Empty Pages – My First Book (Episode 1)
This is my personal podcast that follows my journey from first draft to published novel and beyond. This episode is about the first book I wrote when I was in high school.
Alright, welcome to the first full length episode. If you listened to the intro episode, you’ll know that I spoke about having written the first draft of my novel. However, that’s not the first book I’ve ever attempted to write. I did successfully write one back when I was in high school, and it was completed over the course of two typing classes, Typing 101 and Typing 102. It was only 200 pages in length, which technically makes it a novella, but for the purposes of this, we’ll call it a book.
When I initially took the first typing class my sophomore year, it was not to write a book. It was to learn how to type. Your grade was determined by the amount of pages you turned in, as well as how accurate your typing was. Now this is going to date me, but I don’t really care. The class was using electric typewriters called IBM Selectric, and they had these books that you looked at and you were supposed to type without looking at the keys. These were basically things like professional correspondence, invoices, and other business related documents, and I really didn’t want to do this very boring work, but I knew that it was gonna be an easy A, which was another reason for taking the classes.
So one day, I came into class and decided I would write a story instead of the usual work we were doing. The entire raison d’etre of the project was simply to get the work done, get my A, and not be bored to death. That was it. There was no intention of turning it into a book, no goal of it being 200 pages. I simply decided to sit down, write the story, turn in the pages, and hope for the best. As it would turn out, doing this would net me A’s in both typing classes, though I have no idea how the teacher was grading. I handed in plenty of pages, enough to net an A if that was the only criteria, but I’ve never been sure of the accuracy part, since what I was typing and handing in didn’t match what was in the textbook.
In my head canon, I imagined this poor teacher felt weighted down by the drudgery of having to grade the same thing over and over, the boredom threatening to bury them beneath the mountain of typed pages that had been submitted, before unearthing the mass of pages that was my story. This would stand out like a beacon in the darkness, which in turn made their day a bit brighter. They would come to welcome grading these typed pages because they knew that somewhere in that stack would be the one thing that gave their dull life some excitement. Maybe they would search for my pages first, or maybe they would save them for last, as a sort of reward for having shifted through the dull monotony of invoices and letters. The reality was likely that they really didn’t care, and they probably found my story and figured it to be whatever, just give the grade and move on.
Anyway, there was nothing in those books for typing up a story, so that was all on me. I do remember that at the end of the first year of this typing class, when I got back the last pages that I had turned in, I checked them to make sure they were in order. I found a note written at the top of one of the pages where the teacher had written that they really enjoyed my story and looked forward to reading the rest of it next year. So I guess they figured out I was going to be taking Typing 102, which was obvious because it as an easy A and I needed to finish my story. As it would turn out, Typing 102 had the exact same grading requirements as Typing 101, only what you had to type was harder versions of what you had to type in Typing 101. So I did for Typing 102 exactly what I did for Typing 101.
At some point while I was writing this story to avoid doing boring work, word got around about what I was doing. People thought it was cool, and I was never hassled for it, or given any grief. Though I didn’t know it at the time, this was because of one of the teacher’s aides in Typing 101, who would become a fellow student in my choir class in my Junior year, was telling her friends about it. For simplicity’s sake for this story, we’ll call her “Teacher’s Aide”, because I can’t for the life of me remember her name. Because she helped the teacher grade papers, she had seen some of it already, though I didn’t know that at the time. She didn’t resume being a teacher’s aide for Typing 102, but when she found out that I was in that class and working on my story, she did ask to read it once it was done. I said, Sure, since she already had seen part of it and wanted to finish it. I finished the story by mid year, which left me writing random stories for the rest of it, because I sure as hell wasn’t going to go back to doing the boring assignments.
Once completed, I took the finished manuscript to Teacher’s Aide. I was very nervous in doing so, because up to this point, the only people who had seen my story was me, my typing teacher, and her for part of it. The latter two were unavoidable, since my grand plan required them to grade these papers. Otherwise, no one else had laid eyes on it. I didn’t show my friends, I didn’t show my siblings, and my parents never saw it either. Basically, I just kept it to myself. I think the only real reason I gave it to her was because she had read the first half and may as well finish it.
