My first writing project was a novel. It was a pretty hefty project, but it was something I had thought about doing for at least a decade, and I was excited to begin.
I had no formal training, so the first step I took was a trip to a Barnes & Noble. As I wandered through the store searching for the books that would teach me how to write, I imagined what my book would look like on the shelf. I smiled with the anticipation. It felt like I was carrying a secret that I was going to be a famous author, and someday I would share my stories with the world.
I found the section I was looking for in the less populated part of the store. The aisle was empty so I had an easy time browsing the shelves, fingering the books on grammar, reference sources and dictionaries.
I spotted a book titled, How to Write & Sell Your First Novel, and pulled it from the shelf. I glanced back and pulled a handful of books on the subject. I sat on the floor and studied each one. I felt choosing the right guidebook would play an important part in my book’s success. I spent hours picking through the selection and finally decided on three. They were; The Writer’s Digest Handbook of Novel Writing, The First Five Pages, and How to Write &Sell your First Novel.
I was already working a full-time job and had the responsibilities of a wife and parent to five children, so finding the time for this project wasn’t easy. I was always a reader, so I replaced the time I spent reading novels, with learning how to write them.
The one thing that was consistent in each of the books was how important it was to make time each day to write. That made sense to me. I wanted to have at least one hour a day for writing, so I made the commitment to get up at 4:00am. It was the only time of day that I knew I could work uninterrupted. And because my adrenaline was pumped, it was easy for me to jump out of bed, and cozy up to my desktop computer that was set up in the dining room.
I didn’t have any great plot in mind, but according to the books, that was okay. I learned that often times writers let the story unfold as they go. I had a great imagination, so I wasn’t worried that I wouldn’t come up with ideas.
Mary Higgins Clark was one of my favorite authors, so I thought I would write a mystery, and use her story rhythm and style as a guide. I studied the first five pages of her book, Loves Music, Loves to Dance. I took notes on the characters, and how she introduced them. How she described the setting. I wrote down the emotions I felt while reading her words. I took note of smells and sounds.
I had to ‘write what I knew,’ so I began my story at a place where I used to party as a teenager. It had the remote country setting I needed for a murder to take place. I chose a boy and a girl who used to party there to become my main characters. In real life, the girl stole my first love from me, so I was looking forward to killing her off in my tale. The boy was an arrogant ick, and I was looking forward to describing him as the creep I thought he was. I gave the teenage girl a daughter. In hope to hook my reader in the first five pages, I kicked off my story in an ominous nighttime setting. I added music. For the plot, I had the child get tired of asking her mom to go home, only to stomp off to her mom’s station wagon and fall asleep in the back amongst a bunch of boxes. I needed to introduce the crime that needed to be solved, so I ended the chapter with the daughter waking up when she feels the car bouncing along the dirt road. When she sees the boy driving the vehicle, she becomes frightened and stays hidden. She ends up witnessing the boy rape and murder her mom.
Those first chapters were quite a learning experience. I kept going back and forth between my writing guide books and my work in progress. I had to adjust the ages of my main characters because I had to make the girl old enough to have a child, yet young enough to be at the party. I added the boxes to the back of the station wagon because I needed a way for the child to stay hidden. I’d never been raped, but I’ve seen movies on the subject. In order for me to describe that scene, I remember sitting at the computer with my eyes closed, my fingertips on the keyboard, deep breathing and imagining myself there. I was so deeply focused that I didn’t hear my daughter, Steph, enter the room. She asked, with pure astonishment, “what are you doing???” I opened one eye and answered, “getting into character?!” I still laugh about that.
Throughout the writing of the book, I’d take my real-life challenges, or take the latest news headlines and weave the information into the story. After a year of creating a constantly shifting plot, I wrote myself into a heap of disorder, with characters I grew to love. I remember sitting at the computer, staring at the screen, and forcing my fingers to type something. Anything. I got to the point where I needed to just end it.
I tied up the loose ends the best I could. And because I was being me and like happy endings, and even though I already wrote 240 pages of suspense, murder, with loving characters, I changed the entire flavor of the story, and ended the tale, giving my main character the love she always wanted.
Just like the guidebooks suggested, I put my manuscript away before starting the editing process.
I was like an expectant mother, excited to birth my child.
With pen in hand, ready to highlight areas to correct, it didn’t take me long to see I had a mess on my hands. I liked the beginning, with the child who witnessed the murder of her mom. That child was grown up in Chapter 2 and became the main character with no memory of the murder. The story was flowing okay until Chapter 3. The tone of the book changed when I introduced a best friend for my main character.
The dialogue between my main character and best-friend was light-hearted and friendly. You could feel the shift. Ominous was gone and a looking for love story was introduced, and I didn’t even know I did that. The main character was someone who I could identify with. I felt I did well with that part of my writing.
And then somewhere in Chapter 10, I had an anthrax attack.
I realized I had nothing to work with. I liked parts of my novel, some of the writing was really good. But with the mixed tones, genres, and plots, I knew I’d have to start over. I was proud that I finished the project, even though the product that I produced was poor.
I think it was five years later before I started writing again. I missed it, the creativity of it, the love of playing with words and bringing a story to life. I decided to take a story from my life where I knew the beginning, the middle, and the end. I wrote an essay. And that is where I found the niche in the writing world that I seemed to fit.
Do you have a story you’d want to share with the world? Would you write fiction or non-fiction? Poetry? Guide Books?
In every instructional book I read, the first rule of thumb to be a writer was always, you must be one of those people who loves to read. I was a bit of a late-bloomer.
I was 17-years-old when my friend Yvonne introduced me to a paperback Chivalric romance novel. After reading the fictitious tale about the rogue and rich Samuel and his undying quest for Catalina’s heart, I was hooked. I identified myself with the female character. Catalina was strong, fearless and courageous. She had a body to die for. Catalina was the kind of woman I wanted to become.
I started shopping for books at the local drugstore. The spinning display held a large selection of paperbacks with covers of handsome, masculine men who made their protagonist women swoon with desire. Those distressed damsels had the kind of confidence and demure that I bestowed only in my imaginary world. Jobs and money, or the lack there of, was never an issue. The author was careful about hooking your identity to the rich, or at least allowed you to believe there was a chance your place in society would be that of the upper class by the story’s end.
By the time I was 19, I was a home-owner, married, and pregnant with my first child. I was disappointed when I found my life absent of the romantic adventures that I loved reading about. We never had any extra money for vacations to a glamorous city. The romance and undying support I hoped to get in my marriage became more of a life-lesson experience. After eight years of marriage, we got divorced and were faced with a new challenge of co-parenting our four children. I gave up my Chivalric romance novels and started shopping in the self-help section of the book store. It was there that I found a connection to people like me. Throughout the years, I never had to be alone to deal with the challenges and struggles of life. I could always find a book on the shelf that was written by an author who survived the exact thing I was going through.
Books have always been a way for me to find a sense of balance. I have visited and read stories from most of the literary genres. My favorites are Comedy, Mystery, and Romance. When I read for entertainment, I want a story that promises a happy ending. The only category I avoid is horror. Those plot types cause me to lose sleep and have nightmares.
Do books make a difference in your life? What is your favorite genre? Is there a category you avoid?