1. thegeek
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    thegeek Member

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    Writing my first book from Personal Experience.

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by thegeek, Apr 15, 2013.

    Hi all,

    I registered here because it looks like a great place to get some advice on writing my first book.

    Let me give a bit of background on the proposed book. The book is based on personal experience. I was sent to prison for a computer hacking crime in 2012. I appeared in the global media, although I won't mention the actual crime, it's something that caused a lot of controversy.

    The whole experience for me was emotional. The time in prison was rough. I would like to capture the emotion in writing. I don't want to write the book from a first person perspective. I want to create a novel, a story, using my personal experience as a basis to create a great storyline.

    Whilst I was in prison I read a number of books on writing, although I seem to have forgotten much of what I've learnt because I wasn't in the position at the time to put what I was learning into practice.

    Would my personal experience of this nature be a great place to start for a book? Can anyone recommend any good books on writing a novel?

    I get a lot of inspiration from a number of authors, but my favorites are Jeffery Archer (not his prison diaries), Robert Rankin (for his style of writing, imagination and humor) and Lee Child (for how he creates suspense). I've read every book by these authors, and all three have inspired me to write.

    Having never written a book I don't know the first place to start. I know I need a plan and a plot for the story, but I'm unsure of where to start. Ideally I'd like to read a great book on writing.

    I would really appreciate it if anyone can suggest any ideas, or resources, that would be beneficial to me.

    Thank you.
     
  2. Austin Lee
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    Austin Lee New Member

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    Get going!

    Hi,

    I am a newbie, yours is the first post I have read and it immediately piqued my interest. Without doubt there is a book lurking within you, I let life get in the way of my writing for too many years to mention! If I had to give you advice and believe me, I am far from the type to normally dispense it - I would say get a routine and write a set number of words a day - a reasonable target that you can achieve - you will find the level very quickly once you sit down. My experience that everything flows from that discipline.

    Pontificating, is the enemy! The premise of your imprisonment would make an excellent novel or an interesting real-life story. I wish you creative good fortune.
     
  3. thegeek
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    thegeek Member

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    Thank you Austin Lee. I like the idea of getting into a routine.
     
  4. erebh
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    erebh Contributing Member Contributor

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    It's real funny you mention your story. I'm reading Damage Done by Warren Fellows; An Australian who was caught buying and trying to smuggle out heroine from Thailand who subsequently did 12 years for his self confessed crime. Not exactly 6 months in your particular hell but you will see the parrelels.

    Well worth a read for your research
     
  5. thegeek
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    thegeek Member

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    I've read Welcome to Hell: One Man's Fight for Life Inside the Bangkok Hilton by Colin Martain. That was a brilliant book. I will take a look at Damage Done on Amazon.
     
  6. chicagoliz
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    chicagoliz Contributing Member Contributor

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    Welcome, Geek -- your story sounds fascinating, and is very timely. Is there any way you could take a writing class, or at the very least, find a local writing group? They'll help you in a way that's better than what a writing book can give you (and there are several threads on this site with recommendations for writing books). There are also online writing classes, if there's nothing local to you.
     
  7. thegeek
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    thegeek Member

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    The online writing classes sound fantastic. I'm a bit of a hermit at the moment due to some pretty bad anxiety issues. Leaving prison and getting back into the community has been difficult. At the moment I'd rather avoid taking classes where I'd be around other people.

    I do like the idea of online writing classes though.
     
  8. SwampDog
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    SwampDog Contributing Member

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    Hey up, thegeek, and welcome.

    You have an interesting insight into the regime of prison, albeit from the 'wrong' side. From personal experience, I suppose the obvious route would be from a first person perspective. Be that as it may.

    Had it been me, right now I'd be writing a retrospective diary - no holds barred. Thoughts, feelings, emotions, relationships with other prisoners and the prison staff. Make that your first step, and you've a novel in the making. From there, you can look at first/third person perspective - whatever takes your fancy.

    But the first job is to gather the material - get down what you know before it disappears in a fog of dying brain cells. :eek:
     
  9. thegeek
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    thegeek Member

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    Excellent information. I did keep a lot of logs, and a diary, whilst I was in prison, but they disappeared when moving from prison to prison. The majority of it is lodged deep in my mind because the experience was tough.

    I'm going to get it all on paper over the next couple of days though.

    I know people enjoy reading other people's experiences of the prison system. I certainly did before I ended up there myself. In fact I still enjoy a good prison book.

    A thought came to my mind earlier today. Maybe it would be an idea to write a book from a first person perspective about life inside prison, and going through the legal system, and maybe save the novels until I get more experienced in creative writing. I could use my real name on a personal experience type book, and a pen name for any novels in the future.