Before I continue, I need to impart some important information. Teacher’s Aide had a best friend named Tina, and both of them were Seniors, while I was a Junior. I had a huge crush on Tina, and it’s weird that I can remember her name, but not Teacher’s Aide’s name. But I digress. I bring Tina’s name up because unbeknownst to me, she ends up reading it after Teacher’s Aide gives it to her. I would occasionally check in with Teacher’s Aide to see if she had finished reading it and what she thought of it, and each time, she would tell me she’s still reading it, she’s just been busy with school and work, but she is trying to read it every chance she could get. I would basically say something like “okay, cool, let me know when you’re done”. As time went by though, and there were more excuses, I began to wonder if there was something wrong. Did she lose it? Did she throw it away? Did someone steal it? Was she really taking that long because she was busy or was she buying time? I began to worry, because I had given her the original, and hadn’t thought to make a copy.
I would eventually find out what happened to it when one of the popular jocks walked by me in the hallway one day, and said, “Hey, I really dig your story.” I said something like “thanks”, because I didn’t know what to say, but it made me wonder how he knew about my story. So I go back to Teacher’s Aide and tell her about what happened, and wanted to know how they found out. Teacher’s Aide said “I gave it to Tina, and she much have given it to them”. Outwardly, I was calm, but inside, I was freaking out! My crush had read my novel! I didn’t know how to feel, but I remember feeling both elated and super embarrassed. These days, if a crush read something I wrote, it would be no big deal, but as a hormone addled teen going through puberty, it was the end of the world.
Several more people would end up telling me that they enjoyed my story before I got it back. It made me feel good to see that people were responding well to it. Part of me felt like I maybe I had a future as a writer, though as it would turn out, I did not have a future as a writer, at least not right away, as my life ended up going in a decidedly different direction. It would turn out that not only had a good portion of the seniors read it, but some of my own Junior classmates as well. Because of this, I would end up being included in my senior yearbook in a section about what we would be doing in the future. In this section, I would go on to write a bestselling science fiction novel about our graduating class in the future.
So now that I’ve spoken about my first attempt at a novel, you might be wondering what it was about and whether I’ll ever publish it. I’ll answer the latter first, and the answer is sadly no. The manuscript itself no longer exists. I was told it was lost in a flood, but I believe it was actually tossed in the garbage for reasons I won’t go into. As for the story itself, it’s mostly lost to the mists of time and I only remember a few bits here and there, certainly nothing that I could use to reconstruct it. The basic gist of the story is that the main character was a member of a race of humanoid snake people, who were being subjugated by a race of humanoid dinosaurs, and he was the Chosen One of prophecy who would lead his people to freedom, sort of like a snake headed Moses. He and his bodyguard, who was from a race of humanoid cat people, would set out into the stars and start a rebellion against the evil Dino empire.
“That sounds pretty familiar,” I hear you say.
Well, there’s an adage for writers that says “write what you know”, and what you know as a kid is very small. Even if you’re involved in things like debate, or you’re really into history or whatever, a lot of the things you know and understand are very limited, even as a teenager. That’s not to say that there hasn’t been teenage writers who saw some success. It’s just not that common, at least back then. I will tell you that at that point, what I knew was things like Star Wars, Robotech, and the Terminator, and they all made it into that story in some fashion. They weren’t blatant rip offs, like the main character flying an X-Wing or TIE fighter. The story was basically an amalgamation of Star Wars and the Old Testament story of Moses. But a lot of the stuff in it would most definitely have been a copyright lawyer’s lottery ticket if it had been published as it was.
To give you an example, the anime series Robotech featured something called a Cyclone, which could switch between being a motorcycle and being a set of armor that you can wear. My story didn’t have Cyclones in them by name and vehicle type, but there was definitely a form of armor that could turn into a hoverbike or something like that. There was also a type of Terminator. It wasn’t a metal robot covered in flesh that traveled back in time to kill. It was completely organic, but it functioned very much like the Terminator from the movie does, though it was called something completely different.
