Take Vienna

Writing, I’ve found, is a bit like running.  For some reason – I have no idea why – I started knocking out blog posts in August at a rate much higher than I’d ever done previously finishing that month with 22.  My previous highest had been 17 in September 2005 when I moved to White Sun of the Desert from my first blog.  I carried this through to September when I put up 19 posts, with my 10 days in New York being the reason for slacking off.  We’re not out of October yet and this will be my 35th post of the month.  Hopefully I can keep this up because blogging, for me, is fun again.

Sometime over the summer I decided I would write a book, and in mid-August I made a start on it.  I only really got going in mid-September after I came back from New York and yesterday I passed the halfway mark of 40k words, assuming a book is somewhere between 80k and 90k words.  Like running where the more you do the fitter you get and the easier it becomes, with writing I find the ideas come more easily and the phrasing almost starts to write itself.  All of this tells me that, if nothing else, I can write fast.

Which is great, but what about the quality?  Well, that is subjective and there is only one way to find out if it’s any good.

My favourite quote from Napolean is:

If you start to take Vienna, take Vienna.

If I had the option I would write for a living.  Ideally I’d write fiction that people would love and it would sell well.  Less ideally I’d do technical writing.  As things stand I have to stay working in the oil business, which to be fair is no great hardship so don’t all start sending me your old shoes and coupons cut from the local paper.

Before I get much older I want to find out if I can make a living as a fiction writer.  I probably can’t because it is fiendishly difficult, but I want to try – firstly because I want to say I tried and found out, and secondly because the process of finding out is, at the moment, quite enjoyable.  And the only way to find out, as I’m sure Napolean would agree, is to write a damned book and get it out there.  So I am, or at least, I’m halfway through.

I believe two things sell fiction writing: story and style.  If you stumble upon a good story then the style doesn’t matter: Dan Brown proved that.  But this relies on pure luck.  For me style is probably more important because if people like the style but not the story, I can dream up another story, and I reckon changing styles would be harder.  Of course it would be great to have both a good style and a good story, which is what makes masterpieces what they are.

I’ve thought a lot about writing a book before, and each time I’ve started I’ve looked at the first thousand words and thought “this is crap”, referring to the style.  I’ve never actually had a complete story in my head.  This summer I reckoned I’d gotten one, and so I started to write.

The story is about a man in his late 30s who enters into a relationship with a woman in her early 30s who he met online, and it goes well for a while before he finds out she’s not who he first thought she was and it ends.  Not very interesting, is it?  Maybe not, but what I’m attempting to do is map out the thought processes of the man as the relationship develops: what he’s looking for, what he doesn’t want to see, etc.  Lots of this stuff is written about women, and lots is written about Alpha-male millionaires.  What I haven’t seen much written about is how men in their 30s think and what they look for in a woman from the man’s perspective.  I’m also going to explore a few other themes: the effect of third-wave feminism on women in their 30s who are trawling the dating markets, addressing a few myths about what men supposedly want and alleged double standards.  I have no idea if this is interesting, but I think it might be new.  Only one way to find out.

As for the style?  Well, I can only write one style I think.  I posted an excerpt yesterday, so make of that what you will.  There will be a lot of dialogue, something I’d never tried writing before last month but now I think I can do it quite well.  Again, only one way to find out.  If people like my style of writing then I’ll be onto a winner, because I can knock this stuff out as fast as I can think.  If not, then it will be a slog because I don’t think I can switch to another without considerable effort that might not be worth it.

But the main reason for my writing a book is because, if you want to write a book, you need to write a book.  Sitting around in a Paris cafe wearing a black polo-neck smoking Gauloises and talking about it isn’t going to get a book written.  And I’m hoping that the second one, if I should ever write one, will be a lot easier and – if necessary – better than the first.

So, just another 40k words to go.

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19 thoughts on “Take Vienna

  1. From someone who’s still smoking Gauloises, good on ya and keep truckin’. I look forward to reading it when it’s done.

  2. Your blog posts are worth reading obviously beacause they interesting but something else is also there,they kind of flow which makes reading an odd pleasure anyway good luck with the book.

  3. If you want to develop a bit of expertise as a writer, try writing a Mills & Boon romance.

    If they accept, hurray. If not they will (by reputation) give you some useful criticism.

  4. “But the main reason for my writing a book is because, if you want to write a book, you need to write a book. Sitting around in a Paris cafe wearing a black polo-neck smoking Gauloises and talking about it isn’t going to get a book written.”

    Hmmm … and yet here you are in your Paris cafe writing about writing a book …

    It took me a bit of time to finish my first book. I say finish, at least I thought I had finished. I remember typing the words ‘the end’ and gazing with wonder on the file that said I had written over 130K words. I had done it. I had finished a book.

    Oh poor ignorant fool that I was. I had only just got started. My editor was polite; he merely nudged me along without blowing my hopes out of the water. We rewrote it. Got it down to 110,000 words. When I say rewrote it I mean exactly that. Then I rewrote it again. Third rewrite luck?

    Wrong again. Welcome to fourth draft hell. We finally got it down to just under 90K words. But then there was a problem with the beginning. To whit, it sucked. I rewrote the first three pages a dozen times, each attempt more awful than the last. Finally one day in a fit of desperation I sat down and just banged it off. It was completely off the cuff. Hit send on the email and waited for my editor’s scorn.

    “You’ve done it,” he said. “Brilliant stuff.”

    Now I was done. What a relief. Uploaded it to Amazon and Kindle and I was away. Job done.

