Hello, whoever you are. I take it you’ve read one of my books or maybe you goofed off at work and got here by some random spin of the search engine.
No matter, I welcome you with open arms. And right now I’m pretty sure I could get my arms around every single one of you. One of the beauties of having a website is you get told exactly how many people show up. So I know I can count my current audience on one hand.
So what? I still want to put this out, my welcome mat of words.
I’m surprised to be here, you know, doing this … blogging thing.
When I indulged in daydreams a few years back about being a full-time author, creating a website wasn’t part of the picture. Typing one-handed in a hammock was more what I imagined. On a Greek island. With an ice-cold beer within reach and the blue water’s edge a few steps away.
The reality? Right now, I’m trying to type these words between cutting sausages for my six-year-old and listening out for the cry of my three-year-old to tell me his nap’s over, which means my writing break is too. Then I’ve got to go see my seven-year-old read her poem at school assembly. Then it’s back here to make dinner and the rest of it.
And all the while, for every second, I’m nursing a contained panic that I’m not writing enough. I don’t mean for this post: I mean for the next book. I desperately need to scale up the word count on Brad Madison III.
But first I wanted to do this post, to breathe some life into my website.
So I thought I’d start with a list, one that answers the question up top: what the hell am I doing here? Here are five reasons.
1. I’m new to this and I like it
Trying to write legal thrillers for a living is new to me. Actually, the world of fiction is new. I’ve written a heap of non-fiction stories before and for years I just thought I wasn’t cut out to write fiction.
You could say I was ideas lite. I had nothing in the bank. No great story I craved to tell the world. No unique take on the human condition. No searing epiphany of purpose. I did try writing a novel many years ago and although I liked it, I had no idea where to take the story. Well, I kind of knew where I wanted it to go but didn’t know how to get there. And no amount of time spent sitting around thinking about it changed that.
What did I lack?
Talent? Maybe. Skill? Not really. I knew I could write okay. Motivation? Well, maybe. No, make that definitely. Because I gave up, didn’t I? End of story, literally.
But at some point I had a bit of all three, or else I wouldn’t have gotten five chapters written.
All these years later, I think I can tell you what I really lacked: boundaries.
Back then I would have scoffed at this notion, convinced that boundaries of any description would be counter-intuitive to the creative process. But I wouldn’t have known what I was talking about. Because boundaries, I’ve discovered, are vital to the creative process. At least they are to mine.
Boundaries don’t stifle creativity; they pump-prime it.
What do I mean by boundaries?
Structure. Plot. Planning. Total word count. These things set a story’s boundaries. They help ensure you don’t stray off course or make a wrong turn or waste your time writing pages that don’t deserve to be read. They help prevent you from being self-indulgent.
[Time out while my six-year-old and I discuss the merits of Monopoly. It’s new to him. He likes that it “kind of never ends”.]
What was I saying?
Oh, yes. Boundaries. I, for one, need them. They are not creativity’s handcuffs. Quite the opposite. They are more like the imagination’s glasshouse.
I think trying to make something work within a certain set of dimensions actually boosts your creative powers. Doesn’t a painter make a practical decision to confine his or her artwork from the outset by choosing a canvas?
I mean, look what Da Vinci produced in a space no bigger than your average, you know, welcome mat:
And what would it be like to watch Roger Federer play tennis in the absence of the game’s regulations and points system?
Federer’s brilliance flourishes inside a purpose-built box of rules, lines and conditions. If not for them, we’d just be watching him hit a ball over a net.
2. I don’t want to go back
Ah, that’s my three-year-old. Stop the clock.
[Play dinosaurs. Have a dinosaur fight, to be exact. T Rex v Triceratops, naturally.]
I’ve had a great start to self-publishing, but I’m not a completely freestanding writer just yet. If you hadn’t guessed already, right now I’m a stay-at-home dad. My wife is taking her turn in the salt mines to keep a roof over our heads. I’m a full-time dad, which is a 13-16-hour-a-day job with kids the ages of mine.
