Today I have something a little different to share. The first ever Guest Post on my blog! It is by Daniel R. Marvello, the author of Vaetra Unveiled (Book 1 of fantasy series Vaetra Chronicles) and the creator of the MA Tour (a great site for bringing together authors and readers of fantasy fiction ). He talks about his own struggles with getting his debut novel onto the page. He also offers lots of great advice on how to overcome the obstacles and challenges of being a first timer in the world of fantasy fiction writing. But enough from me. Daniel tells it all a lot better.
Just Dive In
by Daniel R. Marvello
In January 2011, I made the decision to write a fiction novel. How I made that decision is a subject for another post, but suffice it to say I had a strong desire to exercise my imagination, and writing a novel seemed like a productive way to do that.
After I had been at it for a while, I told my friends and family what I was up to. Surprisingly, everyone was quite supportive. I’ve heard horror stories about skeptical friends and family squashing the dream, so I was on guard for that. I was also surprised to learn that many of them had a secret desire to write their own book, but had no idea of how to get started.
When Vanna invited me to write a guest post, I decided I would share how I got started, just in case my story helps someone else get past whatever may be holding them back.
Pushing Aside Obstacles
Although the theme of this post is “just dive in,” I recognize that starting a novel is not the first battle a writer must fight in his or her personal game of psychological warfare. The dream often lingers in the back of our minds for years before we finally take action.
Life gets in the way. Ignorance regarding the craft of writing gets in the way. Doubt about our ability to come up with an interesting story gets in the way. Fear of rejection and humiliation gets in the way. We have to push all of these obstacles aside before we even get a shot at diving in. In other words, there is no “just” about just diving in.
My pivotal moment was realizing that I had a time slot I could dedicate to writing, and that no one else ever needed to see what I wrote. If I discovered that I couldn’t write fiction, no one had to know that I’d tried and failed. It was months before I even let my family know what I was up to, and by then, I was nearly done with the first draft of my novel. Until that time, my wife was the only person in the world who knew about my experiment, and she was quietly supportive.
I knew I had to set some goals and deadlines for myself. They say work expands to fit the available time. If you give yourself forever to write your novel, forever is what it’s going to take. My goal was to write a novel in a year, and my deadline was to have the book on shelves by January 31, 2012. (As it turned out, the Kindle version of Vaetra Unveiled went live on January 21.)
I’m a software developer by trade, so I tend to view everything as a project and work methodically to solve whatever problems may come up. The first problem to solve with any project is defining the requirements and the scope of work.
What kind of story was I going to write? How long would it be? What would it be about? How does one write fiction, anyway?
Some of these questions were easy to answer. I’m a former D&D player (circa late ’70s to early ’80s), and I designed my own playing “modules,” which included an underlying story that the players would step into. Writing the story elements was most of the fun. Also, they say you should write the kind of books you like to read, and fantasy is unquestionably my favorite genre. I had no trouble deciding that I wanted to write a Swords and Sorcery Fantasy novel. I set my word count goal at 80,000 (final count was about 75,000.)
Some questions were much harder to answer. I had no idea what my story would be about. In order to write Swords and Sorcery, I had to create an entire fictional world and a magic system of some kind. I knew the setting would affect how I wrote the story, and the story would affect how I developed the setting. It was a daunting prospect.
Learning the Craft
Then there’s the whole “craft” problem. I’ve been a writer and editor for most of my life, but almost all of my past writing has been technical or business non-fiction writing. I’m the co-author of three, published, non-fiction books under my “real” name. (Daniel R. Marvello is a pen name.) I took Creative Writing in college, but didn’t write much fiction after that.
To start tackling the craft problem, I picked up a couple of writing books from the local library. Both of them convinced me that, no matter what else I did, I needed to start writing immediately. There was no way I was going to develop any skills until I began writing.
For me, sitting down at the keyboard to pound out those first few paragraphs was the hardest step of all. I hate wasting work, and I knew my initial efforts might be terrible. It wasn’t until I was mentally able to accept the fact that I might have to discard my writing that I was really able to shake off my reticence to begin.
Fingers poised over the keyboard, another conundrum emerged. What to write? I had vague ideas for a story, but I wasn’t sure how it began. I decided not to worry about the beginning. All I needed was proof of concept. To get started, I just had to write one single scene. That scene might or might not end up in the book, and it could always be rewritten. I began typing the scene that would eventually become Chapter 2 of Vaetra Unveiled, and yes, over the course of four drafts it got rewritten multiple times.
Over the ensuing months, I consumed more books on fiction writing (my favorite is “Writing Fiction for Dummies” by Ingermanson and Economy), followed several blogs by writers and editors, and managed to write about 4,000 words per week. Best of all, I was having a great time.
I did reach a crisis point along the way. After I finished writing the scene that I later learned was the “first plot point” of Vaetra Unveiled, I got stuck on “what happens next?” That’s when I learned about the difference between pantsers (people who write “by the seat of their pants”) and plotters. Given my background and nature, I’m sure it’s no surprise to learn that I’m definitely a plotter. I took a step back from my writing and spent some time learning about story structure. Randy Ingermanson’s Snowflake Method was an important discovery that helped me plot the rest of my story and get moving again.
Enjoying the Results
So now you know my “just dive in” beginning. From that tentative start a little over a year ago, I wrote and published my first fiction book. I’m pleased with how it turned out and I’m looking forward to writing the next two books in the trilogy. Book two is underway and progressing nicely.
We all have our own obstacles and fears to overcome, but if you can find ways to push them aside, you can dive into your story and emerge victoriously with a book in your hand.
Are you a fantasy or sci-fi author and would like to submit a guest post to this blog? Drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll discuss the details 😉