Guest Post: “A Decade of Drafting” by Oliver K. Langmead
Today, we’re excited to welcome author Oliver K. Langmead to the BiblioSanctum as part of a blog tour to celebrate the release of Birds of Paradise, his new fantasy novel described as American Gods meets His Dark Materials in the Garden of Eden. A rich narrative exploring the themes of humanity and nature, the book is published by Titan Books and is now available wherever books are sold. We hope you’ll enjoy Oliver’s guest post describing his drafting process for the novel (which every aspiring reader should check out!) and be sure to also visit the other stops on the tour!
A DECADE OF DRAFTING
by Oliver K. Langmead
I wanted to write this article for those of you busy writing your first book. Maybe you’re a bit unsure about it. Maybe you have a brilliant idea, but feel out of depth trying to execute it. Maybe you’ve attracted some compliments from agents, but the book you have just isn’t quite there, and you’re not sure how to carry on. I want to tell you that perseverance is worth it – that there is a way forward, and the rewards are worth carrying on for.
In the end, it took me more than a decade to finish Birds of Paradise.
This isn’t to say that I spent all ten years writing the book. But I did, during that decade, write four complete drafts of the book, beginning to end, starting from scratch each time. And at the end of that decade, I had a manuscript I finally felt satisfied with, and which was worth publication. With each iteration, I became a better author.
In 2009, I started writing a book called Eden Rose. It was a fractured, colourful explosion of writing, filled with so many competing narratives and strange characters that, to this day, I still go back to it and harvest it for ideas. Of course, it was completely unpublishable. I sent it out to agents with no idea of its worth, and a couple were kind enough to send me a little praise back for the book’s idea – Adam, the first man, alive today and gathering together lost pieces of Eden. The book itself was a mess, but the idea was good.
Just that little bit of praise was enough for me to want to try again.
In 2012, I stripped away all of the chaotic extra ideas filling the book, and wrote a complete second draft while doing a Masters in Creative Writing at the University of Dundee. It was a rewarding experience – doing so while taking expert feedback. This time, the finished manuscript was in a good enough state that a couple of agents requested a complete read-through. And this time, the feedback was more detailed: the idea was fabulous, but the execution was falling just a little short. The book still felt fractured.
The next draft, in 2014, was a step backwards – but a lot of writing involves learning from mistakes, and this would prove to be a particularly informative learning experience. I decided to try an experiment, and wrote a complete new manuscript in a month, incorporating the feedback I had been given on the previous draft. The result was a rushed, frantic mess of a book, with none of the nuance that had caught the eyes of agents before.
Frustrated, but not discouraged, I put the idea aside for a while, and wrote some different books. Books that would end up being my first and second published – Dark Star and Metronome.
In 2016, I finally returned to Eden Rose – renaming it Birds of Paradise – and after all those years of drafting, all those books written, published and unpublished, I finally felt ready to write a manuscript worthy of its idea. In the end, it took me another three careful years of writing – crafting each scene to be the best that it could be – but the result was worth every minute.
It is with deep satisfaction that Birds of Paradise is being published this week – picked up by one of my favourite publishers, no less. And I can tell you exactly what each of the previous drafts, from as far back as 2009, did for it. Which is why I feel safe in saying – trust me: a little perseverance can go a long way. If you’re getting positive feedback, but your book just isn’t quite there yet, take a step back and reassess.
Success might be the next manuscript you write.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Oliver K. Langmead is an author and poet based in Glasgow. His long-form poem, Dark Star, featured in the Guardian’s Best Books of 2015. Oliver is currently a doctoral candidate at the University of Glasgow, where he is researching terraforming and ecological philosophy, and in late 2018 he undertook a writing residency at the European Space Agency’s Astronaut Centre in Cologne, writing about astronauts and people who work with astronauts. You can find him on twitter @oliverklangmead