Written by Alice Marie Crossland
I recently read a quote which resonated strongly with me –
‘Writing is like giving yourself homework, really hard homework, every day, for the rest of your life.’
You might ask yourself, why put yourself through that? Was English A-Level not hard enough the first time around?
Amazingly it is now a year since I published my first book, a non-fictive narrative based on the life of Lady Georgiana Lennox, a great friend and companion of the 1st Duke of Wellington. Working as a historical researcher at the time who specialised in the Duke, I was lucky enough to be offered the chance to work on a number of unpublished letters from Wellington to Lady Georgiana. This led to discussions with Unicorn Press, who took the project on. The book took almost four years to complete as I was working full time throughout the process, and was a wonderful learning experience for me as a writer. Unusually, we pre-sold copies of the book through crowdfunding, which helped to fund the practical costs of publishing such as the editor and designer, as well as PR support. I loved working in this way as it meant you worked with the publishers as equal partners, and I felt it gave me more control over the direction of the publication. Finally, on a boiling hot September evening in 2016, we held a book launch at Daunt Books on the Fulham Road. This was undoubtedly one of the best evenings of my life, and certainly made all the long evenings and working weekends worth it.
Life after Book No.1
I must say, after six months of working 14-hour day days (editing a book and working full time in a media agency is no picnic I can tell you), the joy of having actual ‘free time’ to do normal things was completely blissful. But after a few months you do start to think ‘what do people do all weekend if they don’t write?’ After the excitement of the book launch, publication day and press releases were over, I found myself itching for a new challenge.
Thus the writers curse strikes again. Not content with simply doing a normal job and having normal hobbies, authors go out of their way to make their side line as all-consuming as possible. The result, however, is the most marvellous of things. Whether an article, novella or full blown War and Peace epic, the pride resulting from turning a blank screen into the printed word is second to none.
The question that often arises at this point is where and when do I take the plunge? If you, like me, have a case of ‘the second album has to eclipse the first’, then read on for some tips from one writer to another.
Enjoy your downtime, and allow yourself time to research in and around your favourite topics. Play to your strengths and to your own personal interests. Writing a book is like deciding to have another child, once you’re in it it’s for the long haul. So it needs to be a project that you literally have to write. Make writing a passion and labour of love, never a chore. Find your niche, and carve it out a little every month. The result should surprise and delight you.
Do, however, get a move on
Now this book is not going to write itself. Downtime is essential to take stock and read widely. But be brave and take the plunge! Books typically take at least a year to write and a year to publish, as a rough guide. As I was working throughout, mine took nearly four years from kick off to publication date. Imagine where you plan to be in four years’ time. Would you like a have a book in your hand that you managed to get published? If so, then get working!
Spread your wings
Now if your time to shine, so don’t hold back. You know that book you fantasise about when you’re travelling to work or trying to get to sleep? The one you whimsically ponder ‘If I could write any book…’ There is a high chance that if you are that committed to that story, then others will be too. Give it a chance, devote perhaps two days of research and planning to it, and see if it is feasible.
Then clip your wings (a little)
As I say, writing a War and Peace style epic is nigh impossible whilst running a business, working full time or looking after small children. If this is your first book, why not try something more manageable? From research to plot, to editing and book design, you will learn so much from this initial experience. When you have those learnings, and perhaps some more time (put your hand up if you are writer who dreams of either winning the lottery or retiring so they can write more!), than you can crack on with War and Peace.
Don’t tell your friends
Writing a book can be a daunting process, and when you are on your second you get asked when you are starting it – a lot. Deciding on a book can be a lot like having a delicious secret which you can ponder at your leisure. This time is important as you can work on the minutiae details of characters development and plot lines. However…
You then need to tell your friends
This step is important but terrifying. Telling your friends and family your book concept means you are basically committing to a long gestation period, and an enormous amount of work before the book comes out. It suddenly becomes very real.
Now tell the world
Yes that’s right, the earlier you get on your blog, Twitter, Facebook or forums and talk about the project, the sooner you can get the public on board. There is a warm and welcoming world of book worms online who love to support aspiring writers, and many organisations have been set up to help you through the highs and lows. Personally I have found the Bookollective to be incredibly inspiring, providing online support as well as running events to bring writers, publishers and designers together.
If you are not on book no.1, I hope you will have online and real-life friends who belief in your work and want to support it. Ask for their advice and help as much as you possibly can. Don’t be shy, send them that first draft when they offer their help (even though it is probably dreadful in comparison to the finished version) – they are asking for a reason.
Once a writer, always a writer!
Considering my last point, I should probably tell you (with fingers shaking on my keyboard) that I am now writing my second book. It is a romantic novel based on a real-life family in Brussels at the time of the Battle of Waterloo, and I can’t wait to share it with you. Whether I publish with Unicorn remain to be seen, as it is still early days. However, knowing that I have got through the process once, relatively unscathed, gives me a sense of confidence of what can be achieved. Whatever happens, and even if book No.2 does not get published, I know I will learn so much from the process of writing it that I can apply to future projects.
I think most authors will confirm that the process of book publishing is totally, and irrevocably, addictive. For better or for worse, we return to our well-worn keyboards with aching fingers, and just keep trying to make the magic happen as best we can.
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Have you recently started work on a new book? I would love to hear from you in the comments section if so.
[Alice Marie Crossland’s book ‘Wellington’s Dearest Georgy: The Life and Love of Lady Georgiana Lennox’ (Unicorn Publishing Group, 2016) is available online and in-store. The kindle version is now available on Amazon for only £2.99 for a short time only.
Follow Alice on Twitter @amcrossland1 or Instagram amcrossland_author
Bookollective can be followed online @Bookollective, for more information see http://www.bookollective.com/