Addled

A History of Addled: from idea to publication

I never wanted to be a writer. I didn’t fantasise about seeing my words in print or imagine adoring fans hanging on my every word. I believed I was an inarticulate musician and sound engineer. Writing anything would simply confirm my deepest fears: that I was stupid. So it was quite a surprise to find myself, in my early 30s, with a head full of stories all demanding attention and expression.

My first writing experiments were screenplays. I decided, in my ignorance, that writing scripts would be easier than writing novels: there are less words, and so I thought, less work. Yes, I know… did I mention I was stupid?

Anyway, as well as learning how to write, I was going through an awakening and struggling to understand what was happening to me. I searched for stories to help me find a path through the confusion, but nobody seemed to be telling it like it was, at least, not for me. Many of the spiritual stories I found were ultra positive. It was almost like the dark side didn’t exist. But I knew it did because I was having daily fire-fights with my demons.

I realised, with some trepidation, that I would have to write this story myself. And so Addled began to birth itself in my mind. I thought about it for several years before I finally gave in and started to wrangle it into shape.

It was 2010 and I was working full-time, so finding space to think and time to write was challenging, as I’m sure many of you will understand. The job was in the public sector and pressure on resources meant the staff were given the option to reduce their hours to save the council money. I jumped at the chance and shaved off an hour each day. This meant I could get home an hour early and write. Bliss!

Before I started on the book, I wrote an outline. This was just a ‘notes’ version of the novel: a basic breakdown of what happened in each scene, with as much or as little detail as I needed. I simply wrote down everything I had in my head. Not all of it made it into the finished draft, and some of it changed as I wrote. The outline gave me a basic structure for the story and the main plot points so I didn’t get lost and wander off topic.

It took seven months to write the first draft. I chipped away at it, paragraph by paragraph, with occasional splurges of writing when I could take a week off. I set myself a deadline I couldn’t argue with: my 40th birthday. I wanted to feel like I’d accomplished something with my life when I hit the big 4-0, and completing a novel seemed like a good bet. I finished the book two days early.

The first draft was written in the third person, but it didn’t quite work. It jumped between characters and felt disjointed and messy as a result. The story centres around the main character: Zoe Popper, and the sections that worked were the ones written from her perspective. It was obvious I should’ve written the book in the first person. I chose third person because I knew I’d be taking Zoe into some pretty dark places and was worried it might be too much for the reader if the story was in the first person. But the result was disappointing.

Basically, it sucked.

I needed to rethink my approach. The writing felt like I was holding something back, like I was scared to tell the truth. That’s no way to write a novel, or anything else for that matter. So I decided to stop worrying about what others would think and go for it.

The second draft was a straight rewrite from third into first person, with a few tweaks to the story structure to accommodate the new perspective. I added some subplots to bring some of the other characters to life, and changed the way the plot worked for the bits I couldn’t show now I was restricted to first person. Instead of an outline, for this rewrite I created a much simpler document: a plot breakdown. Each scene is described in headlines of the main action points. For a screenplay it would be called a beat sheet, as it shows all the main story beats.

Addled Plot Breakdown NotesInevitably, even this basic rendering of the story changed as I rewrote. My crisp and clear plot breakdown ended up covered in scribbles, notes and arrows, asterisks and afterthoughts. Still, I made it to the end. This draft flowed and felt more coherent.

Finally, I had a book.

Which isn’t to say it was perfect. Far from it. I already knew which bits still sucked, without even looking at them. It’s the bits that don’t suck that are often a wonderful surprise.

While all this was going on, life had taken some dramatic and unpleasant turns, and I was battling an almighty Shadow Attack: a time when your darkest and deepest fears rise up from within and start to tear your life to pieces. Literally everything that could have gone wrong, went wrong. You can read the sorry saga in Shadow Attack: Instant Karma & a Wake-up Call.

In a nutshell, my health collapsed due to repeated death threats from a psychotic neighbour, and then I was made redundant and thrown onto the dole. Although this was a pain financially, it was fantastic for my writing, and my health. Suddenly I had all the time I needed to heal, and finish the book.

I continued to rewrite Addled through all the ups and downs of job hunting, interviews, rejections, and the fortnightly humiliation of attending the job centre. It became clear I wasn’t going to get another job, so I fell back on my savings and registered as self-employed in 2013. I wasn’t earning any money from writing at that point, but with commitment and hard work, that would change over time.

Meanwhile, I sent Addled for feedback and worked through the critiques to produce a finished draft. The book was finally ready. I sent it to a succession of agents, after carefully researching their lists and putting together well-crafted submissions, and achieved nothing. Many of them simply ignored me. Many sent standard rejections. A handful took the time to say encouraging things, but the general consensus was:

It’s not commercial enough. In a competitive market, Addled would sink without trace.

