Saturday, December 18, 2010

Writer Trauma! And Why It Was Probably Good for Me: Part Two

In my last post, I talked about my first experience in writing a novel and how it ended as a bitter disappointment for me (what I jokingly call my "writer trauma"). It's a depressing post in some ways, but I felt it was important to be honest about the difficulties I've encountered on my writing journey so far, rather than pretend they never happened.

Well, that was that post! Now I'm here to discuss why the experience was good for me in the long run. It may sound predictable and trite to say that I grew as a result, and that it reinforced my belief that everything happens for a reason. And while I do believe these things, they're not the primary subject of this post. Instead, I want to talk about how my first failure led directly to my second attempt at writing a novel, and how it's been the most rewarding experience of my life so far.

After finding out my first effort wasn't publishable, I spent about a week feeling incredibly depressed, reading web comics in an effort to distract myself and pretend it never happened. (Not the most productive way to deal with it, perhaps, but comforting nevertheless!) Then I began thinking, "What next?" To my own surprise, I found myself trying to think of new ideas, new stories to write. Originally, I assumed I'd be too upset to even consider writing another novel, at least for a few months. Yet here I was, already brainstorming ideas for another project. I was startled by my own determination to try again; I guess you could say I didn't think I had it in me. That was my first discovery.

My second discovery was that I actually had ideas! This was a big surprise to me, because the first manuscript was the only decent idea I'd ever had for a novel, and I'd been trying to write one since I was eleven. I simply assumed it would take another seven years to have another idea like that. But as soon as I abandoned the first project, my ideas started flowing faster than ever before... Almost like I just needed to get that first idea out of my system, so I could move on to bigger and better things.

I wouldn't believe that last sentence, except it's exactly what happened! Less than two weeks after I'd abandoned my first novel, I began working on the idea that would eventually become my second manuscript. And it wasn't just as good as my first idea... Honestly, it blew the first one out of the water. My first manuscript was a paranormal romance, with a weak plot and borrowed mythology. The second eventually became a YA historical fantasy with a stronger plot and more complex characters, along with a mythology and system of magic that were largely my own inventions.

Oddly enough, the second book is much closer to the type of book I wanted to write in the first place-- I enjoy writing fantasy more than writing romance-- and while I wouldn't claim it's especially unique, the ideas are my own and draw inspiration from various sources, instead of being based upon a single mythology. What's more, the sources were all subjects that have interested me for some time (Arthurian legends, Greek myths, Hermetic alchemy, and ancient astrology, just to name a few), and even the setting was a dream come true (London 1887). I've been a 19th century fanatic since I was nine. The mere thought of having the opportunity to write Victorian dialogue and describe Victorian clothes made me giddy. (Heck, it still does!)

So you could say this second idea was my dream novel. It even came to me during a time when Victorian settings were becoming popular again, so I wasn't too worried that making it historical rather than contemporary would hurt its chances of being published. More importantly, I wanted to write it! In fact, I wanted to write it so badly that after a few weeks of planning, I plunged into the first draft, with only a handful of notes and sketches and a vague idea of where the story was going.

That was in March 2010. Half a year and four painstaking edits later, I have a completed manuscript for submission. I'm sure it's not perfect, and I'm still incredibly green as a writer. But I can say with confidence that my second attempt at a novel was much, much better than my first. It's also my favorite out of all the stories I've created, even the silly, self-indulgent ones that were just for my own enjoyment.

I guess that's why in the end, having a bad experience with my first novel was good for me. I've heard that sometimes writers have to get that first novel out of their system, the one that will never be published, just to learn and grow enough to move on to better things. I never really believed it until it happened to me. Granted, most of those writers learn this lesson AFTER they've received piles of rejection letters, not before! But it was only after I'd abandoned my first project that I realized what kind of novel I really wanted to write, and because of that, I was able to put all my heart and soul into writing the next story. I also learned to give more serious consideration to plot, to put more effort into developing complex characters, and how to edit-- thoughtfully, thoroughly, and over and OVER again. I'm still not perfect, but I've improved a great deal over the past year, and that makes all the effort and the disappointment worthwhile.

Still, maybe the most important discovery I've made about myself as a writer was the first one: I always wanted to keep writing, to try again even though I'd failed. Even now, that discovery keeps me going when I worry about failing a second time. No matter what happens, I know I'll keep writing. Oddly enough, that truth matters more to me than my loftiest goals regarding publication. In a way, my first setback helped me realize what was important-- and that's having a passion for writing, not anything else which might come from it. It might sound cliché, but I believe that's exactly what makes someone a writer: the simple urge to write, regardless of everything else.

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