Or something super profound like that. It occurs to me that I have written many thousands, millions even, of words in my life, and several novels. By now, I think I am supposed to have an idea of what it means to write fiction. Like, how to go about it, and what my process is for writing a novel. Unfortunately, either the learning curve for writing a novel is really, really steep or I am functionally comatose when it comes to absorbing information.
Hopefully, the second
thing is not true, because I have to go to law school, where you have to
absorb a lot of information very quickly — or so I hear, I mean, maybe
it's all butterflies and ice cream (not at the same time). But most
writers will say that writing is not the same for everyone and not even
the same for each novel, which seems patently unfair given that we spend
all our time learning how to write one novel, and the next one
absolutely refuses to cooperate with that process. Nevertheless, I think
every novel teaches us something about writing and about ourselves, and
it benefits our next novel. Let's take a trip down the memory lane of
my writing life (because it's fascinating, guys).
first attempted novel: It was a historical fiction about Catherine of
Aragon. This is skipping past my early failed attempts of short stories,
including one about a kingdom of unicorns in the sky based on a folder
cover. (We don't talk about those stories, because they benefited no one. They were hideously awful and a bane on the written word.) Anyway, I think I was in junior high.
What I learned from it: I like history and I like writing fiction, but not both at the same time. Also, Carolyn Meyer already did this better than me.
My first complete novel: It was a fan fiction novel,
not for Percy Jackson. 79,000 words. I will not say which fandom; it's
probably embarrassing. I was in high school.
What I learned from it: I can write novel-length things! And
that's about all I can say for this, because it's pretty fucking
My second complete novel: ACROSS THE RIVER STYX, original
fiction. I started it in January 2009. I wrote two drafts, two
completely different drafts, basically two novels. First draft: 71,000
words. Second draft: 83,000 words. I was a freshman/sophomore in
What I learned from it: That I can write original novel-length
things! How to edit! And that I hate editing. Also, anything and
everything. This project is very special to me since it kick-started my
life as an original fiction writer. The difference between the second
draft and the first draft is astounding. I improved an incredible
amount. I had this novel critiqued by actual people, and it was the
project for the duration of my summer creative writing class. People in
my class liked it, or they were tactfully lying. Probably the latter.
My third complete novel: Untitled, original fiction. Otherwise
known as NaNoWriMo '09. 51,000 words. This came from a dream, because I
have really wacky dreams. I was a sophomore in college.
What I learned from it: I can write from the point of view of a MAN. I can write 50,000 words in a month. I can write fantasy not based on anything and completely out of my ass. I can write in third person instead of first. (Note: I did not say that I learned how to do any of these things well, just that I could do them.)
My fourth complete novel: THREE, Percy Jackson fan fiction. I was
a sophomore/junior/senior in college. This started as a one shot and
bloomed into a 70,000 word novel.
What I learned from it: How to
pace things properly. Consistent tone. That I am really comfortable in
third person, present tense as my mode of fiction writing. The basic
unit of a novel is a scene, not a chapter. (I know this is obvious to
some people, but it was not for me. Now, I do not write in chapters. I
write exclusively in scenes, and I determine chapters once a complete
draft has been written. My writing is much better for it.)
Stylistically, my current novel is most similar to this one, down to the
number of POVs and the tense. Probably because I adored writing THREE. I
set a personal record for this by writing 5,500 words in one day.
Look how far I've come! I never queried agents for any of the
original stuff. You can call them failures because they will probably
never see the light of day, but I like to call them practice. And maybe
THE FOREVER CITY will be another practice novel, but it won't ever be a
failure. If you love writing, nothing you'll write can be classified as a failure. And I would add that today I wrote 1,200 words for TFC, and I feel damn good about them.