Sunday, October 21, 2007

Mark Chapman on Becoming A Published Author

Mark is doing something new on blog tours--a serial blog essay. Enjoy and check otu the rest on the other blogs.

My long, strange road to becoming a published novelist (Part V)
By Mark Terence Chapman

(This entry is a continuation of one on writer Suzanne Kamata’s blog. Click here to return to Part IV.)

Following the release of my OS/2 book in late 1995, I began thinking about writing a novel. (After a 20-plus-year layoff from fiction writing, most people would have started with a short story. I prefer to make things as difficult as possible for myself….) The problem was I had no plot in mind, just a desire to write something. I thought I had to have a detailed outline written before I started, laying out the major plot points. And for some reason, I was unable to sit down and do that. I just couldn’t think that far ahead.

So, I put off writing a novel. The next year, I put it off again. In 1997, I thought I’d take a stab at writing a children’s picture book. (You know, one of those books you read your kids to sleep with, with a page of illustrations for each page of text.) I ended up writing With a Name like Jeremy Hippenzoodle, about a little boy with a funny name that no one could seem to get right. The twist was that no one had a problem with Hippenzoodle. It was Jeremy they could never remember.

That got me thinking again about writing a novel, but I continued to struggle with the idea of needing a detailed outline of a story before beginning to write. This continued until November 2002. I heard about something called the National Novel Writer’s Month (NaNoWriMo). The goal was to write 50,000 words of a story during the month of November. I found out about it in the middle of the month, too late to participate that year. But it got me thinking again about writing that darn novel. Finally, on May 8, 2003 (I marked it on my calendar), I finally had enough of procrastinating. I told myself to sit down and just start writing. Even if I didn’t know how the story would turn out, just…start…writing. Something, anything. So I came up with a simple premise: A small crew is trapped aboard their disabled spaceship, running out of air and water, with no hope of rescue. How do they save themselves?

I began writing with no more to go on than that. My only rule was that I had to work on the book every day. If I couldn’t think of anything new to write, I’d edit what I’d already written. I soon found that editing often jumpstarted my writing again. While editing, I’d think about what was happening to the crew and possible solutions to their problems and additional crises to confront them with when they got past the first one or two.

This system worked so well that 69 days later I had a finished first draft of 81,000 words. It needed a lot of work, both for polishing and to flesh out some scenes, but at least the worst was over—I had a complete story.

To find out what happens next, click here for the next segment of the story, on Ron Berry’s blog.
(510 words)

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