    I feel at my present level it'd be easier to write from a first perspective viewpoint.

    I've just looked at a course here - http://www.writersworkshop.co.uk/Creative-Writing-Courses.html. I am tempted to sign up as it offers installments on payments, which is ideal for me.

    Although this all sounds like a flash in the pan, I have been interested in writing for a long time. And maybe it's time for a fresh start, a new career path, in something I feel I'd actually enjoy doing on a day to day basis.
     
  10. KaTrian
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    KaTrian A foolish little beast. Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I think I'd root for a novel. An autobiography is a good idea, but one has to be a good story-teller (like Dave Eggers). First person is challenging, so unless you get someone (like a ghost writer) to record your story, it might take some practice to make the prose work. Write down your memories as a draft, don't worry about the form or anything, just get it all out. Then you can start shaping it into a novel or an autobiography.

    Good luck, I'm sure you have a good story (albeit horrifying too) in your hands and it can be good therapy to "write it out".
     
  11. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Well, you're starting from a position of strength. Not only do you know your subject, but your command of written English is excellent. And you're a reader ...so I think you can do this, and do it well!

    I would caution against making your 'novel' too much like your own real life, though. Just writing about your own experiences is limiting. The fun way to approach this, is to create a character very different from yourself. That way, when you put him (or her!) through the experiences you had, you'll be doing it from a completely new angle. It's fun to imagine somebody else you know, somebody totally unrelated to the experience you had, being in 'your shoes,' so to speak. Imagine what they'd have done, confronted with the choices and situations you faced.

    Then give the whole thing a twist. Is there something you really wished for that didn't happen? Make it happen. Something you hoped wouldn't happen? Make it happen. In other words, change things as much as you can. Did you make a friend in prison? Make them your enemy in the book. Did you make an enemy in prison? You guessed it - make them a friend. Just play around with all the possibilities the situation had or could have had.

    If you write that way, your story will be utterly authentic without being autobiographical. But don't worry, the autobiography does creep in, in ways you won't expect. Do have fun writing this, and don't be afraid to get started. Don't worry if you don't have a plot all worked out yet. Just write scenes as they occur to you, in disjointed order if that's the way they appear. Your story will emerge.

    I would also caution you against writing by committee. By this, I mean don't feel compelled to show people what you've done until it IS done. If you show people every couple of paragraphs that you write, ask them for feedback, etc, you're going to end up distracted and feeling like you're still in school, writing to please your English teacher! Just go for it, and only enlist aid if you feel really really REALLY stuck. Even then, try to solve the problems on your own. Once it's done, then put it out there and get feedback. That's when the real fun - and work - begins. That's when you hone your first draft into something presentable and publishable. That's when you start listening to the opinions of others.

    VERY good luck to you. Above all else, HAVE FUN!
     
  12. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    if you and your crime were well-publicized, then you have two feet in the door when it comes to agents and paying publishers, so why not write a memoir?... in fact, a non-fiction book proposal might well earn you an advance before the book is even written and a savvy agent might actually get you some help with the writing... this is often the case in re the famous and infamous who have a marketable story to tell... and in this age of serious computer hacking the world over, you're probably guaranteed a bestseller before you start...

    a novel about being in prison by an unknown new writer, on the other hand, will have next to no chance of being published and even less of being a bestseller...

    my advice is to get some help to work up a good query letter and book proposal for a memoir and test the agent waters before deciding to go with fiction... i'd be happy to help you with it, as it sounds to me like you have a story to tell, that anyone even thinking about hacking would want to [and should!] read, along with just the general reading public...

    btw, if sentenced last year, were you only in prison for a year, or less?

    meanwhile, welcome to the forums!

    love and hugs, maia
     
  13. thegeek
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    thegeek Member

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    Hi Maia,

    I served 12 months yes, although I was released earlier than I should have been due to good behaviour.

    The idea was to write the book myself. I want to learn to write creatively, and learn to publish books through outlets such as Amazon's Kindle. If I was to base my first book on experience I feel this will give me a foundation to successfully complete my first book.

    I'm not sure on the idea of having someone else write a memoir or publishing it solely for profits. It may appear to the public that I'm attempting to make money from my crime.

    Don't get me wrong though, I am happy to make money, but I would be more comfortable making money if the rewards were from my own hard work and efforts. This is why I originally thought about a novel, and twisting my experiences to create a compelling read.
     
  14. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    i doubt as a novice writer, that you'd be able to craft a marketable novel first time out... and it would need more plot than just your crime and punishment...

    however, if you were to query agents/publishers about a memoir in which you apologize for your crime and announce that at least half of the book's profits will be donated to the 'entity' you committed the crime against, i think it would not only be the right thing to do, but would also just about guarantee the book will be a bestseller and therefore should easily snag you an agent and publisher... along with help to write it...
     
