Achievement Unlocked

About 427 days ago, give or take a few hours, I sat down at my computer. I had a story in my head–a story that some friends and I had been telling each other for years, and I had some new, crazy ideas to go with it. So I sat down at the computer, and I started to type.

At first, I didn’t know what I was doing, and I deleted just about as much as I kept. I was excited when I hit ten pages, really excited when I hit fifty pages, and six weeks later, when I typed the last words of the Epilogue (at about 400 pages), I thought I would fall over dead from the joy of having accomplished the thing that I had set out to do. I had written a book.

Now, here’s the thing. I did, in January and the first half of February, 2013, write a book. It wasn’t yet a full book, and it wasn’t even close to a good book, but I wrote a book. And that, in and of itself, felt like a win. But I’d been bitten, and I knew that it wasn’t good enough.

So I kept typing, kept revising, kept fidgeting. I *gasp* gave it to people whose opinions I trusted and asked what they thought. I fought with my husband when he quite rightly showed me the enormous plot holes that I had woven myself into. I rewrote, some more. I got more advice, found a critique partner, revised, reworked, and rewrote. In a word, I was humbled. The task was a great deal harder than I had at first imagined. I revised, and rewrote until I couldn’t see a way to change it, and then I set A SOWN WIND aside.

Now, this first book was always intended to be the first in a series, and so when I put it aside, thinking, “It’s done,” I started hacking out the first bits of book #2, WHIRLWIND. And at first, that went well. The first 150 pages, or so, were a breeze, and I thought, “I’ve totally got this.” I started querying agents and keeping my fingers crossed.

But here’s the thing. As a human being, I am always learning. I am always evolving, and as I sat there, staring at the first bits of WHIRLWIND, I began to see that I didn’t know what I was doing. Maybe we never know what we are doing. Maybe those authors that I admire, whose books I cannot get enough of–maybe they have no idea what they are doing, either.

I don’t know.

The truth of it was, my craft needed work. My craft still needs work. Probably, my craft will always need work.

I finally managed to type the last words in a revised first draft of WHIRLWIND, yesterday. After fighting my way past a point where I wasn’t sure if the story was capable of surviving, after pushing past a bout of, maybe not writer’s block, but at least writer’s doubt, after months of staring at this thing… I have a finished story. It isn’t a complete story. It’s probably not even a good story, yet. But I am willing to do the work to make it better. I feel the pull to fix and change it, to breathe life into it.

As of yesterday afternoon,  I can now say that, truly, I am writing an epic fantasy series. I have written two books, both of which are still in different stages of revision. It isn’t ready for the light of day in the world at large, but every day, it gets a little closer. Every day, my craft gets a little stronger, and a little tighter. I am learning something about storytelling, every day.

So, I consider this an achievement unlocked. It isn’t as if I’ve beaten the whole game–but I’ve gotten to a bonus level. I have found that determination, humility, and the willingness to accept criticism and make change are crucial, if I want to really, REALLY, in the great, wide world, be a writer. Because, sure, I can call myself a novelist, right now. I can do that, and there isn’t really anyone who could argue with me.

But this isn’t good enough. Not anymore. I want to see my name on the spine of a book. I want to see my novel on the shelves of a bookstore. I want all the success–and who’re we kidding? Who doesn’t? I’m not delusional enough to think that I’m going to be the next J.K. Rowling or GRRM. But if I don’t believe that I can achieve publication, if I don’t strive, every day to make it so, then I don’t deserve it.

I could call myself a novelist, right now. But I am not going to. I’ve written a couple of books. I am still writing those couple of books. I’d feel confident calling myself a revisionist, perhaps aspiring author. I’d be happy to say I’m a writer. But I am not a novelist, yet.

But I will be, someday.

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Fictional Character, Actual Rebellion

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I have a character that aims to misbehave.

As I thought about this blog post, this morning, I realized how crazy it sounds. The characters that I write are figments of my own imagination. Therefore, their behavior is dictated by me, right?

That’s what I used to think, when I started the first novel, but I could not have been more wrong.

When a character becomes fully formed, I mean real enough that you can see them and smell them and hear their voice and really, truly understand their motivations, they don’t like to be pushed around. I’ll admit it. Sometimes, as is human nature, I try to take the easy way out. I have been known to try to get a character from point A to point C, without a pit stop at B.

I was surprised the first time that a character put on their brakes and said, “Not on my watch, Lady.” That’s right. A fictional character held my fingers hostage and made me type something that I had not planned on typing. There are a lot of swords and daggers in my novels, and I’m pretty sure that I have been held with a blade at my throat a time or two, especially in the last few weeks.

Have I lost you, yet?

O.K., let me clarify. When I write, I use a rough outline. Very rough. I know where the novel starts, and where it ends, and I know a few key events that will occur along the way. As I write, sometimes my brain creates events that I didn’t foresee, and then I have to figure out how my characters would respond to those events.

That has become one of my favorite parts. I’ve been known to have an argument, out loud, between two characters as I drive down the road, trying to decide how they would deal with a situation. My kids think I’ve completely lost my mind, but it works. It isn’t often that my characters surprise me, because I have gotten to know them so well.

But sometimes, I don’t want them to follow their own nature. Sometimes, I ignore the events that should take place, because they are hard to swallow, or difficult to write, or they make me sad. I love my characters, and I don’t want to see them suffer.

And that is where I am, right now. A character that I love possessed my body (alright, that’s being a bit dramatic, but you catch my drift), and wrote a chapter that changes the whole ball game. It alters the course of everything that I write in the series from here on out, and it is hard. But it isn’t wrong. Honestly, it was a stunning revelation of truth, but…

It isn’t the easy way out.

So I am starting at a new square one. Two hundred thousand words written in the series, and the book has taken a turn that feels like a second starting place. It is overwhelming, but also a little awe-inspiring. It makes me grateful for the muse that keeps the story coming, makes me see the characters in new light, and makes me think about all the new possibilities. I have to step back, getting to know all of my characters all over again, in light of these new events. I have to rethink what’s been thunk.

And I have to write.

But that has been the coolest part about the writing process, thus far. I love that my characters have come to life. I love that they are real enough in my mind that they act accordingly, even if I try to force them to act against their nature. I love that they can make me laugh, and make me cry. I love them like I love my kids… and misbehavior is part of the growing up process, right? So, I’ll take this character’s act of rebellion and learn from it. The other characters will learn from it, and be changed by it, and the books will become stronger for it.

I will become stronger for it, even as that blade rests on my jugular.

(image courtesy of fyeahwriterleopard.tumblr.com)