At that time, I was heavily into reading Fangoria and Starlog magazines. Fangoria was a magazine that centered around horror films, while Starlog centered around science fiction, and both magazines would often have behind the scenes articles and ads for related things you could buy. In Fangoria, there was an ad for purchasing horror themed Don Post masks, like zombies, cyclops, and the like. One of those masks was for a fanged Cobra head named Sargoth. This mask became the basis of the main character in both look and name. And to top it off, the main villain, basically a Darth Vader/Emperor Palpatine hybrid, was a humanoid dinosaur that looked like a Tyrannosaurus Rex with the oh so original name of Lord Tyrranus, because I needed an evil villain and I loved dinosaurs. It was really just incorporating things that I thought were cool at the time. I’m not even sure where the cat people thing came from, but given that time in my life, I probably based it on Thundercats or something. All I know is that if I had that story right now, it would take an amazing amount of rewriting to remove all the copyright infringement.
So that’s the story of my first attempt at writing a book. If you can learn anything from this, aside from staying away from copyright infringement, then it would simply be this: Don’t be afraid to start somewhere. Your first attempts may not be anything that you can or will publish, but it’s definitely a first step. Also, be open to getting inspiration from the weirdest and most unlikely places. You’ll never know when that bit of inspiration turns into the next Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter series. I hope you found this entertaining, and maybe inspiring.
Stay classy, and keep writing those stories!
If you’re a return listener, welcome back, if this is your first time, welcome! I hope you find the information in these episodes to be useful. Also, if you are enjoying these, please leave a review and share with others.
This is episode 6, where I talk about my writing set up. just a quick disclaimer, I am not getting paid to plug any of the products that get mentioned, these are just the products I personally have discovered to work the best for me. If you find something that works better for you, rock on! Live your best life! So in case you are wondering what a writing set up is, it’s basically the workspace and tools you utilize to write your stories. This can range from something as simple as, say, a notebook and pen at the kitchen table, to an elaborate library complete with cozy fireplace and picture window looking out on some idyllic scenery while banging your story out on an iPad. Whatever set up you decide on, the most important factor, at least in my opinion, is whatever is going to set you up for success and not get in the way of your creativity.
For example, I don’t typically use a notepad and pen or pencil, simply because I can’t write as fast as I think. I used to think that all good writers wrote their stories by hand and only once it was done, did they type them out. I don’t know if that is actually true. It could be, back in the day, it was probably easier and cheaper than messing up on a typewriter and having to start the page from scratch. All I know is that my hand would end up cramping up while trying to keep up with what my brain was telling me. To get a good visual for what I mean, imagine that I’m writing Star Wars: A New Hope. My hand would be writing the cantina scene with the aliens, but my brain would already be at the part where Luke Skywalker and Han Solo were rescuing Princess Leia from the detention level on the Death Star. It was extremely frustrating because it would often times derail what I was writing and my pages would often become a mess of hand writing that had become almost illegible and several things scratched out. I eventually switched to a system where I would write until I couldn’t keep up, then grab a new piece of paper and begin writing where my brain was, but that just ended up resulting in a mess that I couldn’t figure out how to put together. This would eventually become moot when I stopped writing for several years.
Fast forward to when I started getting serious about writing again. I had no problem getting ideas, and I would jot these ideas down on any piece of paper I could find, and these I would carry around in my pocket. It got so bad that at one point, I found myself with my wallet in one pocket, and a stack of papers just as thick as that wallet in another. During this time, I had resumed trying to write by hand only to run into the same situation as before. The final straw came when I left this stack of papers home one day, only to come back to find out that my ex-wife had thrown them away, because in her words, “it was garbage and I didn’t need it”. Thankfully she had just thrown it away and I was able to retrieve it. This event would lead me to think of a way to solve this so that it didn’t happen again.
