I’m a copywriter. Often, when people I’ve just met ask me what I do, I tell them I’m an “advertising writer,” because I’ve discovered that most people don’t know what a copywriter is. Many assume it has something to do with legal copyrights, like I’m a paralegal or something. Couple of times I’ve slipped and just said, “I’m a writer.” This gets people all excited as they assume I mean I’m a novelist. When I say no, no, I don’t write fiction, I write advertising stuff.
This also tends to be a little exciting to people, and they ask if I’ve written any TV commercials they’ve seen. And then when I say no, no, I mostly write print stuff. Point of sale banners, coupons, brochures, stuff like that
… at this point they’re completely bored.
But I do write other things, obviously. Like this blog. It’s not fiction per se
, but it’s not advertising copy, either. Couple of times I’ve written something in this blog that’s resonated with people, and they leave nice comments. Once I had a friend tell me, “You’re a great writer. You should write a book!” To which I smiled and said thank you… but I didn’t tell her the truth.
Which is that I already have.
I never talk about it, because… well, because I’m a little shy about my book, I guess. See, people think it’s terribly difficult to write a novel. I know that’s not true. It’s actually really simple to write a novel, you just need to sit down and start typing.
Now, to write a good
novel… that’s something completely different. And to write a good novel that someone actually wants to publish; well, that’s something altogether different again.
Many people assume that copywriters secretly yearn to write the great American novel. It’s actually a bit of a cliché in my industry, the tortured artist who wants to make ART, not ads. And maybe that’s why I don’t talk about my book, because I don’t want to fall into this stereotype.
Or, maybe I’m just afraid my novel sucks.
But, honestly, I don’t think it does. And after spending so much damn time with it, I hope I would at least have a clue.
Let me back up a bit.
Long as I can remember, I’ve been expressing myself through writing; but I wouldn’t say I was a writer
. I dabbled with comic book writing, and role playing and, of course, copywriting… but I was never the guy who sat in his room and pounded out short story after short story, just waiting for his talent to catch up to his determination. Writing was just a hobby, and I have a lot of hobbies.
But, several years ago, a story popped into my head, and I wrote it down. At the time, I wasn’t sure what I was going to do with the story, if anything, but it felt like something I should capture on paper. So I did.
It is called “Peter’s Book,” and I think it turned out pretty well.
It was just a short story, probably no more than 1,500 words. Which is pretty short, as far as short stories go. Bolstered by the success of this story, I went out on a limb and took a writing class at the local continuing education program. It was only $30, and I figured what the heck.
Writing class was bit of a misnomer; it was a writing workshop. In which everyone would bring something that they had written, and others in the class would critique it. The “instructor” was an unpublished writer, but she had more writing experience that I did, so I thought her opinion might be worthwhile.
The class turned out to be mostly late in life woman trying to write poetry or inspirational stories; some fairly decent, some gut-churningly bad. Everyone was really nice, though. In truth, too
nice. Never did any of my writing (even the stuff that was bad) generate much in the way of negative comments. I think people were afraid of hurting someone’s feelings. And since the class was more inspiration to keep writing than tough love to improve your writing, I guess it served it’s purpose. I felt vaguely unfulfilled, though.
However, it did keep me writing. Since people in the class would often show up with nothing to share, I was motivated to write something
to fill up the two hours. Because if I didn’t, the class quickly turned into a coffee klatch discussing daughters, granddaughters, flower arrangements (no joke) and similar topics of conversation. Not what I paid 30 bucks for.
I wrote several short stories during this time. Mostly horror, since I enjoy reading that genre. The old ladies in my group were game to read my stuff, I must say, even though I’m sure most would never pick up a horror novel by their own accord.
I found myself writing in the 2-3,000 word range pretty often. I found I could tell my entire story in that amount of words. Actually, I couldn’t imagine writing more than that… extending the narrative for any longer than that seemed insurmountable.
But then, I started writing my book.
I had written a story of about 6,000 words, and I was amazed at the length. I actually put a lot of importance on word count at this time… it seemed like a tangiable measure of success. If I could keep the story going for that long, and keep it interesting (to me, at least) it must mean that my fiction writing was improving. My writing workshop loved everything, of course, but they were all so nice that I never though that they comments were a good reflection of the truth.
From the beginning I thought my book would be longer than anything I had written up to that point. A novella, maybe.
And as much as I bash my writing group for being too nicey-nicey, they did set a firm deadline that I strove to meet every week. The class was on Thursdays, so if I hadn’t written a new chapter by Tuesday, I got down to work and banged it out.
So I’d bring in a chapter (or two on big weeks) and read it aloud to the class. They'd scribble comments on their copies and I’d take everything home and digest it. Some of the comments were really good; there was one woman in particular who wrote romance novels, and was really good. I learned quite a bit from her, especially when it came to cliffhanger chapter endings. For two years I worked on this book with that class. Here’s the results:
That’s 16 ¼ pounds of manuscript you see there. I kept every chapter I brought into the class, and the revised chapters. It wasn’t until I cleaned out my filing cabinet that I realized just how much paper I had accumulated.
I started the book in 2003, and wrote the last chapter sometime in 2005, I think (I don’t have anything in front of me because I’m blogging from work, of course). The final count was just more than 77,000 words. Which is still a little short for your typical paperback. And after all the comments, criticisms, revisions and rewrites, what did I do with my manuscript?
For two years. I don’t have a good reason why; I just let it sit and didn’t come back to it. I don’t have
to do anything with it, of course… but I kept it in the back of my head that I’d like to see it published. Of course. I mean, what writer wouldn’t want to be published?
Recently, I pulled it back out and re-read it. And I think it was a good thing to let it sit, because I see some serious flaws with it now. The most damning is that the first chapter is boring. I fell into the not uncommon trap of downloading a bunch of exposition right at the beginning with little action. I don’t like to read books that start that way… why would I write one? Inexperience, I suppose.
Anyway, I’ve been going back through it, chapter by chapter, and revising it. I’m not even halfway done yet, but I can already see it becoming a tighter, more interesting read. I’m a little excited by it.
And that’s why I’m telling you about it. Because if I put it out there, let people know about it… well, there’s no turning back. I can’t stick it back into a drawer and let it gather dust for another two years.
I wrote a novel.
But, like I indicated above, that’s not the hard part. Now I’m going to polish it until it’s a good novel. Then, I’m going to try to get it published.
That will be the hard part.