This is always tough to hear, especially when you’ve spent years working on a book. Frankly, I’m amazed Addled exists at all, considering what I went through in the process of writing it. The book stands as a testament to my dedication and sheer single-minded stubbornness to get it finished. I had to prove to myself I could do it, even if nobody else noticed or cared. But, and this is a big but and even harder to hear than the above…

Just because you’ve worked hard on a book and poured your heart and soul into it and suffered through the writing of it, doesn’t mean that work should be rewarded. The fact that you’ve done the work basically doesn’t mean shit – to other people.

It means the world to you, and that’s what counts.

So what to do? Should I continue to pursue traditional publishing or do it myself? If traditional publishers would have a hard time selling Addled, would I fare any better?

I had to look at my situation dispassionately to decide the fate of my first book.

Addled is a niche book aimed at a tiny readership of people who have experienced or are experiencing a spiritual emergency. Anyone can see that’s not an easy sell. Perhaps I should put the book in a drawer and forget about it, put everything I learned in the process into my next book. But that felt like I would be abandoning the book. I wanted to share this story because I knew there were others out there who might enjoy reading it, even if they were few.

So I decided to self-publish Addled and make it available for those who are interested in such things as spiritual emergency and awakening, and the difficulty of embarking on a spiritual path when you’re an atheist and don’t believe in anything.

The kindle version of the book came out in January 2014, and last month I launched the paperback version and started a blog for the book.

It’s been an interesting few years and I’ve learned a lot about writing and publishing, but mainly about myself and what I’m capable of. Now, if I’m having an off day, I can look back to when I was happily writing and the psycho-next-door interrupted me mid-sentence to shout abuse and threaten to “rip my skull apart”. I stopped writing to call the police and deal with the situation, and an hour later I was back at the desk.

Writing.

I simply picked up where I left off.

I thought: Am I going to let this **** stop me doing what I want to do? Am I going to spend the rest of the day freaking out and feeling sorry for myself? Or am I going to write?

So now I have no excuses.

I can write, and I can finish a book.

In fact, since then, I’ve finished my second book. Well, ‘finished’ may not be strictly accurate, but that’s another story for another time…

(Oh, and the psycho making threats made it into the story, but to find out how you’ll have to buy the book!)

Visit the Addled blog where you can read free chapters and loads of extra stuff connected with the story and theme of the book.

Buy the book: available in paperback and on KindleAddled new cover

Amazon UK / Amazon US / Others

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15 thoughts on “A History of Addled: from idea to publication

  1. Hi Jessica,

    I’ve finished a first draft of a spiritually-themed novel. I think it needs some edits, but the end result aside the best part has been learning what is involved with actually completing a project of this scale… I’ve enjoyed reading the first chapter of your novel and have purchased a copy to explore in the days ahead. As the author of a (work-in-progress) spiritually-themed novel, it is my hope that this is a genre that gains some traction in the years ahead! I can’t imagine rewriting it entirely though! Wow…

    Peace
    Michael

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I am going to respond to this in a sort of outlined form.

    1) Wait, wait, wait. How do you add subplots in a first-person rewrite? The reason people write in the third person is so you CAN use subplots without calling them backstories or flashbacks. Otherwise, you are talking about someone from your simple personal perspective, regarding something the character did at another time. The disadvantage of first-person is that no secondary character’s actions can branch off the first person’s. You get what I am saying?
    2) I get that “fear to tell the truth” part. And, that’s why I have to make a choice when I write. I can write about “stuff I do not know” and go against what is advised generally. I can avoid the topics too close to the heart (until when and where I feel that comfortable exposing that much). Or, I can research til my brain frays and I feel like I am writing a term paper for school instead of an enjoyable creation from my core.
    3) I like the outline plan. That should work…if you know how the whole story will go, step by step. Instead, I’ve tried writing a few novels from start to finish, only knowing the start and a bit of the finish…and that has been like shoveling too much snow at one time.
    4) You might have to sit down with me and talk more about this dark period and psychotic neighbor business. No single or series of blog posts may cover it.
    5) The agent-seeking process sounds horrible! I hate the thought of it. I don’t want to face it! But, I fear it may be inevitable unless we self-publish. That process could be a book in itself. It sounds like a fighter ship dodging death in some space age dog fight.
    6) When I hear “not commercial,” I think someone has a set of rules for getting a “bestseller stamp” and nothing more. It’s like some right of passage into a business of a select group. You didn’t rub your nose the right way. You’re too old to start. Something. It’s exclusive. I am sure your book is no better or worse than half that get the “stamp.” I can go through reading torture and find my share of lousy “bestsellers” if I try.
    7) You are fortunate to have paper pages, I think, to edit and multiply editions/versions for people. I have been relying on digital copies which in some ways are easier to edit…and not so easy in others. My family refuses to read my digital copies, though, which does not help with input close to home.
    8) If you ever want a writing buddy, talk to me.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for your comments, writingbolt. You can introduce subplots into a first person narrative so long as the characters involved interact with the protagonist. I did it mainly to give the other characters a bit of depth and to make the world of the story larger. One of the problems with first person is you’re stuck inside one person’s perspective, so I used the subplots to give a sense that the other characters had lives beyond the main story too.

