How to Start a Project From Stage One by Leif Gregersen, author of ‘Through the Withering Storm’

From a young age I showed promise in writing and poetry, and did well in school. Even in grade five I used to draw and write stories for my own comic books and post them on the bulletin board in class. When I got to high school, I began to read voraciously, and though I failed my first academic English course, I took continually more advanced courses and got higher and higher grades in them. I was hopeful to attend University and study English, but before I finished school I was stricken with a severe breakdown and had to be hospitalized where I was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder. From that point, family and friend relationships broke down and I ended up sort of drifting until I signed up for Flying School in Vancouver, BC. In the middle of this training, I took off for the US with a friend and tried to join the US Army as a helicopter pilot. All of these adventures are detailed in my memoir, which covers my life from the age of 13 to 21 which was the point at which I decided I had to stay in one place (I had returned to Edmonton near my home town and where my parents lived) and I took treatment for my disorder and began to write seriously. I spent some years just studying and writing poetry and then moved on to short stories, and my book, “Through The Withering Storm” is actually partially short stories I wrote and collected at that time. Now, since I turned 30 I have been living in an assisted-living house for males with Psychiatric Disorders and life has gone quite well. I landed a great job doing labour work/stage hand/security work for the stage and screen Union, IATSE. I have seen many concerts, worked closely with some big stars, and made enough money to continue writing and self-publishing my books, which have already paid for themselves in sales for the most part.

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How to Start a Project From Stage One

Many people out there believe they have a book in them.  I personally believe that everyone out there has a book in them, but not all of them will sell.  In fact, statistics show that most of them won’t sell, but not because they were bad books or bad topics.  The world of commercial writing can be very difficult, complex and daunting, and many writers give up before they really make a proper go of it.

I have sat down to write dozens of short stories, one of which won an award and many that have been published either online or on my own website and even in paperback.  What I found is that the creative process is actually much smaller of a factor than many think.  A lot of my stories are stolen.  Not copied word for word from other stories, very little of any of my stories or ideas come from other authors.  Where I steal my ideas is from real life.  This is often the most compelling and shocking of all fiction, and it made for a book that many have bought and greatly enjoyed, “Through The Withering Storm”.  After publishing and launching this book, I decided that I wanted to try and break into the world of writing spy thrillers.  I had enjoyed greatly books by Tom Clancy, W.E.B. Griffen, Alistair Maclean and many other thriller writers too numerous to name here.  It didn’t take long for me to come up with an idea about a fictional place based on the home towns of two of my best friends, I called it Walker Lake.  I decided I wanted to speak to that part of us that longs to live in a small town where you know everyone, where there are so many opportunities to explore and experience nature, but also talk about some of the negative parts of small towns, like the politics of rich and poor and about revenge and how it destroys the avenger more than it harms the target of the revenge most of the time.  Then I wanted to have my spy, my special character who would inject something of that Cold War mystique, the strength of a special forces operative and so on.  I created a character that had a great deal in common with a man I once knew who had really been in the special forces behind the iron curtain and had told me a great deal of first hand information about his training and experience.

Now that I had a theme and a place to set my story in, most of the difficult work was done.  I just had to mix together a few people into a main character who had a loving family and a younger brother who made him ‘walk the line’.  Then I wrote a very detailed outline and from that point on it was almost all just typing.  At the time I had a car, and I would take my netbook, drive to an all-night burger stand nearby and I would simply sit down with a coffee and not stand up until I had written a 3 to 5 thousand word chapter.  In the space of two months I had a book.

Most of that hard work had been done, and now my book “Green Mountain Road” was ready to be seen by other eyes.  I made an appointment with the writer in residence at the University of Alberta and went in to see him.  The amazing thing was that when I did this I found not only a great writer, but a man who would become a good friend and mentor.  He suggested some drastic changes to the book, but I trusted him, then I spent money on having the book edited, and I could have possibly benefited from shopping around for an editor a bit more, but I was satisfied with the end result, then I brought it back for proofing and started sending it out.  I had a hard time finding an agent or a publisher and so after a while I self-published the book.  I found a great amount of freedom in doing this because I could print up 50 or 100 copies and have them to mail out and pass around, and even sold a good number of them.  Having something to show people, to have friends proof read and critique was really beneficial.  Did I make a ton of money?  No, but I would say I came close in just a short time to breaking even, and the process taught me a lot about writing and the business of writing.  I’m confident that the knowledge I have gained will help me take not only this book further, but future books further than I would have if I gave up after two or three publishers turned me down.  I think the most important thing I could say to an aspiring author is ‘never give up’ and ‘never stop writing’.  With each new project if you keep an open mind, seek advice, and above all read all you can, you will improve and who knows?  Maybe one day you will hit the wind and the rain and the snow just right and have that bestseller.  But it will never happen if you don’t put in a lot of time and effort.

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