Writing An Indie Novel Is Like Going For A Long Walk
by Stephen Marriott
A few years ago I did something that some might consider a little crazy. I quit a career that had spanned nearly twenty years. Although people told me I was good at my job as an investment analyst, I couldn’t escape a little voice inside of me that wanted to be heard. The problem was that I had no idea what that voice would really say if it was given half a chance.
And I still didn’t have the answer by the time I’d served my notice. So I did the only thing that made sense at the time; I dusted off my backpack and went travelling.
Those travels eventually took me to the foothills of the Pyrenees, at the start of an 800km pilgrimage. That journey is known as the Camino de Santiago or The Way of St. James, a walk that millions have made over the centuries. The classical route starts in a Basque village, on the French side of the Pyrenees, and continues over the mountains into northern Spain, eventually finishing at a cathedral in the city of Santiago de Compostella in northwest Spain.
Little did I know it at the time, but I was finally on the right path. After a couple of weeks of walking, free of the 9-5 working lifestyle and outside influences (including the internet), my mind felt liberated and I started journaling about the experience. And after arriving in Santiago, following thirty-one days on the road, I set up a blog and began sharing my experience. And those blog pieces morphed into an idea for a short story, a serial on Wattpad; ultimately evolving into a novella and the discovery of self-publishing on Amazon. That journey was the birth of my Reluctant Pilgrim series and the belief that possibilities and new ideas are achievable.
And ever since I’ve been applying the lessons from my pilgrimage to my evolving indie author career.
Lesson #1: You Can Never Be Fully Prepared – Start Writing That Book
“The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step” — Lao Tzu
My first day on the Camino was a tough experience; I wasn’t walking fit and you’re introduced to a climb of 1,500 metres over the Pyrenees and into Spain. For many, the thought of that initial mountain climb is a barrier in itself for doing the walk. But that’s a shame because in reality as long as you’re in average shape you’ll cope.
The path is steady and it’s not like climbing a sheer mountain face, so you can take your time and take in the stunning Pyrenean scenery. And you experience an amazing feeling of elation at the end of the walking day, as you arrive into the village of Roncesvalles on the Spanish side of the mountains.
When you’re new to writing, starting that first book feels just as daunting as that mountain hike. But it’s the fear of writing it that’s the bigger challenge than actually doing it. Sit there, keep at it, let the fingers do the walking and before you know it you’ll have written your first chapter.
Believe me, getting that first chapter under your belt is like a personal point of no return; thereafter you’ll feel fully committed to completing your book.
Once you’ve exposed yourself to what’s possible there is no going back.
Lesson #2: Persistence Pays Off – ‘The End.’ Is Closer Than You Think
“I will persist until I succeed. Always I will take another step. If that is of no avail I will take another, and yet another. In truth, one step at a time is not too difficult. I know the small attempts, repeated, will complete any undertaking.” — Og Mandino, Author of The Greatest Salesman in the World
There is one stretch of the Camino known as the Meseta, or the ‘mind’ section, which is a flat, shadeless, open expanse of agricultural fields. Villages are infrequent and carrying enough food and water for each day is essential. Walking across it, especially under a Spanish summer sun, is an arduous experience.
However, village-by-village, walkers slowly break the Meseta down. And not only do you build physical endurance, but also persistence on the way. It taught me that if you’re taking daily steps towards a distant goal, faith develops, and your destination will eventually become within reach.
How true that is about writing. At some point, you’ll hit that writer’s wall, or the end of your manuscript will never seem in sight. But the only way to get through it is to sit at your desk, set objectives and keep writing.
Lesson #3: Walk Your Own Walk – Write The Book You Want To Write
“Love what you are doing and then let the book happen.” – Richard Paul Evans, New York Times bestselling author
Many people start the Camino on their own but they soon make walking companions. I was no exception and after five days of walking, I befriended a small group of international walkers. We shared meals, hostels, our backstories and it was tempting to always walk with them.
However, I needed to figure a few things out in my head. To do that, I required my own space. So as hard as it was, on some occasions, I broke away from them. I’d either take an alternative path along the Camino or walk at my own slower pace.
Being in my own company allowed my curiosity to run wild, having my own adventures, and fully observing the richness of the world as it unfolded around me. Fresh ideas began to flourish in my mind and my diary notes became richer and more descriptive. To make your mark on the world, to be original, you have to see things with a fresh pair of eyes.
As tempting as it may be to emulate your favourite authors (though of course, be inspired by them) be true to your gifts of creativity – give yourself the space to be creative, to write the stories you want to write.
Lesson #4: Living Your Dream Inspires – Go All In
“And, when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you achieve it.” — Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist
One of the most amazing experiences of the Camino is being reminded of the capacity of human generosity. Everyone along the Camino goes out of their way to help you on your pilgrimage. From free meals and accommodation at monasteries; villagers giving directions; fellow walkers helping to patch up each other’s walking injuries, the list goes on.
And I’ve come to realise, that when you are truly impassioned about something, people will go out of their way to assist you. New doors open.
Before I embarked on my author’s journey I would never have envisaged all the help I’d receive with self-publishing. Fellow indies have given me feedback on manuscripts; steered me through KDP setup; shared marketing tactics or more recently given me a friendly kick up the ass. Not to mention SPF’s fantastic community and the regular support I also receive there.
So dive into the indie world, share what you know and inspire along the way.
Lesson #5 The Writer’s Road Is A Long One
“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I took the one less travelled by, and that has made all the difference.” — Robert Frost
The Camino is generally well signposted and it’s rare that hikers get lost along it, although it happened to me one time.
I was on a lesser-known Camino route in Andalusia, researching my second book, and I lost the path in a thicket of bamboo trees during a thunderstorm. With my vision restricted I was going round and round in circles, always coming back to the point I’d entered the wood. Though eventually, I had the sense to backtrack to an earlier stage and shelter under the awning of a shack.
When the rain cleared and with my energy restored I ventured towards the trees again. Almost immediately I spotted an arrow spray painted on a large rock, that I’d missed before, pointing me in a different direction through the thicket.
The lesson: there is nothing wrong with seeking an alternative path if the current one is not producing the desired results. Or perhaps some readers will resonate with that old saying: you can’t see the wood for the trees. The point is, sometimes you need to step back, take a deep breath and reflect on the bigger picture.
My genre is literary fiction. However, it’s always been a struggle to subcategorise and market my books. I’ve sold in the hundreds but I owe it myself to make writing a lasting career and that means trying some new genres. So watch this space, my journey may only just be beginning…
It’s up to you to reflect upon and apply your own personal experiences to your writer’s life. When you give yourself the time to do this, you’ll be amazed at the confidence, and self-reliance you’ll feel, every step along your path of self-publishing.
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