By Maggie James
Five years ago I quit my job and went off travelling for a year. The aim was to return with a draft of my first novel; I'd explore Asia and South America whilst accomplishing my life-long dream of becoming an author. Fed up with my employment, annoyed at my procrastination over writing, embued since birth with wanderlust, it seemed the ideal solution. Armed with my laptop, I flew to Bangkok for the first leg of my journey, confident I was poised to become a writer at last.
With a few false starts, that's what happened. After a fantastic trip, I returned to England in October 2011 with a completed draft of His Kidnapper's Shoes. The manuscript was too long, requiring a lot of pruning; it was done, however, meaning I'd kept my promise to myself. The joy I experienced after writing the last word is hard to describe - it was a very emotional moment. In my ignorance, I believed the hardest part was out of the way. Little did I know...
I soon discovered being a novelist involves much more than just writing. I had no idea how to edit my book, for example. Back then, the process consisted of me reading my narrative, trying to spot what needed changing. Nowadays I'm far more organised, with rounds of editing for different things; one for grammar and punctuation, another for flow and style, and so on. I was also ignorant of the need for an author's platform, meaning I had to play catch up whilst getting His Kidnapper's Shoes ready for publication.
What I've achieved so far...
I started writing my second novel, Sister Psychopath, in November 2011 as part of the NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) competition. I'd still not published His Kidnapper's Shoes, being immersed in selling my house, making an abortive move to Portsmouth, returning to Bristol and buying my flat. All that took time and energy away from my writing, meaning I didn't publish His Kidnapper's Shoes until 2013, although in the meantime I worked on Sister Psychopath and developed my author platform.
It's now October 2015, five years since I quit my accountancy role. In that time, I've written and published four full-length novels, one novella and a 'how-to' guide for newbie writers. I've also resurrected and published the four health books I wrote whilst practising as a nutritional therapist, and collated my first three novels into a box set. I now have eleven published titles, and am poised to start work on the twelfth. I've achieved my ambition of becoming a writer and I'm delighted about that!
Many people have been very supportive
What have I learned over the last five years? A lot about my fellow humans. I've made big changes, and this can be hard for other people to deal with. In general I've been overwhelmed by the support and encouragement I've received, including from other novelists, but some people have responded negatively. A few have chosen to ignore my new career, others have treated it as a joke - a nice hobby, perhaps, but not something to take seriously. That's a shame, but to be expected - some individuals feel threatened by other people's lifestyle changes. Such reactions have been greatly outweighed by the encouragement I've garnered elsewhere. I've also received wonderful support from unexpected sources, and that's been a pleasant surprise.
Every new book is a challenge
I've also learned a huge amount about writing. I've streamlined my processes, particularly plotting and editing, so they're much more efficient. As for book marketing and promotion, I'm still getting to grips with this area - it's not my natural forte!
The geeky side of me has enjoyed setting up my blog and website, as well as getting the hang of the wonderful software that is Scrivener. (More about Scrivener here).
I continue to learn more about my particular writing quirks. In common with other novelists, certain motifs often crop up in my fiction - for example, my characters tend to clench their guts a lot in tense situations. (Stay close to a toilet, guys!) I've noticed this with other writers' books; it can be a hard habit to break. I'm working on it...
I'll continue to set myself a new challenge with every novel; so far it's proved both interesting and beneficial. For example, with The Second Captive I explored writing in scenes and with a two-part novel structure. I'd been sceptical before about this, preferring to write in whole chapters, but I discovered I enjoyed that way of working. With my next book, I want to plot more deeply than I've ever done before, and see how that affects the editing process. I don't doubt that I'll carry on developing and growing along my writing journey.
It's been a fantastic five years, and I've never regretted my decision to leave accountancy and pursue my novel-writing dreams. I shudder to think what I'd be doing now if I hadn't made that change - probably still servicing the same clients, living in the same house, and without having spent ten incredible months in South America, a continent that enthralls me.
What do I aim to achieve in the next five years? By 2020, I hope to have at least eighteen published titles, and to combine writing with my perpetual wanderlust. I'd love to end up a nomadic novelist, travelling the world with my laptop, writing as I go. Whatever happens, I'm buckling up for an incredible ride! Will you join me?
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