      Yeah, I can’t write without an outline either. It just ends up a big mess.

      “Not commercial enough” may well be a euphemism. I suspect a blog post is needed to dig into that…

      Finally, I’m not sure getting your family to read your pages is such a good idea anyway. Family and friends are rarely objective. They know you too well and may be too worried about not hurting your feelings! Better to let a professional look at your ms, that way at least you know they know what they’re talking about. Unless your family are all published writers, of course! Having said that, my mum is an excellent proofreader and can spot a typo at twenty paces. She was a teacher, so maybe that’s why.

      Like

      1. But, you cannot write subplots in first person without them being backstories, the way you describe them. The depth of those other characters would be created outside the present timeline. Unless, you work the other characters’ development into the plot of the protagonist. Sort of like Charlie Brown coming into contact with everyone else in town.

        So, I need to work on this outline angle…

        Euphemism is not a word I know well.

        Oh, you don’t know my family too well. 🙂 They can be quite objective if not argumentative. Sure, they’ve been ideally supportive in the past. But, I think that time has passed.

        I think if you insist upon honesty, you should get it, regardless if it’s friend or family. And, if you sit with the person to buffer the “hurt feelings,” there should be little to no concern for such.

        My family can just be really fickle at times. And, while I am not a fan of digital books/reading, it seems easier for me to make CD copies than print 600 pages multiple times.

        I don’t think so. If I trust a professional, they had better be darn close to being a friend. I’ve been more upset by “professionals” and “experts” most of my life thus far. After I heard Salinger’s publishing stories, I didn’t feel any better.

        Look at my “ms?”

        Anyway, I gotta ask something. I haven’t looked, but did you re-post this? And, have I said these things before? Because I seriously feel as if we have.

        I challenge your mum to proofreading. I feel rather keen/adept at finding errors.

        Like

        1. I don’t see the problem with backstories – you don’t have to use flashback to show them. There are consequences from the past that will be present in the timeline of the story which you can use to show more details of the character’s lives. Depth can then be created in the interaction between characters, through dialogue and actions, and their consequences.

          ‘Euphemism’ – look it up.

          ‘ms’ means manuscript. Standard abbreviation in publishing.

          I haven’t reblogged this. Parts of it are filleted from something I wrote years ago on my old blog. So I think you must be confusing me with someone else…

          Like

        2. I guess I just see the greater value of subplots in third person. I think in “A Tale of Two Cities,” there were both subplots in the present and in backstory form. I remember some key tidbits my high school teacher spoke of, regarding the couple that spilled wine in the street like blood as they plotted and explanations of why certain characters were imprisoned. Some events took place while other characters were doing other things. And, some events happened in the past to explain why characters took certain actions.

          I will have to look up euphemism…and forget the definition a week later. 😛

          Oh, well, pardon me. I guess I am ill-advised in publishing abbreviations, too.

          I just feel strongly about you posting this earlier and me saying the same things. No, it has to be you, because the title of the book rings a bell, too. I also remember you mentioning atheism. Though, I don’t remember the spiritual crisis so well. That is interesting and makes me think of the new Star Wars film.

          Like

        3. Well, that is weird. But, it’s been happening often, lately. I swear we’ve had this discussion… Otherwise, why am I following your blog? I was sure this started something.

          Like

  3. You are an inspiration Jessica! and you should be very proud of your work. I am in the last stages of self-publishing and you are right, it is a long and patient journey! I love your blog page for your book, it looks great and I am yet to adventure into that yet, but I know I need to. I look forward to reading your book and thankyou for sharing your tips and experiences with us.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Karen. Writing the book is one journey and then publishing it is another. Both are like climbing an endless mountain! Good luck with your book. I look forward to hearing more about it when it’s ready to enter the world.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Thank you for sharing the process, Jessica. The amount of dedication despite the circumstances is amazing. That means to birth this book was really a core need of you. I haven’t read it yet, but I have put it on my todo list for later when I have more time.
    I think it is very valuable to share one’s path. I am so grateful for everyone who has shared real life stories and insights. That taught me so much more than just theoretical teachings.
    Thank you for sharing your path.
    Karin

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Karin. I think writing the book kept me sane! It was something to focus on that was positive and creative, and it stopped me getting dragged under by all the other crazy stuff going on. I get a lot of inspiration from others’ stories too. It helps me remember I’m not alone.

      Liked by 2 people

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