How I spent ten years working on a novel

Ten years. An awful lot of time. But the truth is that you hear about this or that author spending even more than that working on a novel, and you can’t help but wonder: were they writing five words a day or what?

The truth is a bit more complicated than that.

Here’s how I spent ten years working on a novel.

When I was seventeen a friend of mine told me about a secret she had. I am quite curious as a person — obsessively so actually. But she wouldn’t tell me said secret. To make matters worse, so told me she told this secret to a lady who happened to sit next to her on a bench in a park. A stranger. I felt insulted. But no matter how much I tried to persuade her to tell me her secret, she wouldn’t give in.

So I decided to do the next best thing, which was to write about it.

It was supposed to be a novella called La Vie En Rose. I was writing in Romania back then. It went rather well. Some twenty pages. Had absolutely no idea what to do with it.

And that was that.

A couple years later I found out about NaNoWriMo. It seemed like the most brilliant contest ever. Write a novel in 30 days? Count me in. But the thing was… I had never tried writing fiction in English. I decided it was best to try to translate my novella, add to it, see how it goes. It is a usually easier to write when you have a few words to get you started (why most of my posts begin with a quote).

And I wrote this novel.

Well, technically it wasn’t a novel. None of my novel are… the proper naming is micro-novel, that is novels that are less than fifty thousand words long.

So I had this twenty something thousand words thing which I called novel. It sucked big time (of which I wasn’t aware back then), but I wanted to self-publish it and earn a couple million dollars and get started with the movie business and acting all famous and stuff(spoiler alert: it didn’t go that way)

There was but a slight problem: I was poor. Like really, really, really poor.

So I taught myself interior formatting and typography. I had a friend who was good with Photoshop and asked him to design a cover for this novel.

Before you ask, no… the damn book had nothing to do with gambling. Okay, there was a chapter where the two main characters go to Las Vegas and do some light gambling, because I thought it was cool and stuff.

I published this book in January 2012. Very proud. Even made a paperback. Gave a few signed books to my friends.

And then… then… nothing.

From January to May I sold 2 e-books and 2 paperbacks. I received two reviews. I gave an interview for a blog. I created a blog, gave up on it after five posts and no comments. Had a Facebook page with some 27 likes.

And that was it.

The more I read the damn thing, the more I loathed it.

It was just awful. Badly written, badly edited. The only thing I liked was the dedication (which I am still going to use)

I was never going to be a writer. This was all a stupid dream. I just wasn’t cut out for this. If you’re bad at something, what’s the logical thing to do? Quit, right?

So, I quit.

Didn’t write a single word from May to November 2012. Nada.

Then, one night, I put my head on the pillow to fall asleep, and it just came to me. An idea. A scene: a woman playing the piano. A bar. New York City. I knew what I had to do to rewrite my novel. I knew how to make it right. Yeah, I was going to make it right.

I got out of bed and began writing.

I created an account on Wattpad and published the scene. People liked it very much. So I wrote even more. This was supposed to be my masterpiece.

I changed the damn title so many times that I don’t even remember. I can only tell you about the ones I actually made covers for.

So what happened?

I got stuck. I worked on other projects.

I had to write Jazz because, well, it was a very compelling story and I knew how it was going to end.

The thing was that this story has a character I’ve always been much too fond of: Chris Packlem. I invented Chris when I was six years old. I dreamed of going to the US and changing my name into Chris Packlem.

So Chris Packlem, ever since I was six years old, has been me. Who I wanted to be. Who I aspired to be.

The thing is, he’s never been a good guy. Even in the first drafts (all unfinished) he’s this corrupt character. He’s been corrupted by his own aspirations and ambitions, by those around him.

I do not say he is evil. No. He is just human. The kind of human who can screw up big time, yet not derive any pleasure out of burning down the world.

This summer I had the idea of making this story a sort of sequel for Jazz.

Here’s something most of you don’t know(yet): all my stories take place in the same universe, which means they’re connected somehow.

Well, this novel was supposed to do much of the connecting.

But I just couldn’t figure it out. I had no ending.

And something else had happened.

I used to be a romantic. I used to desire some sort of justice out of the story – the good guys win, the bad guys lose.

This novel is… exactly the opposite of all.

In fact, if I were to be honest with myself, I’ve never been that much of a romantic. But I still desired it.

This novel, however, has none of it. There’s not even a single character you’d define as good. I do not say the characters aren’t likable, for I like them very much, but they’re neither inherently evil nor are they good.

They’re something like either a mean angel or a kind devil.

Then this happened: I was writing a novel: fooling around with the erotica genre. It was about to be about the degradation one’s soul goes through when trying to reach the top of the world. I wrote the novel…

Made a bunch of covers. None of them felt right.closer2

closer.jpgFinished writing the novel. I decided to be funny and made my female character meet with Chris Packlem at a party.

And then… well, first, I found the perfect cover:

Then I decided to mix them up.

Yup.

You heard that right. Two make one bigger novel out of two smaller ones.

And it all just fit perfectly. I had more characters to play with, I had two different point of view to play with… you get the picture.

And half an hours earlier I finished the whole thing.

Ten years.

A lot more cover making than actual writing (until a few months)

But now it’s gone.

Soon to be published on Amazon.

I am really proud of it, and how it all fits together. This is my best work so far. I’d very much like to live inside this story forever.

The moral of this post: Never, ever, ever, ever give up.

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9 thoughts on “How I spent ten years working on a novel

  1. Hello Mihai. At first when I was reading this post, you scared me alil about writing and self publishing a book. I just finished my first book – micro novel, working on publishing it but I’m so scared that people would not like it..i have given a few people to read it….got few feedbacks back but still I do believe in myself but there’s a part that wonders if the book will make it…you know! (Visions of being the great or atleast a known upcoming author in my country, Kenya….) you’ve got to dream right???

    It took me 1 year and 6 months to finishe writing this book… I gave up countless time…but again, something kept pushing me to just keep writing… and now I’m done…
    Writing is hard…. self publishing is scary….but I’m proud of the outcome…

      • Definitely that last reason. Redwood Summer is the first novel I ever attempted to write, so the first three or four drafts was just me learning how to employ the larger story arc that is required of a novel (the first draft was more of a series of different scenes that I linked together with the barest of storylines). Then the next few drafts were hammering the story into shape. By early 2012 I had written a ninth draft, changed the title to Redwood Summer (from Heart’s Delight), and finally discovered how to write the beginning (by taking last chapter, splitting in two, and making the first half chapter 1).
        I then put it aside for four years while working on other projects. I took it back out of storage in 2016, stated the 10th and final rewrite, and have been posting it chapter by chapter on my blog ever since. Chapter 13 will be next posting. There are 17 chapters in all. And my only fear is failure (and heights). Thanks for letting me ramble on.

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