How I Finally Started Writing My Novel
And Turned Into a Patron of the Arts in the Process
People have said it for years. “Why don’t you write something?”
“You’re a pretty good writer, you should write something.”
“Why don’t you write for a living?”
That’s just it. I write all the time. I can’t stop myself. But I’m an unmedicated ADHD person, and I start a chapter or two, or some fragment of something that might be a good story someday, and then I lose interest. I’m not sure how to continue. Where should the story go next? I am not sure if it’s even any good.
So I had an idea one night, a story about a dragon, told from an angle that a story about a dragon has probably never been told before: A story about a dragon whose first test before he can live among his people is to first live as a human.
Over two or three days I wrote the chapter for fun, adding little bits to it, but leaving it mostly as a rough draft, and unrevised. Then it sat in my Google Docs for a few months.
One day I reread it, and I suddenly had an idea for a devilish experiment.
What if I just posted that first chapter that had been sitting around for a few months, and turned it into a blog? Where could that go?
What if I challenged myself to focus my writing on a single project, and open up a window to the writing process to the world? Perhaps it wouldn’t always be gold, but I think I have a decent idea of what it takes to tell a good story, and I know what interests me at any rate. Maybe other people will like it, too, I thought.
That was the idea. That’s how it all started.
The idea festered for awhile. It seemed like a good one, but the ol’ ADHD cropped up and the idea just never seemed to go anywhere. I had lots of work to do (I’m a web developer) and late at night there was always something else that seemed more important.
You know, like cat videos.
Then my personal domain name warning came in, telling me that it was about to expire. I wasn’t happy with my registrar, so I decided to move my services to NameCheap. I filled out a domain name transfer.
While I was there, I’m not sure what possessed me to search for the domain name of the main character of my dragon story, Iorneste. It didn’t really surprise me that no one had taken the name yet, so I bought it. For $8 a year, it seemed like a low-risk investment.
So I had the domain name, but it felt like I should just do something with it. One of the advantages of being a web developer is that I’m immersed in the industry. I despise WordPress, but I’d heard about Ghost blog and how DigitalOcean would let you set up a server for $5 a month. Pay as you go, cancel anytime…what could it hurt?
So within 5 minutes, I had a Ghost blog, and another 5 minutes later I had my domain name pointed at it. Then I had to decide what theme I was going to use. I ended up picking Srele’que as a theme, which cost me another $16 or so. I really liked how it didn’t look like a blog, and had a carousel for scrolling through images.
Then once I did that, and getting a sense for how visual the theme really was, I realized I needed images to go with the chapters I’d post.
I went to Shutterstock and purchased a couple pieces of stock art, and threw them up on the site. It was okay, I thought, but I wasn’t really satisfied. Here was some art that anyone could download. I could run into that art anywhere.
It wasn’t unique. It wasn’t mine. It wasn’t Iorneste.
Thus began my obsession with original art to fill out the blog with, and the idea as it exists today took full form:
Not only would I release a new chapter each week, I’d release a new original piece of art along with the chapter each week.
I created a collection of rules and posted them on the site, both to keep myself honest, and to let everyone know my intentions in writing it.
Since this was a first draft in progress, and was just me coming up with ideas as fast as I could, as best as I could with no spell-checker and no idea at all where the story was headed, it seemed like I shouldn’t be spending vast sums of money hiring professional illustrators for what could end up being twenty or thirty individual pieces of art someday, assuming that this thing ended up being twenty or thirty chapters long.
So I went to the source, the great democratizer for artists everywhere: DeviantArt.
It started out with a forum post, trying to pitch the idea to the community. “Hey”, I basically said to them, “I’ve got this cool idea. Wanna be a part of it? For free?”
The first person to contribute to the story of Iorneste with some original art was a deviant (who I also believe is currently an art student) known as PuNK-A-CaT (“Yorn and Mourne” pictured above). When he finished the work and I uploaded it to the site, I was hooked. It made the site look good, it made my chapter look good, but it was more than that:
It was a rush. Here were characters that I’d dreamed up one night, and he was bringing it to life.
It wasn’t enough. I needed more. I needed to get a lot more artists, making a lot more art, and I needed it on a weekly basis in order to keep the promise I made on the site to release a new chapter each week.
