There’s something really nice about meeting an aspiring writer at a workshop that you run, seeing their work, seeing them develop as a writer, and then some time later seeing their book in print. Today we welcome Paul Garrety who attended one of the EnVision workshops where published writers mentored a small pod of aspiring writers as they worked on their books. Paul wasn’t in my pod but I still feel a sense of achievement seeing his book, The Seventh Wave, in print. Paul is being very frank and up front about writing that second book!
Watch out for the give-away question at the end. Welcome Paul!
“It’s going to an acquisitions meeting.”
If you’re a writer, particularly a writer with an (as yet) unpublished novel, then you’ll know precisely how much is hanging off that very short sentence.
It was the back end of 2009 and after innumerable re-writes, plus a couple of false starts, “The Seventh Wave” was just one meeting away from a possible two book deal —one meeting… and one question:
“ Paul, you won’t need more than a year to complete book two, will you?”
At that stage Book Two constituted a title, one chapter and a very fuzzy outline that’d been thrown together like a quick salad one Sunday afternoon.
My lovely wife and partner, Annie, and I take it in turns to blow up each other’s delusions. I recall it was just after we’d signed the contract to build the house (construction due to begin January 2010) that she first asked whether “I’d be right” co-ordinating that as well as writing a new book. She had the good grace not to mention I’d already signed (and paid for) a 12 month Yoga Therapy course to start Feb 2010, my gang’s annual writers’ retreat, plus a week long yoga intensive in Sep 2010 — all committed to earlier in 2009. Annie and I would also be due to move house twice during that year — once into a rental on Macleay, and the next into the new house mid-year. Then, of course, there was always work which had to pay for it all, along with all the challenges of commuting every day from an island.
Even then (foolishly) I felt it would be okay. I write fast. Not necessarily good, but definitely fast.
Then the publisher’s advance arrived in my bank account.
The amount seemed to be more than it should have been so I rang up to see whether someone had made a mistake, before I spent it.
Even though I’d invoiced them for the advance on book two (I’d assumed) that particular portion of it wouldn’t be paid until a book draft actually existed.
I realised then that not only was I contracted to deliver 110,000 words by December 2010, but I’d been paid to do it as well. They should make anti-freeze for writers as well as cars because then all my insecurities flocked in — what if book two was no good? What if there wasn’t enough material to fill the 110k after all? What if they cancelled book one if book two didn’t make the grade?
Talk about delusions — I could write a book on that.
In January I found another excuse to distract myself. My 2009 (Xmas break) short story had been accepted for the 2010 One Book, Many Brisbanes anthology. While this was great news it still sucked up time, requiring re-drafts and a three day commitment to a (fabulous) workshop.
Then it was March, but I still had nine months up my sleeve, right?
Because right about then I received the first editorial notes on book one with some serious structural revisions to make.
I was fast learning why “real” writers are super heroes; professionals who are able maintain multiple plot lines and complex characters in their heads while actually still managing to have a life.
By June, with less than 30,000 of book two words in the can, it was obvious something had to give — and if I wasn’t careful it would be my health because no way was I going to not do the book. I’d waited too long for this, but I was still seized up creatively. Nothing was flowing.
I dropped out of the Yoga Therapy course and cancelled the yoga intensive week.
I used up my last five days of annual leave and hunkered down. By then the writing paralysis had morphed into a highway-style “headlights moment.”
I wrote (and re-wrote) everywhere — on the water taxi to and from work, at cafes, in the car during lunch breaks (fortunately I work mostly from my car).
The deadline was looming.
At about that point the 3.00am ceiling-staring started, making mental calculations in the dark, dividing the amount of months and weeks remaining by the number of words still to write, multiplied by the number of re-drafts required until I realised I’d be better off getting up and actually writing than lying there projecting daily word counts.
By August word count mania had set it. I ruled up a foolscap pad with columns for: date, opening word count, closing word count, number of words written and how many words to go.
Negative word count numbers were the enemy — oh, did I mention I’m a “pantser” writer? No plan, no net, no parachute? Consequently, I found myself re-tapping whole slabs of content and continuity threads as the plot course veered off in unexpected directions chewing up time.
In one attempt to simplify the cast I deleted one Point of View character until I realised that he featured strongly in the book two teaser chapter that I’d already included at the end of book one. Needless to say book one was by then on final layout and wasn’t open to structural changes so he had to be woven back in. More time.
By mid November it looked like I might just make my deadline. Then I checked the contract (for next payment details) and found that book two was actually due on 1st December, not 31 December as I’d thought.
The curious thing about all this was that my situation is apparently not uncommon. Mid 2010 (wonderful) Kate Eltham, CEO of QWC, organised a Bridge Club for writers who’d had limited publishing experience ie first book, but who could benefit by advice from writing and business specialists. Several of the writers I met there had similar issues with contracted deadlines and advances.
I now realise you don’t have to read spec fic to find horror stories.
My lesson in all this is that if I am ever fortunate enough to secure a two book contract again is not to “see if the first one sells before writing the follow on” but to do it anyway. Sounds incredibly simple doesn’t it? Then again I’ve always found hindsight is much more reliable than foresight.
PS. Fortunately Harper Collins-Voyager provided me with a two week extension which then allowed me time to coerce (equally wonderful) Jason Nahrung to sandblast the obvious dross from the plot. A couple of sleepless sessions for me followed to then complete the re-write.
Paul is generously giving away 2 copies of his book, The Seventh Wave. Give -away question: What is your favourite wave, be it art, music or actual surfing wave?