I began writing Jim’s Course in a creative-writing course with Andrea MacPherson while I was working on my BA at the University of the Fraser Valley. During the semester, the task was to complete the first four chapters of a novel. Andrea urged all of us to write what we knew and to write something we would want to read ourselves. I had been working in a warehouse for a few years, so I had my setting. I was also reading a lot of Tom Perrotta novels, which dealt with young men struggling with female companionship (something I could relate to) so I had one of my themes. Over the next semester, I hammered out part one of Jim’s Course and had it edited and critiqued by Andrea and several peers in class.
At some point in the semester, I had the idea to finish the novel in the following semester through an independent study with Andrea. She agreed, so I drafted a proposal and submitted it to the department head for approval. There was a minor concern that it would be denied on that basis that creative writing wasn’t academic enough, but thankfully that wasn’t the case. The independent study received the thumbs up from the top brass and I was my way to completing my first novel.
A number of students in the creative-writing course heard about my independent study and asked if they could join. When all was said and done, we had a small group of five students (all with very different novels) under Andrea’s mentor-ship. The structure was fairly simple: we would each write a chapter per week and provide feedback to each student’s chapter in turn. Based on the number of weeks in the semester, and that I had completed four chapters already, I planned to make Jim’s Course a four-part, 16-chapter novel. Before the semester got started, I drafted a synopsis for chapter five through 16. I don’t remember how much time I spent drafting the storyline, but I do remember being thankful that I did.
So, in the first semester I completed part one, in the second semester (the independent study) I somehow cranked out parts two, three, and four, and in the end I had the first draft of Jim’s Course – edited and critiqued by Andrea and five of my peers.
I made the appropriate changes and gave the second draft to two friends for further feedback. After their feedback and another redraft, I began trying to get it published. I sent it to every publishing agent and publishing house in western Canada and received mixed feedback. One agent told me that things were too obvious in my writing – another told me that my writing wasn’t clear enough. The big challenge, of course, was that I was an unknown writer. I spent over a year shopping it around and eventually ran out of potential buyers.
A few years later, I met Dave Burdett, author of The Map, A Logan Nash Adventure. Dave self-published his novel, which was an option I hadn’t considered. But Dave seemed to be selling his novel, and claimed self-publishing was fine as long as a person doesn’t mind putting in his or her own money and a lot of hard work. I bought a copy of his novel from Chapters, read it in a couple of days, and felt confident I could do the same with Jim’s Course. That was four years ago.
Two factors prevented me from self-publishing sooner: money and time. Self-publishing isn’t cheap, but the real challenge was waiting for a point in my life where I felt stable enough to financially invest in something personal. I actually had the money saved in the fall of 2013, but a sudden lay-off at work forced me to tap into that nest-egg. A year later, in the fall of 2014, I called Friesen Press, and put the wheels in motion to get Jim’s Course published. Prior to submitting it, I went through it again (the first time in years) to give it some touch ups. With Friesen Press, it went through an additional three editing sessions.
Writing time for the first draft: call it five months.
Redrafting and redrafting: call it a week per redraft, not including the waiting time for people to read it and the years it sat dormant on my computer.
Friesen Press: six to seven months.
Lessons learned: be careful who you ask to read it. Some people are passionate readers, but shitty editors.