First off, sorry for the missed post on Friday. I do my best to post regularly, but sometimes uni just leaps up to bite, and I miss one :( Hope you all still love me ;) Still feeling the after-effects of the uni-bite, today's post is slightly rambly - but somewhere, if you look hard enough, there is a point. I promise :o)
My brain regularly takes random sidetrips in terms of its thinking process, and this weekend has been no different. It's something the Muse has always done - but the difference is now I find myself couching these sidetrips in the language of blog posts. I think I'm addicted* O:)
Somewhat happily for you, this week's random sidetrip was actually relevant to this blog, and also to something I've stumbled across in a couple of places recently.
Novels. How did you get into writing them? What have you learned from each attempt? When did you start thinking seriously about writing? How have you grown since then?
It's a pretty all-encompassing topic that my Muse stumbled upon, but it got me thinking (odd, that - a thought process got me thinking, my, my...).
My first 'serious' attempt at writing was back in year ten. A friend of mine was also interested in writing, and together we began planning a fantasy story. This was in the days before I'd heard of urban fantasy, so when I finally drafted some actual writing for this story (rather than the months and months of playing and planning), the beginning included not one but two prologues. Oh my.
It was a lot of fun, though. It hooked me for the first time on worldbuilding and character development, and there are three characters in particular from that first attempt that I'm not giving up on: they'll get their own story one day, by hook or by crook.
But high school ended, the friend and I went our separate ways, and aside from a creative writing class in college (years 11 and 12 for the foreigners among you) nothing much happened on the writing front.
I started uni (university, since it's come to my attention that US of Aians have no clue what 'uni' means ;)), and life went on.
Until said friend returned from a year overseas, and began classes at the same uni. All of a sudden we had an excuse to be in the same place at the same time, and the topic of conversation turned naturally to writing.
It turned out that both of us had kept our first story in the back of our minds all those years, and had somehow and subtley added to it, growing it, until we ended up with two very different versions. In talking, however, we realised that the two could be enmeshed and make a very pretty trilogy (yes, this was still pre-urban fantasy days O:)). And thus began my second serious attempt.
This time, we actually got around to thinking about some plot. There were no prologues, although there was a Prophecy and a Chosen One, and not-one-but-several invented languages that all used shiny (and random) punctuation marks to Make Them Look Pretty.
We even wrote a couple of scenes for it.
I took another writing class, this time at uni... And I was hammered. Sure, I could string words together into pretty sentences, but I had absolutely no concept of structure, of plot or pacing - or, to the teacher's chagrin, how to write a short story.
But I was learning - and as people often find when they're doing collaborative work, my friend and I were learning at different rates. She had other priorities, other distractions... And it got to the point where, awful though it feels to write this (friend-who-happens-to-read-this-blog, forgive, forgive!), I outgrew our work together.
That is what I like to think of as my 'Act 1': the setting up of my interest in writing, where the conflict and character are introduced, and where we end by raising the stakes: if I was to continue writing seriously, it would now have to be alone.
Luckily for me, it was about that time (now the beginning of 2007) that I stumbled upon Holly Lisle's site, and devoured everything she had to say about the writing life. Not long after I found Critique Circle, and fell into a lovely group of friends, though not the friendship group I've ultimately formed. And on top of this, my Dad, whom I regard as conservative and sensible above all else, told me that I ought to "take it from a disillusioned forty-something year old": life is too short to waste doing something we only like. If I wanted to write, then by frollygop, I ought to get out there and write.
And so began Act 2: I started a novel of my own. It suffered from a host of diseases, most pertinent of which was the habit of skipping from one point of action to the next without down time, or explanation, or worldbuilding. I'd been duly warned about the infamous info-dump, and avoided it well - only to swing too far in the opposite direction.
But it was encouraging to know that I could write chapters, in the plural; previously my highest word count for anything, academia included, was about 3,000. And the crits were encouraging, if firm.
I took a second creative writing course at uni. This enforced a break from the novel, as I found I couldn't work on it and stories for class as well, but this was probably for the best: there were too many problems I needed to sort out before I continued with the novel draft.
I acquired some vague notions of structure from the class, though ended up with the same final grade as last time.
And then the Big Thing happened. It was November; it was NaNoWriMo.
It was a week before, in fact, and I was lamenting on Critique Circle both my lack of an outline, and my lack of time to outline - and, I suspect, my lack of ability to outline.
And my hero stepped in. At that time, dear Merc, you were one of the 'big names', of Critique Circle in my eyes, and to have you not only encourage me to do NaNoWriMo, but also offer to write and in fact write an entire synopsis for me... Words fail me. Absolutely.
And so, armed with a plot and mountains of encouragement cookies, I attempted NaNo. I discovered the horrors of first drafts - but I also discovered that I was writing something that people liked. People enjoyed my story, and wanted more. And so I kept writing. I fell majorly behind, but somehow, someway, in a manner that is still a mystery to me, at the end of the month I pasted in my story, and up came the magic words: Congratulations! You've won NaNoWriMo!
The novel wasn't finished, and it took two more months to push through the final third of the book, but I did it: I finished a novel. Me. Little old me, with one novel down and under the belt. It had a mess of holes and needed serious revising, but as I read over it I realised - I can fix this. And I set about to do so.
I started a new novel at the same time, excited to be starting it with an outline, and I got to 10 chapters - and I stopped. I hit a wall, and realised that my first ten chapters were fluff, and that the story actually started at chapter 11. Man, was that depressing.
It was around this time, lamenting my inability to write story stories (they always turned novel on me), another dear friend took me under her wing. I was going to write a short story - one per week, in fact, no less, barring death, illness, or an overdose of Life. And lo, behold, I did - and I learned Structure. I could write a short story.
One of them turned novel on me... And I ended up with my second project: The Project. It became an exercise in plot, learning how to race from one cliffhanger to the next... And it worked. People read it; people liked it.
And I realised that I could do it.
And this is where I am now: still in Act 2, but happy to be here. I'm editing The Project, and I'm remembering how much I love editing right now. I'm preparing for NaNo, rather terrified once again to have no plot - but I know I can do it. I can do it because I have awesome friends to cheer me on; but I could do it alone, if I had to.
I'm growing, I'm learning - and today, for the first time in two weeks, I'm writing.
* Evidenced by the fact that two weeks ago, a particularly stressful time at uni, saw my lying awake all night one night worrying about blog posts. Argh! Why?!