The Process

For years, I’ve been inspired by a wonderful friend of mine.  She comes from the School of Hard Knocks and since I’m not ready to write my memoirs, I decided to write a fictionalized novel based on her experiences.  Over Thanksgiving weekend, I locked myself in a guest bedroom and began.  “Welcome to your new home,” she said.

From there, the words poured out and I found my character (as many artists do) telling me what she needed and wanted to say.  As crazy as that sounds, she took on a life of her own and I could not get the words out fast enough.  By Christmas, I was well on my way and then I hit a wall.  Writer’s block.  I set it aside for months, her voice screaming inside my head to get back to it.  It felt impossible.

I picked it back up around February and again, everything came pouring out.  This weekend, I finished it.  At 78,000 words, it’s a respectable length.  I wanted to churn out a quality piece, not the crap that evolves when I participate in NanoWrimo.  While it’s a good springboard for ideas, I always feel rushed and end up doing nothing with it.

For those of you thinking about getting your story out there, I wanted to share my process.  Your mileage may vary.  I would be remiss if I did not mention that I’ve had a ton of support during this process.  I’ve borrowed ideas from other writers and editors and for that I am more than grateful.  None of this would have been possible without them.

When I initially began, I had no outline.  I had no notes.  Everything I had was in my head – stories I remembered being told.  I had no sense of how my character would develop.  I simply wrote.  I just focused on the words.  There are plenty of people for whom this doesn’t work.

One of my mentors absolutely does not work this way, so I sat down and forced myself to listen and learn.  One of my key takeaways from our conversations was preparing outlines.  I used to do this with essays and the like, but shied away from it when it came to this novel. Another was using lists.  Both of these allowed me to see the direction I wanted to go and to use the lists to essentially fill in the blanks.

I’ve read that fill-in-the-blank novels tend to work best for romance.  There’s ______, they fall in love with ________.  There’s a conflict and then, of course, they turn those frustrations into some sort of relationship.  The outcome is _______.

That’s not a format that would work for the content of my novel.  It’s serious and perhaps even depressing content but I felt it was an important story to be told. I also discovered that though my intention was to write a women’s lit novel, it actually turned into a cautionary tale for young adults.  This is not your typical shining vampire (not that there’s really anything wrong with that; it’s been wildly successful) story; my content is real life.  It’s hard, but it’s real.

The outline and lists were such a huge help that I managed to finish the rest of the novel over the course of two months.  Completing that much work over the span of three months was ambitious but I knew that the hard work isn’t in the writing – it’s in the cleanup.  I’ve started the editing process and plan to have the proofreading done by the beginning of June at the very latest.

Novels, particularly by independent authors,  need to be (in my opinion) even more polished than something produced by a major publishing company.  It’s not just about congruence and excellent content as I’ve seen plenty of indie novels that do not have such things.  It’s that it’s more difficult to break into the mainstream and so the standards are higher than those entrenched in the business.

I don’t want my protagonist’s voice to be altered so I’ve allowed only two people access to my first draft.  The first was a 16-year old as a test for the young adult market.  The second was an adult to see if it appeals to a broader audience.  So far, the feedback from both has been extremely positive.  I’m debating whether or not to post a larger portion of it publicly in the coming weeks or if I’ll wait until it’s been truly finalized.  I believe that’s a decision that new authors make with trepidation.

In any case, I’m thrilled that it’s done and despite being in the editing process, I’ve decided not to delay the second novel in this series.  I’ll be working on it concurrently while the first is being reviewed.

I’m looking forward to sharing it with you in the coming months!