Everyone seems to be writing about writing. That’s why I’ve held off on this until now. After all, what can I say that hasn’t already been said?
Well, we can all share our unique experiences, of course. So what are my experiences that qualify me to give out writing tips, even to the extent of getting a book contract from a traditional publisher?
I started writing my first novel in 2009. I signed a traditional publishing contract for it in 2013, and it’s coming out in September 2015.
I understand that it’s unusual (although not completely unheard of) for it to take only four years between starting writing and getting a book contract. It’s also unusual that the contract is for the first book I’ve ever written. In other words, I haven’t got a bottom drawer full of trial runs and abandoned efforts.
So how have I done this? I invite you to read on and find out. All I can do is give you an honest account of what I’ve done with Destiny’s Rebel, my debut teenage fantasy novel.
Of course, we’re all different, with varying temperaments, talents, backgrounds, educations, personalities, and all the rest of it. We don’t like the same things, and wouldn’t write the same sorts of stories. But I hope that you might discover here something that will help you. I genuinely do. I’m not precious about getting published, and would like as many writers as possible to feel the affirmation and satisfaction of seeing their ambitions fulfilled.
So, where should we start? How about where all stories start, and that is with the first idea.
The idea for Destiny’s Rebel came in a dream. I woke up one morning in January 2006 and I was able to recall the dream I’d just had. It was vivid, and struck me as a good story. But I wasn’t a writer then, and had neither the time nor the inclination to write. So I jotted down some notes about it at the time, and that was all. I’ve little notion why I did that (although I’m very glad I did), other than not wanting to forget a good dream.
But the next question is: is it a good idea? Or even a great idea? Is it good enough to support a book about it? Is it compelling or intriguing enough to hold your own interest over the time it will take to write it, and then later on to interest literary agents, publishers, booksellers and the reading public?
At the time of an idea, none of us really know. I thought it was good, but then what do I know? Judge for yourself.
The dream was about Kat, a girl who is days away from her eighteenth birthday, when she will become Queen. And she’s dreading it. Because of all the expectations and responsibility that her future will bring, she runs away from her destiny.
That’s how the story starts, and I’m not going to tell you the rest for fear of spoiling the book. 🙂 It’s set in an imaginary historical world, with castles and kingdoms, swords and sailing ships, simply because those are the sorts of stories that I enjoy. And first and foremost, I wrote it for myself.
So is it a good idea? Well, let’s see:
1. It has an inherent tension and conflict, between external circumstances and Kat’s desires.
2. It has a short and driving time-frame, as the days diminish until Kat inherits her Crown.
3. It has both an external and internal journey, as Kat strives to return home in time to save the Kingdom from a threat, and also as she struggles with accepting her destiny.
4. It has Key Questions: Will she get there in time? Does she even want to, if it means facing up to her duty and responsibility? In short, can she escape who she’s meant to be?
So let’s say that at least the idea has “potential”.
Looking back, I realise that this story arose out of my feelings about my life at the time of the dream. I was in a job where at times I also felt trapped and burdened by expectation and responsibility. So I imagined a story about running away from them. For this reason, Kat’s story is my story, as I also face up to my duty and circumstances in life, and try to discover my own destiny. I hope I’m not so much of a rebel about it as Kat is, though!
(“Warrior Girl”, by Emma Graham Illustrations)
So, what’s your idea for a story? Is it a good one?
You may have a number of ideas, and need to sift out the best. But if finding an initial idea is your problem, then don’t despair. You can always work on the next stage while you’re waiting for the muse of inspiration to strike. The next stage (for Part Two of this), is to work on your Talent and Craft.
Happy writing … and dreaming!
13 thoughts on “One: A Good Idea”
I was very interested to learn that you had your initial idea three years before you started writing the novel about it. I think that can often happen with the creative process. I don’t remember the exact time when I had the idea for my first novel, or for my second, but I expect quite a lot of time passed before I was ready to start expressing it through a novel. It’s a bit like firing something in a kiln, or the fermentation period in wine-making! Thank you for your writing tips, Philip; I shall be following the series with keen interest (as with your series about Kat too!)
