Yesterday, I did a post on Nova Ren Suma’s blog, Distraction 99. Nova is an inspiring YA author who I met several years ago in New York, and I was excited to have a chance to guest post for her. As part of her regular series, she asked me to talk about my “turning point” as a writer. It’s a tall order, because as a writer, we have so many “turning points”. The day your 3rd grade teacher tells you your a great writer, the day you finish you first “book” (mine was in elementary school and about an enchanted rose garden, illustrated by yours truly), the day you get your first rejection letter, the day you get an agent, the day you get a book deal, the day you realize that getting a book deal is nothing like you thought it would be.
But a lot of that is business, not the important stuff. And I chose to write about process. I’ve touched on it here, but let me just say, at least for me, it never gets easier. While I cranked out my first complete manuscript with an outline in only four months (revisions were necessary, of course), I didn’t have a similar experience at all for The After Girls. And that was not exactly easy (see the GIF above). But it was worth it.
Here’s a little bit from my piece for Distraction 99:
My turning point didn’t come in my first foray into novel writing. It came when I began The After Girls. The idea for the book came first as a title and a question: What would take a group of friends from before to after instantly? The concept came quick enough as I filled in the gaps—two high school friends shaken by their best friend’s suicide right after graduation, set against the eerie backdrop of a rural Appalachian mountain town—but the details were another thing. I was writing from the point of view of two girls instead of one. I added characters and removed them. I was walking a fine line between magical realism and contemporary. And I had no outline.
It wasn’t for lack of trying. I wrote outline after outline, hoping to find one that would work like the first one, with no success. I wrote 50 pages, rewrote those pages, and didn’t look at the manuscript for weeks or even a month at a time. I felt like a failure. I was the girl who could crank out a novel in mere months. Now I’d been months and months at a single idea and had very little to show for it. I wasn’t writing on a schedule. I wasn’t even writing regularly, for that matter, but I was writing—a page here and a chapter there.
At a certain point, The After Girls began to write itself. It was like that great E.L. Doctorow quote: “Writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can see only as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” Page by page, I made the trip. The characters took over—they surprised me. The plot took twists—the ending changed multiple times. I even added a character in a few hours before I sent a final version to my agent, one that came to me in the shower when I thought I was almost done. At page 50, 100, 150, 200 … I still wasn’t sure of what would happen beyond the next ten pages. But in the end, the flexibility was what I needed to uncover the mystery of why a beautiful, smart young girl with great friends and a whole future ahead of her would take her own life.
See the full piece here.
And one last thing, thank you everyone for your support on my “book birthday” yesterday. It was a great one, and I can’t thank you all enough!