Today, I’m excited to feature a guest post from author Anna Tan about her upcoming fantasy novel, “Amok”! The cover is gorgeous, the story sounds fascinating, and Anna has written about its creation.
So without further amok – I mean, ado:
Writing Amok: On Vomit Drafts and Learning to Plan
One of the questions writers usually get is “how long do you take to write a book?” My answer to that is both “a very short time” and “a very long time”.
Writing Amok hit quite a few firsts for me, so I’m going to share the strange journey that this story took.
The first draft of Amok that I wrote, then called The Weight of Strength (or sometimes Berserker), was during NaNoWrimo 2018. That draft, what I often call the “vomit” draft was deemed finished at 50,068 words once I hit my wordcount goal of 50,000 words in 25 days. I’m not quite sure right now if it was a complete draft—I have a feeling that I left the ending somewhat incomplete, but with notes as to how it should end.
I say it is the first draft that I wrote—that’s not quite true. It’s the first draft that I wrote on record which actually resulted in something. There were various discarded drafts before that, which were basically explorations of ideas that never quite fit right, and therefore never reached any substantial length before it was abandoned.
But the NaNoWriMo 2018 draft was different—I’d finally hit on something that worked and so the writing came pretty easily. Most of the time.
The Inspiration Behind Amok
One thing I need to note here is that while Amok is the first book in this duology, I actually wrote the second book, Absolution first. I pitched that one to various agents and publishers (and even a contest!), but whilst I got full requests and the general feedback was good, it was just not good enough. So, as I was looking at it for like the millionth time, I realised something. Absolution was about fulfilling a covenant, it was about the restoration of a nation—but how Terang got into that situation in the first place was only vaguely referred to as part of the backstory.
I figured I needed to actually write that backstory.
While I was playing around with the different powers or gifts that the people from the three city states of Terang had, I knew that Maha’s powers had to do with physical strength. But what should I do with that? I liked the concept of the Berserker in Nordic myths, and figured there should be some kind of hierarchy going on, otherwise why would the King be the King and not someone else?
Around that time, I was reading stuff from fellow Realm Makers writers, like Nadine Brandes’ Fawkes, which uses magic systems to reflect the Protestant and Catholic divide in retelling the Fawkes’ Gunpowder Plot in seventeenth century Britain and Lauren Salisbury’s Courage, which is a space opera retelling of Moses’ birth. And I was like… OOOHHHH SAMSON HAS SUPERNATURAL STRENGTH!
So yes, I totally based Amok on the story arc of Samson and Delilah.
Fun Fact: The change of the gift’s name from Berserker to Amok only happened in the final edits, when I realised that the phrase to run amok came from the local Malay phrase mengamuk and was similar to the concept of the berserker. Since I was using Malay already, I decided that Amok would fit the world better.
Other Fun Fact: Simson = Samson in the Malay Bible, because I am unoriginal (or obvious) like that.
Planning? What’s that?
Most of the time, or at least with my first two books, I just pants my way (or vomit draft) through the story and figure out the plot during edits later on. I have attempted writing from outlines before, but I usually discard said outline by about the fourth chapter. At any rate, I did do this at the start, with that NaNoWriMo draft.
But I was taking my MA in Creative Writing: The Novel at Brunel University London at the same time—and the timing of that dovetailed very nicely in the writing of the book. Our second term, from Jan to April 2019, was to cover “Planning a Novel”—which, as I said, was something I’d never really done before. The module turned out to be less helpful than I hoped for—our tutor actually told us that “you can’t plan a novel” (in which case why was he teaching the module?)—but I still had to deliver a 3,000-word outline for the assignment, so I turned to the Internet for help. KM Weiland’s Structuring Your Novel was pretty helpful.
And I discovered… that working off the outline actually helped! It was the first time I worked on (and with) such a detailed outline, actually, rather than just point forms—and I managed to complete writing the whole novel—all 80,000 words of it—without deviating from it too much. I did make some changes along the way, of course, but the overall plot and arc of the story remained the same.
The most significant deviation from the plan was changing the point of view from third person (switching between Mikal and Yosua) to first person (only Mikal).
Discarding all that time taken earlier for planning and the first sketchy draft, the second draft of Amok took 42 days. Well, actually, I started in May then changed point of view in the second week and re-started the timer. So I guess about 60 days in total.
That’s still on the writing of the thing though, because after I finished that draft, I did self-edits while on The Great Dissertation Road Trip, where the plan was to travel and sightsee during the day and edit at night (which did not quite work out that way, but eh, things got done anyway). At the same time, that was also when I sent the draft out for beta readers to give feedback.
All in all, Amok underwent four rounds of editing and proofreading…in time for me to submit the first (almost) half of it for my Dissertation in September 2019.
I Figured Out My Process!
Remember I said earlier I couldn’t write to an outline? But now I did?
The thing is I can’t actually write an outline without having some form of a vomit draft first. Which makes for a very weird process which doesn’t make sense to most other writers (please prove me wrong). I apparently need to:
- Write the vomit draft so I have an idea of what the story is supposed to be. This draft doesn’t need to be complete. It just needs to end up at a place where I know what the ending should be.
- From there, pick out the main theme and premise and write the one-sentence pitch. (Which usually changes several times)
- Expand that into a one-paragraph and one-page summary, mostly to help with the eventual blurb. (Though again, this keeps changing as I write)
- Write the outline, highlighting the main plot points. This doesn’t need to actually be 3K words, but hitting the various key points in the 3-act structure really helps define the shape of the story.
- Redraft the whole thing using the outline.
- Edits—which is a whole other process we won’t go into in this post.
Does this make sense to you? I hope it does.
So what happened between finishing the writing in September 2019 and publishing in June 2021, you ask?
A lot of nothing, actually. I wrote another book. I sat on stuff. I changed my mind frequently.
The original plan was to pitch to agents and publishers after submitting my dissertation. So I sent queries out, and spent most of September to December travelling Europe and then graduating and then moving home. No bites. Well, one bite which eventually ghosted me but whatever.
So then I started planning to publish it—because I’d previously set up Teaspoon Publishing for this purpose and it worked for my previous books. The machinery was there. The book was there… and then a friend gifted me a free ticket to the virtual Realm Makers Conference in 2020—which included pitching sessions. So I delayed again to see if this new pitch would work. But because I am a person who doesn’t plan very well, I also sent it for editing in August 2020.
By December 2020, I decided to revert to the original plan. I started the whole publishing machinery for Amok, which included commissioning a cover, finalising all the edits, formatting for print and ebook, and setting up the launch.
Of course, then Covid-19 had to get in the way a second time in the form of a third “full” lockdown, which messed up the launch timing. But well, publishing—and life—is like that, I guess.
So How Long Does It Take to Write a Book?
The actual writing of it (discarding all the waiting time) was actually about 4-5 months: 1 month for the initial draft, 2 months for the second draft, plus another 1-2 months total for actual edits and not me sitting on it.
But the publishing took roughly two and a half years, from November 2018 to June 2021, including all my dithering and changes of mind.
I love learning about other authors’ process!
And reading about this makes me very excited to dive into this book.
What is faith, except hope in desperation?
All Putera Mikal wants is to gain the Amok Strength, the supernatural power granted by Kudus to the Mahan royal family. No matter how religiously Mikal keeps his vows, Kudus still denies him the Strength—whilst his father, Sultan Simson, flaunts the Strength despite his blatant defiance of the Temple and the priests’ visions of coming doom.
Then the prophecies come true.
Taken captive, Mikal must find a way to liberate his people and restore his throne in Maha—and the key to this is the Amok Strength. But what does it take to gain Kudus’ favour?