We have an author among our midst too. When Jesse Bangs joined X-Team last September, he had already self-published 7 novels (under the pen name J.S. Bangs). He's working on his 8th right now.
Writing novels is a dream for many people, so I interviewed Jesse and asked about his process, his motivation, and what tips he had for budding fiction writers.
What got you into writing fiction?
It was probably inevitable. I have been writing stories since I was a child, and my daydreaming imagination always tended towards imagined worlds, histories, characters, and what we call "worldbuilding."
Like a lot of people, I mentally partitioned this off from "serious" writing for a long time, until one day in my early 20s I woke up and realized that the only thing preventing me from writing a novel was the need to actually sit down and do it. And so I did.
Inspiring! How do you motivate yourself to see these big projects through to the end?
Man, it's hard. I'm not gonna pretend that it's not hard. It helps to have a clear vision of what you're trying to accomplish, as well as a plan for how you're going to get there. Set up a schedule, so that you know when you're going to write and have a goal for each day. Also, you should ignore all of the advice that people give you which turns out not to work for you.
Absolutely. This being said, how do you come up with the idea for a novel and what's your writing process like?
Idea creation is mostly a passive process. I come across things - history, technology, video games, other works of fiction - and they burrow into my head and incorporate themselves into a story somehow. I'm not sure that I can explain it beyond that. If you want a long answer, you should read Ursula K. LeGuin's lovely and hilarious essay "Where Do You Get Your Ideas From?" (click for PDF download)
My writing process, on the other hand, is pretty structured. I once tried to write as a pantser - meaning someone who makes up the story as they go along - because I knew that some famous writers did it that way, most notably Stephen King. But that process absolutely fails for me. I tried it once, and about 1/3 of the way through I had to give up, because I would sit down and try to write, but I just wound up staring at the page without the foggiest idea of where to go next.
Instead, I have to start by writing an outline, and a very detailed outline at that. My current project began with an outline of about 7,000 words, or almost 10% of the projected final length. After that, I take the outlined chapters one at a time and write them.
And how do you combine your writing with your job as a full-time programmer?
I have to put it in my schedule. I have about 90 minutes slotted for writing each morning, but to be completely honest, I still miss my target pretty often. The most important thing is not to give up. Regardless of how long it takes, I'm determined to actually see this novel to its completion.
That's a great attitude. How has X-Team's Unleash+ budget helped you with your writing?
Well, I've bought a bunch of books to read. Reading widely is a huge boon to any writer.
Let's switch gears. You write English-language novels, but you live in a small village in Romania. That'll surprise many people. How did you end up living in Romania?
Well, the first step was to visit Romania twenty years ago, and then roughly five years after that, on my fourth trip to the country, get married to a native. My wife and I lived in the US for about ten years, where our two children were born, then we moved to Romania about five years ago.
Did you decide to self-publish because you live in Romania? Or was there another reason?
I decided to self-publish because I looked at the trade-offs involved with trad vs. indie publishing and decided that indie publishing was better.
In traditional publishing, a lot of things are taken care of for you, most notably editing, cover design, and marketing. You also spend little or no money of your own.
On the other hand, you never have any guarantee that any book of yours is actually going to be published - basically everything you write comes with the huge caveat of "probably no one will ever read this" (unless you're already an established author with a contract).
If you choose to go with indie publishing, you are are taking up all of those things on your own, and you become your own quality control. You can be guaranteed that no one is going to reject your book. You will at least be given a chance in the open market, without having to negotiate several layers of gatekeepers.
What do you think are the most important points to keep in mind when you want to self-publish your books?
That's almost too big of a question to handle in a short article! The first thing to keep in mind is know what your goals are, and the second one is to know your genre.
Readers of self-published books tend to be the most voracious genre readers, and they typically know what they like. Therefore, the self-publishing market rewards people who write to their audience's expectations. This is sometimes disparaged as "formulaic", but that way of looking at it is unnecessarily negative.
It's not that readers of self-published books don't like originality and creativity, but they typically want those things in the context of well-established conventions. Therefore, successful writing in that market is a matter of knowing which genre tropes you can violate, and which you can't. Put another way, it's a matter of knowing how to give your readers surprises that they'll like.
And of course, readers still prefer quality, so maybe the most important thing is just to write well.
Finally, what's your single biggest piece of advice for budding fiction writers?
Butt in chair and write.
Excellent advice. Best of luck with your future novels!