Writer Wednesday: My Learning Novel

A number of years ago an idea took hold of me. It was actually from this really cool dream I had as a teen of a secret staircase hidden in an old house. A path to another time. So when I decided I really wanted to get serious about novel writing, that was the notion that took hold of me. First I called the novel Magic in the Fireplace.  Then I called it In and Out of Time. I worked on this novel, polishing and revising and submitting it to publishers countless times. It was never published.

Since that seemingly endless time of hard work and revision and heartache and hope, I’ve gone on to write 3 more novels with happier results. And now I can look back at In and Out of Time and see that it was my “learning novel.” My non-MFA thesis. Through writing this book I struggled and discovered better openings to books, more effective pacing and focus. I fought with and sometimes won my own battles to discover better dialogue and more vivid imagery. I found and learned to value critique groups and writers conferences. I met editors and agents and other writers. I grew a thicker skin as the file of rejections grew.

I learned. I spent 10 years on it.

But still the novel never got published.

Sometimes that path felt tortuous. I’m a determined person. When I vow that something is going to succeed, I’m not one to give up. But finally I didn’t really give up, I decided to move on.  Good decision. The next novel I wrote took only 4 months to complete. Within a year I had both an agent and a publisher.

I really had learned.

Looking back, I wished my own “personal MFA” had been quicker. More efficient. But I’ve also met some wonderful and successful novelists who had 5 or 6 learning novels sitting in a drawer at home before they wrote the one that sold.

When you think of that, you realize the deep level of commitment and determination that writers bring to the page when they create.

These days, when I talk to others about what it takes to be a successful writer, I always say something like this: If this is what you love, you can’t give up. Nothing’s for sure, but one thing’s certain – if you give up, then it will never happen for you…

Then I whip out my massive stack of rejections, along with my published works.  The message is pretty clear.

But what about that novel of mine, In and Out of Time? Its got some cool stuff in it, but maybe too much cool stuff. It was a middle reader novel, but some part of the plot was too grown up…so I actually stole the heart of that and used it in my YA novel DRAWN. And with In and Out of Time there are three different time periods that characters travel to. Hm, couldn’t each one form a separate adventure and novel?

But how to do that?  Well, I’m not sure yet.

I’m still learning.

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8 thoughts on “Writer Wednesday: My Learning Novel

  1. So true. And working on my current WIP, I realized I can (and have) fall in love with other (new) characters. It’s like kids. When you have one you think, I couldn’t love anyone more. Then you have two and think…I didn’t know my heart could grow. And it’s all great. Although then there’s more crap. ;) But totally worth it.

    • Hi Carey,

      That’s completely it! And a great analogy, too. When I wrote that first novel, it was my everything. I couldn’t imagine moving on from it, or caring about other characters or another world as much, or even more. These days when I speak to writers, I encourage them to think of their career as continuing beyond this first book, and to realize they’ll have many books that they’ll write. Sometimes I get blank stares back, and I completely get that. It’s something you need to figure out on your own…but it’s great to keep in mind because sometimes things just don’t work out with that first novel. Yet there’s still plenty of hope to be had for your career.

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