When you tell people you wrote a book, one of the surprisingly common responses is “I’ve always wanted to write a book!”, followed with a variety of excuses as to why they can’t write a book. Ignoring the excuses that come across as condescending, there are often some pleas for help buried in their excuses. Writing a book is on a lot of people’s bucket list, but it isn’t easy. Now that I have finally published my first novel, I can tell you, it was was worth the pain and tears it took to make it into a finished product.
The story of how this book came to be is littered with a series of incomplete manuscripts that will probably never find their way off of my hard drive. And that’s okay. In fact, the version of this book that saw the light of day is miles away from the first outline I wrote in 2011. All books have a different path from idea to completion. There is not one way to go about it. Some writers can take an idea to completion in weeks. Yes. Weeks. Others take years. Some take a lifetime. Often, it’s hard to tell the difference between the books that were written quickly and those that took years once they’ve been through proper editing.
So how did Heir of Illaria go from idea to finished novel? For me, it began as a dream. (Yes, I know. Just like Stephanie Meyer. But that’s how it happened.) I had a dream about siblings who were kidnapped and had to escape. They were fleeing an evil king because they were the rightful heirs to the throne – though they didn’t know they were. If you’ve read my book, you can see the foundation for the story that would come later. The original outline was typed up five years before the book was finished and it evolved a lot between drafts and had a lot of starts and stops. It isn’t the same story that I ended up writing, but it was my starting place.
I tried writing it for a while, but at that time, I didn’t yet know anything about how to write a book. I dabbled. And that’s okay. It works for some people. It didn’t work for me. Eventually, I put it down for a couple of years…and had a baby…and didn’t write for a while. Life happens.
After I figured out how to juggle working while being a mom (which took about two years) I started to write again. I attempted, and failed to complete my first NaNoWriMo. I needed help. So I joined RMFW and started to learn about writing as a craft.
I was working on two novels when I joined my first critique group. Illaria, and a dystopia that will never see the light of day. After my first chapter for Illaria was ripped apart at critique, I focused on my dystopia for a few months. (Critique group disclaimer: Yes, you need one. Yes, they will criticize your work. That’s how you get better. Yes, it can be painful, but you get over it.)
Anyway, dystopia…I did not have an outline, and eventually wrote myself into a plot hole I couldn’t write my way out of. While talking through the plot with my writing friends, we ended up talking through Illaria, too. I found that that story was much more developed and I created an updated outline that changed a lot of what I already had written. The new outline made me excited to write. The dystopia went into a drawer, where it will probably stay – and I went back to Illaria, which at the time was titled The Kingdom. Good, right?
Which meant, I started over. Like throw out the first 15,000 words, over. In the grand scheme of a novel, that’s not the worst that could happen – it turned out to be the best decision I could have made. Because I jumped in with both feet and I went for it. I wrote every single day. And finished that draft in 6 weeks. SIX weeks. To finish something I’d started 5 years earlier. Sometimes you just have to go for it.
So what changed from when I was struggling to write to when I finally finished my novel? The big thing was support. I joined a writing organization, joined a critique group, and started to learn from other writers. I started to learn about writing and learned about HOW to write. In my next post, I’ll share some of the stratgies that I learned that allowed me to write a strong outine and increase my word count. Also, mindset. But that’s a big one that I’m not ready to tackle yet.