Monday, January 17, 2011

The Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award

I remember the exact moment (if not the date) that put me on this path toward pursuing writing.

In late September of 2007, I read something about the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award, a kind of American Idol-style writing contest. If your book wins the contest, you get an advance and a publishing contract. Before that moment, I had dabbled in writing a little bit; I had a couple of book ideas and a paltry outline or two written in a notebook. I'd completed about 40 pages or so of a book idea that had been percolating since high school. I'd worked in an extremely haphazard fashion on the book, but it wasn't fully-formed and or remotely near the zip code of "complete."

The contest started accepting submissions a week after I'd read about it. Let me put this into perspective: I had 40 pages (back then, I knew nothing about manuscript formatting or word count, so all I can go with is pages while recounting the memory) and a week to write a finished novel. At that moment, something switched on in my brain. I worked strange hours back then, overnights from 2am to 10am. So for several crazy days, I went to work, wrote for nine or ten hours when I got home, grabbed a couple hours of sleep, went to work, wrote some more, grabbed some sleep, etc. I proceeded to do this for five out of seven days (a couple of weekend days allowed me a somewhat normal schedule).

By the time I was finished, nearly feverish from a lack of sleep and creative output, my book had exploded from 40 pages to about 270. Looking back, I understand how little I knew about the writing process and the reality of what it takes to "make it." That book didn't stand a chance! It wasn't long enough, the writing was hurried and clunky, and it needed a severe rewrite and edit.

I've come to realize that the short-term glory of the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award pales in comparison to the real journey every author must go through. In Star Wars terms, it's the quick and easy path (yes, I just compared a novel-writing contest to the Dark Side of the Force).

I have a great sense of pride in that book, however. Even four years later, it needs a lot of work. The prose has been sharpened, the characters are better defined and the writing isn't quite as hackneyed, but it's far from finished. I've moved onto other novels and am currently in a phase where I enjoy writing shorter pieces. I know I'll return to that first book someday and turn it into something special.

Hey...this year's Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award contest kicks off next week. Maybe I have time for a quick edit and polish...

Nah. I think I'll write a new one instead...