    Nope. You must be kidding. Now you have to sell the bloody thing. If I look back on it, 40% time spent on writing and the rest on selling and marketing. Hoo boy.

    But it’s fun. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

  5. @ marc,

    they kind of flow which makes reading an odd pleasure anyway good luck with the book.

    Thanks for those nice words. I’ve been told that before, that my writing is easy to read without being dumbed down. That’s what’s encouraged me to write a book, if I can somehow sell this…

  6. @ dearieme,

    That’s good advice. Not sure if I could write a romance novel, but it’s not out of the question. It’s probably something that if I can do it, I can do it fast.

  7. @ Adam,

    I’ve obviously sent you an email in private. But just so in public I don’t look like an ungrateful so-and-so: thank you very much, this advice is most appreciated.

  8. I’ve little useful advice to give, but having gotten a couple of things published in the past (articles), and with a couple of things in varying stages of completion now, I do have some observations:

    – don’t put yourself under pressure to write (or achieve particular milestones). If you aren’t feeling it today, back off and return tomorrow (or even better, see below). Whenever I’ve forced out a section of work, I always have to go back, rework the forced passage and fix all the issues I’ve introduced. This invariably robs my ‘good’ day of any momentum.

    -have more than one thing on the go. If you ain’t feeling one, you’ll most likely be up for one of the other. Presently, I’ve got three things running: a book for my daughter, a ‘serious’ book about the kind of thing you are writing and a lighter book about my work situation. A mix of genres and styles seems to help me when my head goes down, and if you get truly stumped in a plotted novel, writing about stuff that is actually happening in real life gives you an easy way to carry on producing.

    – pick your weapon: I use scrivener for the kids book (cos it’s heavily plotted), focus writer for the work book and a typewriter for the serious book. The change in tool seems to help get things moving when I’m returning to something after a bit, and provides a bit of continuity.

    -thinking time. If you don’t know what comes next, don’t write, go for a walk, and turn it over. Better to write nothing than write wrong.

    -don’t fret about what you are going to do with the manuscript when it’s done. Do it for its own sake, and worry about the rest later.

    -plot stuff out, write about the story, plan out your chapters, and go back and fill in the words later. You’ll cover more ground, your first draft will be better for it, and you’ll spend less time fixing the structure of the book in rewrites.

    -don’t overwrite

  9. @ Bastard Square,

    Many thanks for the advice.

    don’t fret about what you are going to do with the manuscript when it’s done. Do it for its own sake, and worry about the rest later.

    Absolutely. First, take Vienna. 🙂

    plot stuff out, write about the story, plan out your chapters, and go back and fill in the words later. You’ll cover more ground, your first draft will be better for it, and you’ll spend less time fixing the structure of the book in rewrites.

    Fortunately, this is how I work in my day-job and I applied it to my writing without thinking. No matter what task I’m doing I first put together the structure and fill in the details later. Engineer, see. 🙂

    don’t overwrite

    Yup, and in places I am certainly guilty of this. I read some famous author saying one of the things a budding writer ought to do is go through his/her work and delete any unnecessary words. This seemed eminently sensible.

  10. Extremely difficult to make money writing fiction. How many famous new authors since JK Rowling? How many of them made any cash?

    Mrs Bloke had some very modest success novelling (at least got a publisher and stuff printed and sold) many years ago but it isn’t a living unless it does make you super-rich, and thats one in every hundreds of thousands that try.

  11. BiG,

    Indeed, I wouldn’t expect it to be viable for a living. But bear in mind I’m coming off 13 years in the oil business: if I have assets already and am debt free, it might bring in enough that I don’t need to work full-time like most people do. If not, well, I’ll have to stick to engineering. 🙂

  12. Oh, and another thing Bastard Square: I am using Scrivener, this having been recommended most often when I asked Tim Worstall to consult his vast readership on the matter. So far it’s been brilliant.

  13. @Tim

    Best £30 I ever spent, was Scrivener.

    Also- I’m slightly embarrassed by the length of my previous post, especially after saying I didn’t have any advice.

    Put it down to an unusually heavy alcohol intake on the day in question. The irony of advising not to overwrite after all that was also apparently lost on me.

  14. @ B-S,

    Best £30 I ever spent, was Scrivener.

    Absolutely.

    Also- I’m slightly embarrassed by the length of my previous post, especially after saying I didn’t have any advice.

    Don’t be. Nobody every earned my annoyance by writing too long a blog comment. 🙂

    Put it down to an unusually heavy alcohol intake on the day in question. The irony of advising not to overwrite after all that was also apparently lost on me.

    I can relate! 😀

  15. Tomorrow is the start of NaNoWriMo which is a competition in the loosest sense to write a 50k novel in 30 days. There is no prize for ‘winning’ other than when you hit the target you are allowed to pat yourself on the back. Publishing thereafter is entirely up to the author.

    I have done it for the last six years and start again tomorrow with a new idea, which will in fairness turn out to be rubbish but is great fun to try to beat out 1,666 words a day to reach the target and it make some sense along the way. Of course, purists will laugh and say 50k words is not a novel though I have managed to hit 60,000 in the time allowed and with some revision might make it to a more acceptable novel length. The main thing is it is a challenge to hang a story together and, I suppose, take a very small Vienna with minimal loss of life.

  16. Watcher,

    That sounds fascinating, that competition. Has anything really good ever come out of it?

    The main thing is it is a challenge to hang a story together and, I suppose, take a very small Vienna with minimal loss of life.

    Heh! Exactly. 🙂

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