in my journey to publication. Actually sitting down for hours (sometimes, the process would take half a day), and just write.
Editing is hard. Especially if you are on a budget. A lot of overconfident writers would say you can just edit the stories yourself. That’s stupid. Our brains are just programmed to read words a certain ways.
It’s baslicaly how I culod tpye tihs snecetne and yuo’d sltil be albe to raed it.
You are going to miss out of your own faults, and it never hurts to have a second pair of eyes, professionally combing through your work and critiquing it for you.
If you are really low on funds, the least you could do is get people you know to help, or scour forums and the internet for willing proofreaders and beta-readers.
Aside from that, there’s not much advice. I once wrote about how finding an editor is a very personal thing, and the experience will likely differ from person to person. The only thing I can say is, work within your budget, sure, but keep an opened mind and willingness to try.
I find the Preditors & Editors website a good place to start looking for an editor.
This is the key to the request of the email. How did I end up self-publishing. First thing’s first. You need a manuscript. Assuming you have written you book, edited it, found an editor, then edited it again, you are now ready to self-publish.
As I found out while trying to self-publish, there’s a lot of steps to go through. And even though it has been made significantly easier thanks to SmashWords and CreateSpace, it is by no means perfect. And there are still a lot of things needed to be done.
First, having a ISBN is important. Many of the self-publishing website will offer to get one for you, but those ISBNs are not completely yours. You are the author, yes, but you are not the only name on it. Having an ISBN of your own allows you to have more control over the usage of it and also allows consistency on the information available on your book cover. Speaking of which.
You will need a book cover. I recommend that if you do not have a sufficient background in DESIGN (NOT ART. This is important. Design and art are different!), get a professional to make a cover for you. You will need something of a relatively decent quality to not be made fun of.
While I only designed the typeface for The Chronicles of Tearha series, I still needed and understanding of type and setting to work the design in for my two other books. I’m also a photographer, so I could certain of the art aspect myself. For example, the scarf in Keep Walking‘s cover and the pocket watch for The Number 139, required me to take a photo of the actual objects and vectorize them to make.
You’ll also have to be ready to market your book and put in an amount (aside from editor cost), to promote it. I’ve held giveaways on GoodReads, paying out of pocket for copies of In Evening, and ordered a stock of the book to be given out to local brick and mortar bookstores for consideration of sales there.
So you’ve caught up to the present. I’m still learning and figuring out what to do next. Thanks to the reader who sent me the email with the question. I probably did not answer it in the way they hoped, but the process is extensive, and if I went any more in-depth, I would have to write another book for it.