I’ll explain more about that in a minute. The other thing that I am reminded of is how and where my writing began. I was inspired to write my first ‘love poem’ after entering high school. A girl in my class had caught my eye, and I couldn’t stop thinking about her. During math one day, not the most captivating or entertaining subject, I sat down the back of the classroom and wrote a poem to her urging her to go out with me. However, as I handed it to her at the end of class, another boy saw the exchange and grabbed it before she could close her hand around it. He ran to the library, photocopied it, and passed it around the school. That was the end of that.
Out of the death of that brief romance came the birth of my love of writing. My will to write poetry, short stories and novels came alive. We had to write many essays in high school English, and that also helped me to fire up my imagination and hone my skills in creative writing. By the time I graduated, I had written countless essays, several short stories, and numerous pieces of poetry. Straight after high school, I had a part-time job over the summer, and I met a guy who would become a long-term friend. He was a freelance journalist, and he encouraged me to write articles for the newspaper on various topics. I wrote a piece about the environment, and about the harsh treatment of animals in the wild. Both were published in the local newspaper.
It was an amateurish effort to say the least, but I liked it, and more importantly I learned a lot from having written it. The plot was extremely simple: a boy in a garage band, modeling itself on KISS, meets a girl at a birthday party and falls in love. She joins the band, and they start playing live gigs. One day, while practicing on a boat in the Bermuda Triangle, they all disappear into the fourth dimension where things are very similar to how they look in the movie, ‘Star Wars’. Guitars became laser weapons, and the music or ‘noise’ they make has power as well. A transformation occurs, and when they return to Earth, they quickly experience a rapid rise to fame and fortune. A huge world tour takes them to many countries and they become rock stars. The romance blossoms into true love and everyone lives happily ever after.
If it had a genre at all, it was perhaps Young Adult fiction, or maybe Fantasy. Years later I was too embarrassed by the quality of the writing to dare show it to anyone, and then when Harry Potter came along, I considered rewriting it, editing it and publishing it. However a small voice inside me told me that it would just be another ‘copycat’ piece of work trying to cash in on the back of JK Rowling’s phenomenal success. I also feared that I would never again be taken seriously by the writing industry. Finally, I packed it away in a box and that’s where it remains today.
After taking a couple of creative writing courses, I came to discover what mistakes I had made in writing that first novella. None of my characters were developed, or had backgrounds provided. There was no ‘character arc’ so to speak, no journey through which the protagonist becomes a hero. (See Rob Parnell’s, “The Writer and the Hero’s Journey in Fiction”). At least I had a protagonist, although he was not clearly defined as such. My description of the antagonist was vague at best, and he only existed in the fourth dimension. The plot structure was not well thought out, and hence was rather weak, predictable, and ended up being more about sudden fame and glory than anything to do with life, logic or reality. Even though it was ‘fantasy’, it was also quite ridiculous and lacked any sense of credibility.
I went back to writing articles, poetry and short stories. When I returned to university, I joined the Arts Faculty and studied education and teaching. My major was Japanese language, culture and Japanese history, and the idea of writing a book reemerged in my mind. This time I wanted it to be a serious piece of work, most likely action and romance, with some culture thrown in for good measure. After living in Japan for a few years, an idea for a story began to take shape. I promised myself that by the age of forty, I would start writing my book, and I kept that promise. This time I thought carefully about my protagonist and the other main characters in the story. I also planned out a plot structure, creating a framework of chapters that would carry the story to its conclusion. My friend, the writer and journalist, helped me with some of the details and gave me some advice with regard to writing the book.
I was still teaching full-time, and finding the time to write was my biggest challenge. Often at night, after a full day at school, I lacked the energy or motivation to write. I experienced writer’s block and found that I lacked inspiration to make my story come alive. Instead I threw myself into research, as part of my story was based on Japanese feudal history as well as factual events and places in World War Two. Three years passed by. Most writers never finish their book (according to various online accounts that I have read), due to fears and insecurities, and numerous excuses of their own making. I didn’t want to give up on my dream so easily, or be a ‘quitter’. Finally I realized that I was simply procrastinating, and immersed myself back into my writing.
In 2009, when I was forty-five, I completed the first draft of my novel. Following that, I set up an inner-circle of friends and family to help me edit my book. My wife was my biggest fan and most ardent supporter. Two members within that overall group, including my wife, saw it through to the end; another dropped out half way through, and the others never got that far. But with their accumulated feedback and encouragement, I edited my novel and finished the first edit a year later. That initial editing process was more about fixing obvious grammatical errors, spelling mistakes and inconsistencies in the story and timeline, as well as refining some of the language.
My teaching work became very stressful at that point in time, as I was working in a tough inner city school, and had additional schools lumped on top. I was also dealing with some personal and family issues. Consequently, I had to shelve my novel for almost a year. Health problems ensued and finally I knew it was time to take a break from work and teaching if I were to ever have a chance at getting my novel published.
Since 2007, I had also been participating in creative writing courses online. They were conducted by the biggest online writing guru out there - Rob Parnell (Easy Way to Write). I urge you to look him up – he is ‘the man’ when it comes to writing. Rob was teaching me many things about character development, plot structure, editing, adhering to the rules of genre and the market place, and so on. This helped me immensely, and I made the effort to edit my book a second time – it took me another year. Each time I finished editing a chapter, I would read it to my very patient wife, Mandy, and I discovered something else. When you proof read your own work, you naturally start skim-reading, skipping over little errors and so on, but when you read your manuscript out loud to someone, you are forced to read each and every word. I always picked up mistakes this way that I had missed while silently proofreading on my own. Despite this, I wasn’t completely satisfied with it, and it was still too long.
Last year, with much valuable assistance from Rob, I began my third and final edit. Again, after completing each chapter, I read it to Mandy. I learned that more time is spent editing a book than actually writing it in the first place. Along the way, I found out about correct novel formats depending on the market (both with regard to genre and geographical location), and the medium (i.e. e-book, or a novel in the real world of traditional publishing, etc). I discovered what font and size is best, and all the setout requirements specified by publishers. I learned to restrict my use of adjectives, adverbs, passive voice, dangling modifiers, redundant qualifiers, authorial intrusion, the correct way to write numbers in fiction writing, and so on. Probably most importantly, I learned about ‘Point of View’ in fiction, and the principle of ‘Show – Don’t Tell’. These are two of the hardest lessons for amateur writers to absorb.
One last challenge I had was how to include words from a second language in my book, namely Japanese, without always putting direct translations in brackets, which can break the illusion of the story for the reader. As I initially mentioned, writing and editing this novel has been a dramatic learning curve for me.
I am almost finished this final edit, and am considering the various avenues of getting my book published. It has taken me ten years to get to this point. That may not be evident to some stranger who picks up my book. However I believe that I am a much better writer now, than when I started this novel. One thing is for sure – my next book will take a fifth of the time that this book has taken. The lessons I have learned in writing and editing this novel will stay with me forever, and will be applied in each and every book I write from now on. Hence I expect that the writing process in future will be far more simple, thanks to all I have learned. I am grateful for this experience.
Thank you for letting me share this journey with you.