The white page of the word processor before you start tapping can be daunting. What do you write first? Should you try to write the best opening line ever? Or should you just type the first thing that comes into your head? Everybody is different and everybody will work in different ways. Some authors still prefer typewriters. Some prefer writing by hand. Most will probably use a computer. The best advice I can give is to write down any idea that pops into your head in a document. You can revisit these ideas and maybe pick one that you like the best. I have a document like this myself and I have written down some ideas that I think could work, some that won’t, and some that I don’t understand. The main point I am making here is just to write something. If you are thinking too much and feel your brain start to come out of your ears, then the chances of writing something that day are slim. If you are really stuck, then why not just write down words that come to you. They don’t have to make grammatical sense but this process can free you up and loosen you up like an athlete warming up before a race. You might find that you can write something after doing this. Having said that you may also have an idea for a story but just can’t find a way of starting it. You don’t have to start writing a story from the start. If you have an idea, why not write one of the main events of the story from which you can work forwards or backwards.
There is a yes and a no side to this. For Making Headlines I did get advice from The Writers’ Workshop who matched my book with one of their editors. The advice I got was good and the editor pointed out a lot of the book’s shortcomings. However, due to being made redundant, I couldn’t retain this editor for the rewrite and final 5th draft. I started to become overwhelmed and bogged down with Making Headlines and it was suggested by another author / editor, Kevin Frato, to put the project to the side and start writing something else. I did this and my second novel Let Go was the result. During the time it took to write Let Go and going back to Making Headlines, a gap was created where I was able to look at Making Headlines from a new perspective, and almost like a new book. I edited as best I could and I decided to release Making Headlines to really say goodbye to the characters that I had been weighing me down for years. If I am honest, Making Headlines could have done with another round of editing before it was released, but I have learnt from my mistakes. So, yes – you can edit your own book so long as you put a lot of distance between you and the completion of your final draft so that your book feels new when you look at it again. However, you also need to know how to edit and this isn’t so straightforward. If you have studied creative writing, then this will stand you in good stead. I would recommend Butcher’s copy-editing book as a reference book and The Editor’s Companion if you want good pointers in editing, but I will say that considering hiring an editor is a good idea. If you choose the self-editing route then you need to know what you are looking for in order to be able to edit successfully, and you need to erase what you have written from your brain. There is a tendency for people to go blind when trying to evaluate their own work, and asking friends and family to review your book is not an alternative.
I asked Margaret Atwood this question and I will paraphrase her answer, as it is interesting and useful. As a self-published author, the chances of you breaking through into the big-time and earning lots of money are slim. However, self-publishing, as well as traditional publishing, is all about how you connect to your audience. You can build up and audience by releasing material through self-publishing but going through an agent / publisher is the way to go. There is a sea of information out there on the Internet and in various books about being published and it can be confusing to take in all of it. One blog or website that Margaret recommended was Chuck Wendig’s www.terribleminds.com. There is a lot of information on this site and you have to hunt for what you want to find. Margaret then asked me how I am distributing my book to which I replied through Lulu for eBooks (as they do not charge for uploads and conversion – so long as you know how to create an eBook), and that I print my books in the UK (she gave me a peculiar glance at this point) and hold releases in The English Bookshop in Stockholm. My advice is this: when you have got your manuscript into shape, draft up a submissions letter and start sending out to agents / publishers no more than six at a time. Typically agents take quite some time to reply and some may not reply at all. If you have got no reply after three months you can either contact the agent or tick them off your list and send a submission to the next agent. For more advice on approaching agents, I recommend this book How to Get Published by Harry Bingham. It is full of great advice and tips.
Jonathan Franzen backed away from the edge of the stage when somebody asked him this question at Stockholm’s Kulturhuset’s writer scene. I have also been asked this question about Making Headlines and I will write down here what I told that person. Although I have worked in the media industry for a good number of years, I haven’t worked in television, which is where Chris Wilkinson finds himself. I did, however, base some of Eastern View’s headquarters on a former employer’s headquarters. Therefore, some of the descriptions are based on the truth but have been distorted. As for the characters, I can gladly say that I don’t know anyone like Chris Wilkinson although some of his personality traits do exist in people that I have known in the past. Again, all characters are grossly distorted and I have to say that I haven’t based any of the main characters on anybody that I know in reality. Having said that, the characters of Mr and Mrs Tyler were old neighbours of mine and I felt that I owed them a small place in my novel as a tribute as they have sadly passed away. In short, many of the characters in Making Headlines have their idiosyncrasies and these little personality traits (e.g. Detective West’s “hmmm”) have been lifted from some people I have met in the real world, but their characters are stretched and distorted to the point where they take on a life of their own. As it has been said many a time, writers write what they know about, but a large percent of what is written is pure fiction.
When I studied Media in the 1990s, part of the course included writing scripts for potential television shows. I liked this format so much that I started writing a script based on an idea I had. When I had finished it (in 1994), it was roughly 90 pages long, called Stealth, and in all honesty wasn’t very good. I didn’t know what to do with it so I shelved it away until 1998 when I rewrote the script and updated it. I sent it out to several film producers and got a reply from two based in the US, one of which I later met in The Groucho Club in London. This meeting did not lead to anything other than a trip to London and meeting a happy-go-lucky film producer, and this also meant that I still had a manuscript that I didn’t know what to do with. In 2013 I signed up for a course on creative writing at Folkuniversitetet in Stockholm and dredged up my script called Stealth but renamed it Making Headlines. I started to write a few chapters and other participants on the course wanted to know what happened next, which forced me into writing the first draft in novel format. After this, I then wrote draft 2 and sent it off to an editor who came back with suggestions. I then wrote draft 3, which is the final version that I released. So all in all I wrote 5 drafts of Making Headlines and it was released in 2015, 20 years after I had first attempted to write it as a film screenplay.