Adventures in Novel-Writing

My first novel: Written summer before ninth grade. Thought I was the shit, writing a book and all. Ripped off Lois Duncan because I thought she was the shit, and therefore I'd be the shit if I ripped her off. Didn't make a conscious decision to rip her off. Ripped her off anyway.

Entire thing revolved around some ridiculousness at a school-turned-science-experiment with quirky teachers and about eight sets of twins. Help me.

Changed tenses a lot and talked to the reader like a jerk. Wrote seven-page-long arguments between the main character and her brother that went nowhere but are still rather amusing. Large parts made no sense. Makes me cringe to read it. Kept it anyway. Resides under my bed.

My second novel: Finished in spirit, never on paper. Written in my ninth grade year. Pages still full of white-out. Obnoxious attempt to put EVERYTHING I liked into one story. Insisted on melding my own experiences with lots of pathetic whining, inventing characters along the way because I liked to make people up.

Made up a half-assed plot when criticized for having characters be friends that normally wouldn't even look at each other. A girl, youngest of five, finds herself an outcast in school because of her telepathic abilities. Badness follows.

Still changed tenses a lot and talked to the reader like a jerk. Had characters that acted erratically for no reason. Pleasantly character-oriented but had no plot. Embarrasses me. Kept it anyway. Presently gathers dust . . . under my bed.

My third novel: Ivy emerged, heroine of the next five years of my life. The House That Ivy Built, written entirely in two weeks out of extreme boredom and the belief that I could come up with better writing than exceedingly perverted X-men fanfics someone had been reading me right before I wrote chapter one.

Began as another embarrassing brainfart. Half-assed character descriptions were dumped in a lump in chapter one, then erased in extreme shame about a year later. Figured out how to use my new computer and began the serious project of editing this odd book about a very believable telekinetic chick who somehow captured my heart.

Had my first experience of discovering plot the same way an archaeologist unearths the find of the century--credit to Stephen King for the metaphor. Things fell into place as I scribbled Ivy's adventures. Rapidly changed from whimsical fantasy novel to speculative fiction to be taken seriously. She was real, and she acted like it, talked like it; people around her acted like they really would. Made personal history.

My fourth novel: Ivy gets a sequel. Took a long time to write, scribbled in my first year of college. Affectionately referred to as "Book 2," and became the bane of my existence. Eight hundred goddamn pages long, most of it crap. Resisted bringing it into existence for months, knowing how hard it is to write a book, remembering all the sleepless nights and crying and freaking out and sitting on top of the fridge eating my breakfast trying to see out of this character's eyes. Jumped into the project anyway. Didn't look back.

Details Ivy's attempts to find a place in a world that definitely doesn't understand her--by going to school and posing as one of "them." Smells like my second book in a way, except this time it's full of the way reality actually bites rather than pathetic whining of "no one accepts me." Begin to see evidence that I learned to use plot devices. Not very well, but they're there. Lots going on. Most of it uninteresting unless you like the character--which I've been told isn't difficult to do.

Still preferred writing books longhand instead of trying to compose them sitting up. Spent the better part of a year in Ivyland thinking this beast up. Seemed like a story with a great heart, but way too far to climb before it could make something of itself.

My fifth novel: Ivy won't go away. And "Book 3" was a significant improvement, including my first attempt to write with plotted outlines (which failed miserably). Had to go back and insert a lot. Ivy's character bloomed in a way that was almost scary. I freaked, and ran with it.

Discovered I seriously did not have control of several aspects of my stories. Began chapters with vague ideas in mind and ended up with nuttiness that turned into gold. Tweaked chapters sleeplessly until hands cramped and eyelids drooped. Being a writer consumed my life. When I wrote I was there. Views of life change forever once such a state is experienced.

Ivy picks herself up out of the dust the last book threw at her and manages to find her niche and attract/avoid the attention of a wannabe boyfriend type. She branches out and begins smearing her influence across the lives of others. By this point I have "fans." People are already asking for the next one when they finish a book; people ask me questions about my peculiar character and ask me how I thought of her and her situations. I have nothing more encouraging to say than "brainfart gone whirlwind."

My sixth novel: Ivy still won't go away, and I am resigned to this. This ain't no trilogy--it's series time. "Book 4," the monster clunker of a novel, spans well over eight hundred sheets of tree. It stole at least two and a half years of my life, but it was the best yet.

At least six plots fight over my main character until she doesn't know which way to turn. Two of the plots were things I swore I'd never do. Goes to show how much say I had in this book--sometimes I honestly felt like I was only holding the pen. I got sucked down into the pages, surviving messed up situations, earth-shaking discoveries, a bout of severe claustrophobia, and emotions I have no name for, all along with this little piece of brain-fluff I shook out of my ear on July 31, 1996 and named in my own image.

As of this writing, I finished this book last night. If you have never written a novel, or have ever started a novel and never finished it, I recommend you give it a shot, so you can feel like I feel now. I may be a writer, but this I can't put into words.

Book seven coming soon to a dead tree near you.

[Notes: This was written on May 21, 2001. Since then I began Ivy's fifth novel, began an experimental "book 0" that details life before book 1 started, and wrote the following unrelated novels and a webcomic that includes Ivy's life. You can read excerpts from the Ivy books and these other works at the long fiction page.]

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Comments from others:

Mikey: Well I can say this being a very big fan of the writing world that I will hope that you never stop writing and well the loss of trees will stink but it will be for a good cause.