Six years ago, in 2003, I'd finished my journey from South Africa to England in a Beach Buggy. I'd heard the same line over and over again from friends and family members. "Why don't you write a book?"
It's one of those things, I was either going to write a book or I wasn't, and at that point in time I hadn't made the decision yet. Yet similar to many decisions in my life, the idea was planted, mulled over, and suddenly acted upon.
In response, I bought a second-hand laptop in Holland and headed down to France. The plan was to find a flat, take French courses, and start writing the book.
I stopped in Bordeaux. It was October. It was cold and wet and miserable. I couldn't find a cheap flat, anywhere.
A friend advised me to try Morocco. It made perfect sense. It was a former French colony. It was cheaper than France. The weather was better. I could maintain my Arabic studies.
So I went. Bus, train, ferry, another train. Three days later I was in Rabat. Within a week I had a flat and had signed up for French courses.
I wrote, and wrote, and wrote. In less than three months I had an almost full length manuscript. It needed a bit of editing, though, or so I thought.
It was around this point where construction started in the apartment below me. From eight in the morning to six at night, a constant pounding, like someone is taking a sledgehammer to the wall right next to you.
It was supposed to last two weeks. After three weeks, with completely stalled progress on my book, and still the incessant pounding, I decided to move out.
I moved in with a friend, a woman with two kids who needed the money. She was neurotic, depressed from a bad marriage and confused about an on-and-off relationship with a local man. Her mood swings kept me steadily in my room working on the book.
It wasn't the best environment to write. There were many distractions. My productivity wasn't the same as it had been in the apartment.
I met a girl, Siham, at a weekend running club. My productivity diminished further.
I needed to get away. After seven months in Morocco, I flew to England. I spent six months locked away in a flat in Bolton. During this time, I sought feedback on my novel, and with that in mind, I stumbled upon a website called Critique Circle.
The feedback wasn't flattering. My characters were static, the scenes lacked description. I was telling, telling, telling, and not showing, showing, showing. My character was arrogant and didn't connect with readers. I tried to be funny, but came across as stupid and irritating. My punctuation was awful.
It was bad.
I took the feedback and rewrote the chapters. Each week I submitted a different chapter to the writing and critiquing circle. In that six months, my writing progressed immensely, and at the end of it, my writing was on the verge of being good.
During my stay in England, I talked to Siham almost every day. We had a rendezvous in Spain half way through my stay. I was scheduled to go back to Canada in December, but I wanted to see her one last time. I'd come to one of those decisions that gets mulled over, and finally acted upon.
I proposed to Siham in the Costa del Sol, southern Spain just before returning to Canada. She said yes.
I came back to Canada and continued to write fairly intensely.
My writing was interrupted by my move back to Morocco three months later. As we got married, and for the next four months, I got very little done. I gradually got back into it, but married life isn't nearly as productive as bachelor life, and I made slow progress on the book while honing the craft more and more.
It was 2005 now, approaching two years into my writing endeavor. 2006 came, and the writing was picking up again. I was getting close to having a finished project.
I had to work a lot on the ending.
I had to work a lot on the beginning.
The middle wasn't bad. It only needed a little work.
Then Siham was pregnant. My work spiralled downwards, from a rush to get it done, to being stuck on a chapter I just couldn't get right.
That chapter, Egypt, took over a year. For the last three months of the pregnancy, and the first nine months of my son Zack's life, I just couldn't concentrate on it. Every rewrite made it worse. Finally, I decided I needed to finish it, even if it was bad.
With Zack approaching the one year mark, I got back into writing. I found a groove. Not a fast groove, not an ideal one, but one where productive improvements were coming out. I was setting realistic goals and meeting them.
Then, one day, I had the complete manuscript. I printed it off and headed away for a week of solitary bliss in Spain where I could edit it without distraction. I did most of the editing on the trains and ferries, and for the first time, read over the manuscript in its entirety.
Half the chapters needed work. The beginning sucked, and so did the ending. The beginning got completely redone. The ending got tweaked.
We moved back to Canada in 2008.
I continued to edit. I joined a writing group and edited a few pages a week, which helped me to finally get the beginning right. In the meantime, on my own, I gradually worked through the entire manuscript, again and again. Each time, I picked chapters and scenes that needed work. Then, there wasn't any more work to do. I had something before me that was as good as I could get it on my own.
Now, six years into my writing journey, the manuscript is with an editor and I'm seeking publication.
The endeavor continues.