When did you start writing?
When I was ten years old I was given a journal for Christmas, a pale blue and yellow plaid cover packed with lined papers perfumed with possibility. It immediately became my confidant, secrets whispered from my pen onto the loyal paper. When a boy liked me, or when my sister got me into trouble, it was there to take it all in. Spotted moments throughout the next seven years dot the pages. It had taken my entire childhood to fill it, still, at the last page, I gasped. The end came too soon. That last page felt important. I weighed and deliberated what I would write on that page, a summary? But I wasn’t done yet.
Elation came with a new journal. I was older now. I knew to not only write about the hard times, because looking back, I seemed to complain a lot. It taught me to be, reflective, thoughtful, self-aware, and deliberate in life and in words. I’ve filled eight journals since then.
The pen was never far from my fingertips. I’ve written poetry, short stories that were passed back and forth between friends, school essays, eventually, a master’s thesis. I found writing my feelings could make them clear, writing my indecisions could pave the way, writing my passions could drive me toward them.
In 2007, when caring for a cousin going through a mental health crisis, the pages filled with appointments, medicines, thoughts, concerns, doctor names, and the episode became a journal in and of itself. That was my first novel, a memoir of those few weeks of distress. I shared it with my cousin, my family and then tried to rewrite it from a memoir into a work of fiction. There was so much there to work with. I tried third person, with a Grandma as the narrator, but that was way too difficult to pull off. Then I put a hot man in the mix and tried to mold the story into the frame of a romance, but that wasn’t what it was at its heart and it showed. I sent out seven query letters, maybe nine and each one was uniformly denied. I paid to have an author, Lidia Yuknavitch, read part of my manuscript. She liked it, thought I was a promising author, offered to refer me. I polished it up even more and sent it to the person she suggested. The writing wasn’t good enough. I needed to write more. I tucked that story away and decided to write pure fiction. But what would I write?
They say write what you know, but stories about teaching elementary school didn’t excite me. They say, write what you read, but I am an eclectic reader, I read in all genres. So I made a two column table with genre on one side, idea on the other. I listed all of the genres I enjoyed reading on the left… then let myself dream. If I was to write a women’s fiction novel, what would I love to write about? If I was to write a science fiction novel, what would I want it to be about? I had just finished the Twilight series and was a True Blood addict, but vampires seemed overdone. I liked the threat, the fantasy, and the gothic romance. So I focused on a paranormal romance. It was fun. I pantsed it… just wrote off of the top of my head from beginning to end. It came quickly and enjoyably. I loved writing it. I hated reading it. The plot was all over the place. I needed order. I needed to know what the hell I was doing.
I began taking classes online, with local writing groups, joined local writing groups, attended conferences, took college courses online on editing, revising, romance writing, I bought dozens of books on writing and read them. I took notes, I wrote in the margins of my work and began to learn more about the tools of the craft I love. I have begun many different stories and then abandoned them, or just fiddled with them over time. Over the years, I rewrote that pantsed-paranormal novel. I backwards mapped. I wrote an outline out of my story onto index cards, they almost covered the floor of an entire small room. I worked with the plot, got rid of cards, combined cards, made a better plot and then rewrote it. I mostly rewrote the beginning, and middle, and end. Then I rewrote it again. Again, I sent out less than a dozen query letters and all were rejected. I was sensing a pattern.
I got stuck in a perpetual rut of editing and revising and not calling an end to my work. Then I would barely touch a toe in the publishing world before pulling back and starting on a new project. Sensing a pattern is very different from changing a pattern, so I continued.
I went on vacation with my family to the San Juan Islands. The instant the ferry horn bleated through the misty harbor at our arrival, I felt the romance of the island. On a visit to the American Camp and British Camp, we learned about the Pig War and immediately, an idea struck. This historical setting was ripe for romance. I could see it all, almost the entire book in a vision of an American homesteader falling in love with his British neighbor. Star crossed lovers, my favorite. I began writing on vacation, and I still am. That rough draft began five years ago and I am now editing the rough draft for book two in the series while plotting out the other three. I still feel passionate about the story, even many years later, I am not letting it go. I’ve begun querying for that first historical romance novel, while continuing to polish it. I can’t seem to let that go either. That sentence doesn’t pop. That description is awkward. That scene didn’t strike the chord I was going for. It can always be better.
The process of writing will always be my joy. It would be nice to have an agent and to publish, but I have to admit I’m not chasing that as hard as I possibly could. Every denial is motivation to improve. It says to me, okay, do better. So I just keep writing.
~Fall down seven times, get up eight~