I discovered, to my chagrin, that artists really don’t like to work for free, and despite a few half-hearted promises, no one was motivated to make art on any kind of timeline for an unproven project that might end up going nowhere.
So I made another forum post, this time promising to pay in DeviantArt points. Unsurprisingly, I got a lot more interest this time, with the promise of compensation.
Soon after I started paying directly in PayPal for commissions. The bills began to rack up. This past month, I paid over $200 commissioning art for the site.
I replaced the stock art cover image with one from Maly-Traktorek. I then received a quick commission to replace the stock art on Chapter One.
I started browsing the DeviantArt site, looking through artists I liked, checking out their commission rates, and contacting them directly. Art started coming in. I was giving them character references, writing illustration guidelines, communicating with them directly via ‘Notes’ and reviewing their designs, adding my own feedback, and always providing them enthusiastic compliments on their work.
It wasn’t a lie. I am enthusiastic about it, and every new piece that’s completed makes it feel that much more real, that much more like a phenomenon. Over and over again, I’m amazed at what these young artists are able to produce with just a few simple words of direction from me, and their own skills and imagination.
Writing, as it turned out, was the easy part. I’d sit down to write a chapter, excited to attach each new piece of art to my work, eager to finish it so that I could have a new collection for the gallery. My readers could not only look forward to a new chapter, but a new original piece of art — another deviant’s interpretation on the characters in the story.
Their art began to inform mine. I don’t go crazy with descriptions in my story, because I want the reader to visualize the characters themselves, and because I think too much lingering on what someone is wearing can slow down the flow of the story, but so much openness also meant a lot of room for artistic interpretation. The art that was produced began to give me ideas. Sometimes I’d tell the artist to draw something that wasn’t even in the story yet, leaving me to figure out how I’d ever integrate that into the story.
Despite spending hundreds of dollars at this point, it doesn’t feel like a waste. I’m providing income to up and coming artists who deserve it, supporting their dreams while they are also supporting mine. In the midst of it I’ve tricked myself into writing seven chapters (and counting) of an original story that continues to evolve and grow every week.
I’ve started marketing myself on Twitter, on Facebook, and even set up a Patreon account for myself (although few have yet taken the bait) to attempt to somewhat defray the costs of commissioning artists.
I sit down late at night, after the kids are in bed and my work is done for the day, and I just write. Sometimes I get 500 words, sometimes I get 5000 in a sitting and the chapter is done so early that I feel like I need to wait a few days before releasing it. Other times (like when I had to do some research on ships) I’m racing to meet the seven-day deadline.
It’s the most writing I’ve ever done on a single project, and it feels really, really good. People are starting to talk about it, other artists are getting excited to see their work attached to it, and I can’t help but feel like I’m on the cusp of something really cool, something really special. I’m also getting feedback on my work, real-time, and the accountability of people expecting me to release a chapter, coupled with that feedback, has provided all the fuel for my artistic fire that I needed.
The best part? I’m giving the whole thing away for free, as a labor of love. Anyone can read it for free, there is no pay wall, no site registration, and though the finished work might have a cost attached to it, the site itself, and the original first draft, will always be there.
Even after the whole online manuscript is written, after I’ve taken the completed first draft and gone through the process of revision, of editing, and publishing, the site will still exist. A monument to my ambitious project, a showcase of artistry, and something I can forever be proud of.
If you haven’t read it yet, I invite you to check out the story at http://www.iorneste.com. It’s a bit rough in places, but I’m not putting too much pressure on myself to get it perfect the first time. Hemingway famously said, “The first draft of anything is shit,” and he may have been right, but I feel like it’s still an enjoyable read so far, even in its raw state.
If nothing else, I’m documenting the writing process for others who might be interested, and providing excellent fodder for grammar Nazis who want to point and laugh at my expense.
The important thing is just to keep writing, and bring everyone else along for the ride. It may be a ride on the back of a dragon, but it’s been an amazing ride thus far, nonetheless.
You can read Iorneste — A Dragon Story at http://www.iorneste.com
Like on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/iorneste
Follow on Twitter at http://twitter.com/iorneste
Support on Patreon at https://www.patreon.com/iorneste