But to the point: I love writing the Brad Madison books. It’s by far the most enjoyable and rewarding writing I’ve ever done. The books have gone pretty well so far which is awesome, but I just love the process of creating them.
It would have taken you a few hours to read Force of Justice or Divine Justice but each took me months to conceive, plan, write, proofread and package. The overwhelmingly positive response to them has been humbling and heartening.
But I can’t sit back and relax. You can be forgotten very quickly by readers on Amazon. To stay current, I need to publish the next book ASAP and then get straight onto the next. I simply can’t get them out fast enough.
[Off to the assembly. Shed a tear of pride. Come back, cook dinner, change the three-year-old’s diaper (twice). Run the bath.]
3. Writing books is not enough
The thing I didn’t fully understand when I started the Brad Madison series was that simply writing books was only part of what I needed to do to make it as a self-published author. There was the S&M side things I had to come to grips with–you know, sales and marketing.
[Dispense fruit and ice cream.]
Learning about Amazon and KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing) is just one element. There are so many aspects to this self-publishing game. You can’t expect to succeed by tucking yourself away to write and publish your books and do nothing else. Well, I guess some people could make that work. Not me.
If someone buys and enjoys one of my books it doesn’t mean they’ll buy another. They may not even know I have other books on offer. They probably won’t know when the next book in the series comes out. Well, it’s my job to make that process as easy as possible. And that means getting a website up, writing a blog, building a mailing list and all that.
I’m not the only one with a lot of stuff going on. You readers have your plates full too. I can’t expect you to be waiting with bated breath, ready to pounce on my next release.
As a writer, I never assume I have a captive audience. Same goes with self-publishing, I reckon.
4. It’s fun
I know I mentioned earlier that I like this thriller writing game. And remember what I said about planning and boundaries and structure? Well, I discovered that those limitations, those rules of play, whatever you want to call them, allow me to trust in my creative process. They have opened the door to the magic of spontaneous imagination.
This is something I remember hearing in radio interviews with novelists years ago. They talked about the “magic” that would appear. They talked about how a character, or the story itself, might take over and become the driving force of the writing.
I believed these writers were telling the truth. I just never thought I’d ever experience it. But I have and it’s a revelation.
Now I can trust that this force is there, as though my sub-conscience is on stand-by, ready to help.
[Baths. Stories. Bed.]
So while I might start out knowing the nuts and bolts of a scene, I’ll end up with all sorts of details and words I never saw coming. They literally come out of nowhere during the process of writing.
And most often these words feet right. They feel true. They give the passage more personality and more authenticity than any of my pre-planned thoughts.
Writing sixty to eighty thousand words is no mean feat, but you put your nose to the grindstone and start. And then from time to time that magic spontaneity kicks in and it’s an absolute blast.
5. I want to stay positive
The one thing you need to publish books on Amazon is a thick skin. Because no matter what you write someone’s not going to like it. And they’re going to tell you. They’re going to give you one star just so they can tell the world how much you suck. And their words will stay there, forever tied to your book.
However unpleasant it is to cop one-star reviews, there’s some comfort in seeing that notable and even brilliant writers can attract more than their fair share. [Check out Literary Hub’s series on one-star reviews given to literary classics such as The Great Gatsby. It’s gold.]
Now I’m not allergic to criticism. It’s often helpful, highlighting areas you need to pay better attention to. You have to be grateful for that. So I take a lot of feedback on board: the good and the bad … but not the ugly (I’ll never please some people).
But you are someone I do aim to please. Seeing the great response to my books has encouraged me no end and makes we want to keep delivering the kind of books you love to read. It’s a beautiful thing. And I’m determined to keep up my end of the bargain.
So, I’m going to leave it there.
Next time I sit down to write, it will be to get that next book one step closer to being completed, published and delivered into your hands.