Now before I get into my set up, I will say that I am not claiming that my way is in any way original. I’m sure that there are numerous writers out there that either have the exact same set up, or something similar. I will also say that I don’t think my way is the right way or the only way, it’s just one way. What I want for you is to think about your own situation and figure out a solution that works best for you. Now then, on to my set up.
My basic set up consists of using the app Evernote for keeping my ideas in one handy place, a laptop that I can type on that allows me to type as fast as my brain goes, and Scrivener, a word processing app that was built from the ground up with writer’s in mind.
The first step was to figure out some way of being able to keep my notes in one place, that couldn’t get lost, and couldn’t get thrown away. I’m horrible at remembering some things, so if I had not been able to get my stack of notes back, I would have lost so many ideas. As well, having a stack of papers is not necessarily a good idea, because if my ex hadn’t thrown them away, it’s entirely possible that I might lose some simply taking the stack out of my pocket. Then there is the wear and tear itself as paper is folded, unfolded, folded again, etc. At this point in time, I was used to carrying a smartphone, and I used apps for several other things in my life. It was here that I turned to. The thinking was that my phone was not likely to be lost, stolen, or thrown away, and so keeping notes there would be a safe bet. After doing some research and downloading and playing with several different apps, I settled on Evernote.
Evernote allows me to access my notes from my phone, as well as one more device (under the free version). This I found to be excellent, because it turned out that Evernote had a desktop version that was compatible with Windows that I could link together (they also have it for Mac as well, though I don’t use any Apple products aside from an iPad and the iPod Classic). This meant that I could be out and about, get an idea and put it in Evernote, or work on an outline and even write, and I would be able to access it on my laptop when I got home. The free version also has limited amount of storage, but since everything I’m storing is text, I have never even come near the limit. You can store more than just text, including pdfs and pictures, but I’ve just never needed to use this feature.
The next piece is the laptop. I don’t really think I have to go too far into this, because it’s a laptop, enough said. The most I’ve ever paid for a laptop has been a little over $500, but that’s because when I get a new laptop, it needs to be good enough to last for at least four or five years before I need to upgrade. If you figure that I spend $500 and it lasts for five years, the math works out to $100 per year, and that’s a good return on investment in my opinion. Now you don’t need to spend that amount. You can find deals for pretty decent computers for less if you’re patient, or buy around holiday sales. I personally find that this amount works for me, and I’m usually able to get pretty good mileage with laptops in this range.
That said, with the laptop, I’m able to keep up with what was is in my brain when I’m writing. I used to be a huge PC gamer, and as such, I used to have a really good gaming PC that I would also try to use to write. I say try because, unfortunately, I had the bad habit of deciding to take a 30 minute break to play a game only to find that a few hours had gone by and I had wasted time that could have been spent writing. It was this bad habit that made me decide to get a laptop that couldn’t play the kind of games I was into at the time. This and I wanted to be able to go anywhere and write. At one point I had the “romantic” notion of sitting in a coffee shop writing the Great American Novel while sipping on a latte or whatever it is that hipster writers drink. The problem was that I had, and have, no desire to write the Great American Novel, I’m a basic coffee and creamer kind of guy, and coffee shops suck for getting any kind of writing done.
Finally, the software that I would use to write my stories. To be honest, I gave so little thought to this very crucial piece. I had already been using Microsoft Word for several years for everything from my resume to business reports, among other things. Since it worked so well for everything else, I figured it would work well for writing. At its most basic, Word will get the job done. For a short story, I found no problems with using it, although aside from my novel in high school, and the first draft I completed last year in December, I never actually finished anything I started to write, and neither of those were done in Word. Before I continue, I don’t want to bad mouth Word. Some of you use it and enjoy it, and it works for you, and that’s great. If it does, rock on! It’s absolutely good at what it does. It just turned out not to work for me, although I wouldn’t find that out until I got the idea for my werewolf novel.
