Saturday, September 20, 2014

I'd rather be writing

If there's one thing I really struggle with as a writer is how to begin working on my next writing project when the current one is in the publish/promote stage.

I recently read an article about Dick Francis, the highly successful English jockey and author who managed to write a mystery every year for more than 40 years. That alone is worth a major wow.

The new novel (left) with its elder siblings
Francis described his writing process in the article. If I remember correctly, he said he generally wrote each novel during the first six months of the year, then sent the manuscript to his publisher and, while the publisher was doing its work, he would begin to plan the next novel. In the fall, he would be out promoting the just published novel while researching and preparing to write the next one. Then the new year would come and he'd start writing again.

I find that amazing. I can multi-task in just about every other aspect of my life but I don't seem to be able to get myself working on the next novel while the last book is still in process.

For example, right now the Abigail Christmas novel is with the printer. We've just received the proof copy and approved it so now, while the printer actually produces the one-thousand copies we've ordered, I have to start into the promotions cycle: writing press releases, planning pre-launch and launch events, contacting sales outlets, and things like that.

That's all fun and interesting but it isn't the creative work that I so much enjoy. In simple words, "I'd rather be writing". So why can't I get myself to sit down and write?

All of that being said, I have been able to use up a couple of lunch hours at work to start, in a very minor way, a new novel. This one has nothing to do with the Abigail project but is completely new: a literary novel, if you will.

The problem is, every time I want to sit down and work on the novel, I remind myself of all the things I have to do to promote the current one. If only I had Dick Francis' publisher! (and his skill, creativity, audience...)

Monday, September 8, 2014

Rankin myself among the big names

In 2007, Orion Books published a 20th anniversary edition of Ian Rankin’s original Rebus novel, Knots & Crosses. I tell you this because I just picked up a copy at the local library book sale.

What attracted me to the book was the fact that, inside both the front and back covers, Orion included facsimiles of what appeared to be Rankin’s original notes and drafts for this life-changing novel.

As a wannabe writer myself, I am always interested in reading about how the most successful of my colleagues (yeah, right, I can include the likes of Ian Rankin, Dick Francis or Joanne Rowling as “colleagues”… that’s rich) got their start.

Rankin kindly includes a brief introduction in this edition in which he explains how this novel came into being. It’s an interesting bit of reading, as much for the information it provides about his inspiration and process as for the insights it gives into how he, 20 years later, looks back on his first Rebus novel with at least a small degree of embarrassment.

“I was a young man in love with language,” he writes of his 1987 self, “striving for a voice and sometimes overreaching.”

I read that and found myself nodding. Yeah, I know that feeling. I can’t look back at some of my earliest literary efforts without feeling a bit of a blush come over me. Did I really write that? Was I really that caught up in Joyce/Dickens/Woolf/Eliot that I would try to write just like them?

But I was also struck by Rankin’s description of the process by which Knots & Crosses came to be. “[L]ooking back,” he says in 2007, “what amazes me is that the idea of the book came so quickly and fluently, and that even those first few hand-written pages of text show few changes from the version that would see eventual publication.”

It’s at that point that the differences between Rankin and me as writers shine with such startling clarity: I struggle to find plots and have to work hard to establish layers of depth for my characters; exceptionally vivid characters flow naturally from him and evocative, effective lots seem to develop fluently for him.

Does that mean I can’t ever be successful? Of course not. Does it mean I will envy Ian Rankin and his natural brilliance? Maybe just a little bit.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Promoting the promotional video...

It's finally finished. Once again, in order to support my work as a writer, I've had to learn a whole pile of new skills. This time, to create a new video trailer for my Christmas novella.

To my own amazement, it's done and I'm actually pretty happy about it. Check it out here.

In order to create this strange little, happily flawed little gem, I had to continue to perfect my understanding of, and skills with, a number of computer programs that come standard with my iMacs: Garageband, iMovie,  and iTunes. I also had to practice my announcing voice and my piano skills.

It ended up being quite a challenge but also a lot of fun. Especially since I'm so happy with the result.

Now, as I've said before, I have to figure out how to promote the video I've created to promote my book. So I am actually promoting my promotional materials.

I don't think I've ever begged so often and so hard for people to "favourite", "share" and "retweet" my messages.

So far, so good, however. The Facebook announcement I posted has been viewed by more than 300 people in the couple of hours since I posted it. And we're already past 15 views on the video itself, which isn't too bad.

Still, I'll keep working on promoting it. And I'll keep working on putting the novella to bed with our new on-line printer and on setting up our pre-launch party in my home town.

At some point, I wouldn't mind getting back to writing.

Friday, September 5, 2014

You find writers in the strangest places

I work for the government. Although the job I do involves a lot of writing, I cannot call myself a “professional writer” by any stretch of the imagination. I do government work and that’s the beginning and end of it. My writing is a side-bar, a diversion, a hobby. Sure, I would love it if it could become more someday but, for now at least, writing is secondary for me.

But I’m amazed how many people I’ve met in government who consider themselves writers too (if only on a part-time basis). Just by telling them about my various writing projects, I seem to induce so many people to share with me their various exploits in writing, their successes and their dreams.

Just recently, for example, I was in a meeting with a new colleague and, once the business matters were worked through, we started chatting about our interests. I told her in some detail about my Abigail Massey stories and she asked, without a hint of a smile, if I planned one day to produce a screen-play based on my new Abigail Christmas novella.

I said, no, not really, since I haven’t the faintest idea of how to write or market a screenplay.

And she said, as serious and dead-pan as you please, “Well, I do. I have a degree in screen-writing from UCLA.”

My jaw hit the floor. Here she is, a government bureaucrat of significant achievement and high stature, sitting on a degree in screen-writing from a well-known and respected school.

She sent me a link to a trailer for one of her short films and, I have to say, I was impressed. It was extremely well done.

Which of course leads me to start to speculate on how I can benefit from this new-found connection, mercenary that I am. I mean, my hope of course would be to enter into a mutually beneficial relationship but one of the quiet goals of my Abigail project has been to convince some production company and television outlet to turn my stories into a family-oriented historical television series, of the kind the CBC likes to show on Sunday evenings.

And here was a wonderful opportunity to partner with a person who appears to have the talent, training and skills needed to help me push even further toward that goal.

And I met her in the context of my job as a civil servant. Amazing.