Born in 1963, Antoni Dol has been writing fiction in stories, novels, and articles since February 2017. He graduated as an illustrator at the Gerrit Rietveld Academy of Arts in Amsterdam, studied advertising at the Rotterdam Art Academy, and spent three years as a freelance illustrator before going on to become a web and interaction designer. Before he started writing fiction, he published a number of non-fiction books in his field.
Author interview – Antoni Dol
Hi Antoni, welcome to my blog! Please tell us, when did you start writing, and why?
After twenty years in the Information Industry, creating graphics, designing websites, and designing the interactions of software programmes, I read the book Designing Your Life and discovered, of all the things I’d really like to do, starting a new career in writing science fiction appeared at the top of the chart. So, I bit the bullet, started going to Comic Cons for the Writers presentations, bought books about how to write, and began writing short stories for national writing contests.
At what age did you take yourself seriously as a writer?
It took myself seriously from the second it started, because I think that’s the only way to produce quality and timely books. Only, I was already fifty-three then. I never stopped taking myself seriously as a writer. People say I’m in a hurry to write and produce all the time, but that’s what you get when your over fifty, I guess.
Do you prefer the term ‘writer’ or ‘author’, and why?
Since anyone can write but not anyone is a published author, I prefer the term author. My mother writes in her diary. I’m the author of nine books. (Actually, I produced a booklet of her stories too, so she’s also an author.)
Some people write all the time, but never produce a volume with their name on it. They’ll never reach an audience. Creating a book has the consequence of leaving the material in it behind you. It’s no problem if people discover your earlier writing is of lesser quality. It shows you’ve learned.
How long did it take you to write your first book?
My first book took a year and a half to write in English. I couldn’t agree with the publisher and ended up translating it back to Dutch in six months for a Dutch publisher. This was in the evenings and the weekends besides my job in IT. Currently, I publish about two books per year, since I’ve first published an anthology of my short stories. Two science fiction novels have seen daylight and a collection of blog posts I wrote during my working life finally materialised as well.
What was your last book about?
My last published book Reclame en de Kunst van het Hacken is about a future detective who is commissioned to identify an anonymous artist who’s hacking Mixed Reality advertising messages that virtual people are spreading. A gallery owner collects the recordings of these hacks and sells them in her gallery. The series is called De Superrealiteit, and a second instalment has been with proof readers for a while and publishing that should be my next project.
What are you working on right now?
Well, I’ve written an educational book about Scrivener in English: Mastering Scrivener. Scrivener 3 is software providing a writing environment and a compiler that outputs your writing to various file formats, like Print, PDF, Word, OpenOffice, Web pages, and e-books. I just finished producing the e-book version in Scrivener itself and am looking for native language proof readers. The company producing the software is actively involved, so I hope it becomes an excellent reference book about Advanced Scrivener 3 for experienced writers.
That sounds like a good resource! I’m still using Scrivener 1 and, after all I’ve heard about Scrivener 3, I find taking that step more than a bit daunting…
What is your writing process like? Do you plot or do you just dive in? How many drafts do you go through before the work is final?
Plotting is the name of the game. I need a good concept to start with, because I think the concept arouses enthusiasm and ensures it’s remembered. I ask myself questions (of the ‘What if…’ kind) and when new questions stop and all are answered, I have a synopsis of the story. These one-paragraph scene descriptions I drag into the Scrivener Synopsis text field and I start planning and fleshing out my novel from there on.
I write about 1500 words a day when in writing mode. Finished writing, I place the work in the ‘Icebox’ for several weeks, before I rewrite it. Then I send it out to proof readers and incorporate their feedback. After a final edit, I’m not a writer any more, but a graphic designer, publisher, and marketeer for a while.
What do you struggle with most as a writer?
I’ve never been trained or schooled as a writer but taught myself the tricks of the trade. I always have a tab open to a dictionary, a thesaurus, and writing authorities like the Dutch ‘Onze Taal’. The Schrijfwijzer is always within reach. The same is true for the English Language. I have Practical English Usage by Michael Swan close at hand. And the ‘little’ book by Strunk and White. It’s not so much a struggle as a constant notion that I need to be sure to write things as they should be written.
Have you always had that struggle or has it changed over time?
In the beginning, I fought with structure and the right idea for short stories, making sure the whole thing fitted within the maximum number of words the writing contests dictated. I still have the urge to extend those early stories to their original size, because lots of the story was lost.
What advice would you give to writers dealing with the same?
Well, since the concept is coupled to the length of the story, you’ll have to find an idea that’s not too big for the story. You can’t write scores of characters, various settings, and a complicated plot in a short story. You need a concise concept with a lot of impact. Tell that story. The other concept is the novel or novella you may write another time.
Have you ever had writer’s block? If yes, how did you overcome it?
My belief is that writers block is a situation where a writer is doubting herself too much to continue writing. The self-imposed quality requirements are a detriment concerning creative writing. The primary goal of the first draft is to get the story on paper. Quality issues arise later in the process, when rewriting and editing that story. If your expectancy is too high and you’re comparing yourself with established writers, you are doomed to fail. First, write the story down.
Sometimes I can’t go on writing, because not all answers to the questions I ask myself at the beginning are known to me, or new questions arose that need answering right away. The solution then is to stop writing and find those answers first.
What do you do to stay inspired?
I don’t look at the books I’m selling. I’m inspired by good concepts in science fiction books, series, and movies. I watch documentaries about the world, the future, and space. I read books containing predictions or that sketch a futuristic outlook. I save all sources as bookmarks, notes, or story ideas. When a few ideas collide with each other, an interesting story may develop.
Who’s your favorite author?
Originally, I read a lot of sci-fi, such as Jack Vance, Ursula le Guin, Douglas Adams, and Tolkien, up until the Cyberpunk writers. I saw a lot of science fiction movies. I know I was impressed by Umberto Eco’s books and recently by Orson Scott Card and Any Weir. A favourite is hard to pick, but I’m fascinated by the success of Dan Brown’s books. The most books I own of one writer are those of Tolkien.
What’s your favorite book?
I remember Le Guin’s EarthSea trilogy very well. I also loved the concept of The Ship Who Sang by Anne McCaffrey, and Neuromancer by William Gibson was impressive.
What’s your favorite book on the craft?
I have a few books on the craft. They were all interesting and informative (although I would never recommend Paul Sebes to a beginning writer). The book that most helped me was Structuring Your Novel by K.M. Weiland. Her Creating Character Arcs is also recommendable.
Last but not least, what’s the best writing advice you ever received?
The best stories have a structure. Readers seldom know about or even realise this, but the best books have a structure that builds up to the climax of the book. Structure is not a format that is imposed on you; you can write any book you like, but you’ll write a better book if you adhere to good story structure.