Most of my ideas come in short bites, just enough to know what the basic premise is and not much else. Not the werewolf novel. When the proverbial dam burst on that idea, it was a flood of ideas. As a comparison, think of most of my story ideas as post it notes, while the werewolf stuff is more like the Lord of the Rings. I quickly found that Word was not up to the task of keeping this stuff organized, and I would soon find myself with several Word documents open as I bounced back and forth between the different documents trying to keep these ideas organized. It quickly got out of hand and frustrating, not to mention that having several Word documents open would begin causing my laptop to become sluggish.
So what was I to do? For a good two or three months I struggled with using Word until I got so frustrated, I went to Google and typed “software for writers”, or something similar, into the search. I don’t remember what all came up in the results, but Scrivener was among the top results, if not the top result. I saw that it had a 30 day free trial, and I downloaded it. It was a little overwhelming at first, but after playing with it for awhile, I started to see that it was perfect for me. I’m not going to turn this into a commercial for this product, if you want to know more about it, you can go to their website at literatureandlatte.com. However, here’s what I found to be the highlights:
- you could keep all the notes and writing in one file, that you could access from a tool bar on the side, so no more multiple versions of the program needing to be opened
- it had a tracker that allows you to set project goals and daily goals, so you could theoretically set your project goal to be at least 80 thousand words, and/or your daily goal to 2500 words (which is my own personal daily goal), and it would help you keep track
- when it came time to export your writing, you could export it in any format, including .doc and .docx (which is Word’s default extensions, depending on version), PDF, and even various ebook formats.
- and probably one my favorite features, you can go full screen and set it to be as opaque as you want, so the background can be made as light or dark as you want it, which helps to block out the annoying pop ups that Windows loves doing, so that it cuts down on distractions
- and my absolute favorite feature, the full screen is set up to mimic a page in a typewriter, meaning that when you start writing, you will of course start at the top of the page, but once it reaches the middle, it stays there, meaning your head is looking straight ahead, instead of bent downward as it would be in Word because new lines form at the bottom of the screen
If you’ve used any kind of word processing program for any length of time, you know how sore your neck gets looking down all the time. This was a huge game changer for me.
The remainder of my set up is that I have a room that I converted into an office, so I have a place to work, but I can also take my laptop and go the the library, or work in the park, and yes, even a coffee shop if I want to deal with that hassle. The only other thing I have in my set up is my iPod Classic, as I listen to music when I write.
So now that I have gone over my set up, how exactly does this help me be more productive with my writing? Evernote allows me to jot down my ideas, and work on my projects without needing to carry around my laptop. When I’m ready to sit down to write, I can simply open Evernote on my laptop and retrieve whatever work I did on it. The laptop allows me to type as fast as my brain spits out the story. And Scrivener allows me to keep everything in one place so that I only have that and Evernote open so that I’m not fighting with my computer being so slow. If I’m in the middle of writing and I forgot a detail, I can click on my notes, then jump right back to where I left off. It also allows me to set up my book so that I can write in chapters, or even in character points of view. If I decided that one chapter should be placed ahead of another chapter, I can just drag and drop it where I want it, without having to rewrite it. My set up works with me, not against me, and because of this, my creativity can flow unimpeded. And the music? Well, that helps with blocking out distracting sounds, and even help with setting the mood for whatever scene I’m currently writing. In a nutshell, the tools serve the muse, they do not interfere with it.
When figuring your set up, make sure that you are striving to create a system that feeds your creativity, or at the very least, doesn’t impede it. I hope this inside look helps you if you’ve been struggling. If you already have a set up that works for you, please feel free to reach out to me on my Twitter account, or Instagram account, and let me know. Who knows, your set up may help out a fellow writer to reach creative nirvana. Stay classy, and keep writing those stories!
This has been another episode of Empty Pages. If you enjoyed what you heard and want more of it, you can follow me at Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, or wherever you get your podcasts from. Please leave me a review, as that really helps me out, and if you do, you might find your review featured in a future episode. You can find me at ianmactire.com, as well as on Twitter and Instagram as @ianmactire. Until next time, I’m Ian, and this is Empty Pages. Stay classy and write those stories!
© Copyright 2021 Ian MacTire, All Rights Reserved, except where otherwise noted.