Thanks for your interest, Sheila. I’m afraid I’m not aware of any fermenting, firing or refining of the idea during those three and a half years – I forgot about it completely! It was only when I started writing short stories for my children in 2009 that I remembered it at all. But maybe there was some sub-conscious, or back burner, thing going on. I’m a bit more organised about story ideas these days. All the best with your new book. 🙂
How I would have loved to come to the launch but I expect to be in Canada at that time. I presume I’ll be able to order your book through Amazon? I’ll be launching my own, non-fiction work about discovering Jesus the Jewish Man in today’s Israel in the autumn in N. America and then here in the UK in the winter. I have a YA fiction work, also set in Israel, I’m itching to re-edit after that. Your tips will be really helpful.
Oh, being in Canada sounds like a good enough excuse to me! Enjoy the trip and I hope to meet some other time. The book’s being launched in Sept as a UK paperback first, and then other countries and formats later. Amazon.co.uk will have it from 15th Sept, but I’m not sure how it works with shipping to North America, or through Amazon.com. Thanks for your interest, and good luck with yours too.
Thank you. I usually buy through amazon.ca when I’m over there. Or I’ll get it through .co.uk when I’m back.
I can see why this sold. Thank you for your 4 ingredients – they help me to focus for my fiction. I think there are 2 more ingredients that you have – 1. a female hero of the right age for the 14+ readership, and 2. an irresistible story world. I can’t wait to read this.
Thanks so much, Bobbie. But as I’ll go on to say in future posts, a good idea on its own isn’t enough. I discovered that there’s a whole lot of hard work that needed to come afterwards. But maybe you’re right: an idea that’s good enough is a necessary prerequisite. Destiny’s Rebel is launched in Oxford on Saturday 12th September (if you’d like to come!), and then on general release from Tuesday 15th Sept. I wish you all the very best for your own writing too.
Thanks for your insight. I’m at that point of trying to be brave enough to get on with the second novel whilst not knowing whether my writing skills are worthy. I’m loving the writing journey. Reading lots of other authors ( including yours, there’s something thrilling about reading stories before they are unleashed to the public, well it’s part of my job as illustrator!) I read for the age group I write for, so many variants, some are soothing, calm, some full of mystery and some especially from my current favourite author, are dark and disturbing, but he has a knack of making me read, even though I know it will be disturbing, very clever. So much to learn, but I love the writing.
Go for it, Emma! Courage is one of our main assets when writing. Who is to judge whether anyone’s writing skills are “worthy”? I’m sure that we improve the more that we do it, so your second novel may well be better than your first. I wrote Destiny’s Rebel before I knew what I was doing, and had to change lots of things afterwards, but the basic idea was a good one, and remained. I feel that my Books Two and Three may well be better than my first, certainly at the early draft stage, simply because I’ve learned so much along the way. So I really hope they come your way to illustrate them, and I assume that you’ll draw the covers for your own books, if you haven’t done so already! Reading widely is essential, and I’m curious now to know who your current favourite author is… 🙂
Don’t be too modest, Philip. It is a grand achievement to get a traditional publishing contract. As one who tried hard to get one, I know!
Good advice re getting a good idea. It is so easy to think good ideas will be easy to remember, but so often they get forgotten if not written down… which reminds me, I have a file called ‘Ideas for Stories’ .Maybe I can find an idea in there.
Thank you, Barbara. The modesty thing is difficult, that mentioning success is not just bragging, or self-promotion, or trampling over the sensitivities of others. But I can’t deny that the contract has been one of the highlights of my life so far.
Yes, story ideas can strike when we least expect them, but often they need mulling over, developing and testing hard before we know if they’re any good. I really hope that your “ideas file” produces a seed for your Novel Number Three… 🙂
I think this is a great idea, your sharing your writing journey. Really helpful. And, yes, I think anyone can see that the basic premise for your story has an instant appeal. I look forward to reading the book!
Thanks, Fran. I think there’s something in most of us, that we don’t see how far we’ve come, or that anyone else will be interested in us, or that our ideas are any good. In these cases, I’m thrilled to be proved wrong. And Book Launch in 79 days! 😀