The Craft – Part One: Breaking In
All aspiring writers dream of breaking in, of getting that deal and one day seeing their work in print, but the reality is that getting a deal is taking on a job – with contracts, expectations and deadlines. This, inevitably, means changes to routines as writing goes from being just a hobby to a part-time profession.
In this series of articles we intend to get under the skin of craft, talking to some of fantasy’s most exciting authors about their individual process. We kick off with a look at the realities of breaking into the business and what impact it has on the craft of writing of four fantasy authors.
Laura Lam’s debut young adult novel, Pantomime, set in the fantasy land of Ellada about a young runaway called Micah Grey joining a circus, is due for release from Strange Chemistry in February 2013.
Lou Morgan’s debut urban fantasy novel of warring angels and fallen, Blood & Feathers, was recently released by Solaris. The follow-up, Rebellion, is due for release next summer.
M. D. Lachlan has released the Wolfsangel series through Gollancz, the latest of which, Lord of Slaughter, has recently been released. Prior to moving to genre he had a successful career as part of the ‘lad lit’ movement.
Sam Sykes is author of the Aeons’ Gate fantasy series from Gollancz. Tome of the Undergates and Black Halo are already available with the third volume, The Skybound Sea just released in September.
We started by asking our writers how their regiment of working had changed upon getting a deal.
“I wrote my first book in small fits and spurts as an occasional hobby rather than treating it like a job,” says Lam. “This has now changed drastically. It took me fifteen months to get to seventy-five thousand words with my first book, Pantomime. For the sequel, I’ve gotten to that word count again in about three and a half months.”
Morgan was similarly erratic in her writing regime prior to a deal but unlike Lam has remained so.
“I’m entirely sporadic,” she says, “and always have been. This, alas, does not make for a stress-free existence, but that’s entirely my own fault. In an ideal world, I’d do a chapter a day, which for me is around three thousand words, and that also leaves me time for plenty of doodling, pottering around the internet and staring out of the window (all of which comes under the heading “research”). However, I’m far more likely to have one day banging my head against the keyboard to get five hundred words out – and sometimes, I may as well be banging my forehead against the keyboard, the sense it makes – and the next few doing a chapter-and-a-bit until I run out of steam.”
Sykes works for a set amount of time rather than aims for a particular word count.
“I was what I like to call fastidious in my slovenly ways,” says Sykes. “When I first started writing with any sense of where I wanted to go, I was seventeen and worked from ten o’clock to midnight. I wrote from midnight to two AM, as I grew older until today, where I write from about midnight to four AM. This works well for me, even more so after the deal. I can answer email and correspond during days when civilized people are alive and work when they slumber.”
For Lachlan though, he didn’t even have to develop a regime until after he got the deal.
“I wasn’t really a writer before I got a deal – or at least an agent,” he says. “I was a journalist and I wrote an article for The Big Issue which my now agent saw and liked. She wrote to me and asked if I’d ever considered writing a novel. I said I had and wrote Girlfriend 44.”
He admits that he has developed a regime over time.
“I write more now than I ever did. I aim for at least two thousand words a day, whereas it would have been a thousand when I first started. If I’m ghost writing I can go quicker. That sounds like a lot but the editing often takes me as long as the writing.”
“I’m definitely a lot more driven,” Lam says. “I treat it like a job because it is one and I do it every day. I don’t give myself set word count goals because that can stress me out, and sometimes the best work for me to do is just sit and think about the world or write some general notes. As time goes on, The Fear is lessening and my confidence has grown so I’m becoming more productive, which pleases me.”
But with their own particular systems in place do any of the writers still worry about deadlines?
“Deadlines don’t bother me too much,” says Morgan. “My previous, terribly corporate, working life ran to deadlines, almost all of which came with the threat of terrible, soul-rending punishments should they be broken or even mildly stretched, so I just tend to get on with things.”
Check back next Wednesday for part two of The Craft series: The Business.