  15. erebh
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    erebh Contributing Member Contributor

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    Isn't there such a thing as the Son Of Sam law, where criminals (ex or still) can't profit from their crimes? According to this wiki page http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Son_of_Sam_law and tons more, espionage is a crime they frown on more than most. I'm assuming the OPs hacking is espionage related to some degree
     
  16. thegeek
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    thegeek Member

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    I don't think so in the UK. Elliot Castro profited. But I must point out I do not want to write a memoir or publish anything related to my crime.

    I want to use my experience as a way to write a novel.
     
  17. thegeek
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    thegeek Member

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    Oh I totally agree. I have a rough plot put together already that I'll discuss once I've got it all together and get some help and advice from people on here.

    I could always use an editor after I've written it, and ask for constructive feedback, but ideally I'd like to write the book myself.
     
  18. TerraIncognita
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    TerraIncognita Aggressively Nice Person Contributor

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    I feel mixed on this after reading what maia said. She has a good point. I agree your chances for successfully publishing would be better with a memoir. Especially considering it was a high profile crime.

    On the other hand you clearly don't want to do that. I agree that the story would need to center around more than just crime and punishment.

    As for your question about where to start- Reading is an excellent way to help sharpen your skills. Especially reading with the intent to find what works and doesn't work in a good work of fiction. Having a rough idea of where you want the story to go is always good. Character development is important as well. After you have those two elements filling in the setting will be easier. You want the setting to help further the characters and the plot. I could go into more detail but I don't want to overwhelm you with it. :p

    Maia is right about it not being awesome the first time around. To this day I am still mortified by the first thing I wrote seriously. I have considered burning the notebooks to conceal the evidence. Now I feel pretty confident in my abilities. I know I'm not perfect and have a lot to learn. Now I don't feel totally ashamed of my skills. haha
     
  19. sanco
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    sanco Contributing Member

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    I'm pretty sure Chopper Reed profited from his books and subsequent movie. So did Louis Ferrante.
     
  20. thegeek
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    thegeek Member

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    Thank you for your response.

    I will be signing up to the Writers Bureau today. I've opted for their Creative Writing course. This is ideal for me as I can afford to pay the £30 monthly instalments, and I have lots of time to sit and learn.

    It's time to get off the starting blocks. I am writing at the moment, but it's a different type of writing. I write articles for the web.

    I'm not learning solely to write this one book. In a couple of months this book may never mature. I may go off on a tangent and work on something completely different. I am learning because I want to become a good writer.

    From all the advice I've read online many people are suggesting a beginner should start with short stories, so I think I may start with those whilst I'm learning the craft.
     
  21. thegeek
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    thegeek Member

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    I've read some of his books. I wasn't keen on his writing style, seemed very amateur and difficult to read, but that's understandable given his situation. I only read two of his earlier books.
     
  22. TerraIncognita
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    TerraIncognita Aggressively Nice Person Contributor

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    Sure thing. :) I think short stories are a good place to start. It's a lot less overwhelming to edit a short story than to edit a massive chunk of a book. ;)
     
  23. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    be sure to check them out carefully, before signing up!

    there are some negative reviews about this outfit, so don't let your eagerness to learn get you stuck with a course that won't be worth what it costs...
     
  24. thegeek
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    Hi Mammamaia,

    I had opted out of signing up for this course prior to reading your response, but I thank you all the same. I also read some negative reviews - some of them on this forum. I'm probably going to spend the next couple of weeks browsing various threads on the forums, and asking some questions, to try and get a idea for the best way for a beginner to progress. I've seen a couple of books that seem to get mentioned repeatedly so I will look into those.

    As I mentioned previously I'm going go with short stories, and spend as long as it takes to get proficient at writing them before I think about writing novels.

    A family member bought me a Kindle Fire HD today as a gift. As we speak I'm going through all the free short stories on Amazon that have a lot of reviews. Primarily it's to get a feel for how others write. Lots of fun, and I'm enjoying the time spent reading.

    Thank you for the heads up and taking the time to respond.

    James

    P.S. It's funny how this thread started out and how it's developed. I must say, the members on this forum are so helpful, patient and understanding! I feel at home already.
     
  25. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    free stories aren't likely to be good examples to help you learn how to write well... it's best for you to stick to reading/studying the works of the best, most critically acclaimed professional writers, not writings by amateurs who self-publish...

    and, instead of paying for a course, you may want to consider mentoring, which is free...

    love and hugs, maia
     

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