Last time on work-in-progress:
In an environment rich in creativity and ideas, I started to write my first novel. When I left that environment, I abandoned the project … sort of.
The thing is that those two spiral-bound notebooks full of my scribbling, typewritten pages full of corrector tape, and the few scattered dot matrix print-outs, never really left me. The novel was called Rain then, after the main character. As the title might tell you, my idea started with my protagonist. The story was hers, and all about her journey. All the other characters grew out of her story.
Over the next years, I tried refining my opening paragraphs. I worked on a prologue, and a couple of pivotal scenes. I wanted scope, breadth, space. I felt I had to develop my world and my characters kind of got lost in the shuffle.
I enrolled in a creative writing course by correspondence and received my first computer as a part of that deal. In between writing assignments, I worked at my novel again. It was in fits and starts though, no dedicated time. I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to do with the story and where I wanted it to go. The name changed to Rayne. Could that count as progress?
After some soul searching about what I wanted to do with my life, I decided to complete the bachelor’s degree I started at the University of Guelph. I chose Laurentian University in Sudbury, and felt that focusing on an English degree would be my best bet. My ambition was to become the best writer I could be. I’d turn the academic world to my purpose.
My writing improved substantially during my years at LU and workshops like Susanna Kearsley‘s gave me a boost. So too, did my slew of writing successes: a contest win; a short story written for the premiere issue of Parsec Magazine; a regular column in Llambda (LU’s student newspaper); an article in Slin Roller Magazine. It never translated into my opus though.
I made another fateful (and ultimately foolish) decision to pursue my education by completing a master’s degree in English literature and creative writing at the University of Windsor. Though I trotted out my novel (and other novel ideas) there, because my chosen genre was fantasy, my work was disparaged. After leaving discouraged, and returning to complete my degree with a thesis composed of vaguely literary short stories framed by the shamanic journey, I felt defeated rather than victorious, and couldn’t look at my novel for a long time.
After Windsor, I had some modest success in other creative endeavors: poetry and short stories. Every once in a while, though, I’d have to pull out the old notes. Once I got my lap top computer, things took off a little more.
By the time I’d joined the Sudbury Writers’ Guild in 2004, and attended Rosemary Aubert‘s workshop in 2005, I’d closed in on the fifty-page mark (oft-revised and agonized over). I still wasn’t writing every day though. I just couldn’t get my butt wedged firmly enough in the chair. There was always something else that needed to be done first.
Then came Nino Ricci. One of the SWG had met him and managed to arrange for him to come to Sudbury. It was to be a weekend of workshopping our stories/novels/poetry. In the course of the workshop, Nino talked about his own development as a writer, his years at York University, and his own challenges with his thesis advisor. From that weekend, I learned that perseverance and passion win out. I also knew that I had a long way to go on my novel, but the only way I could get there would be to write it.
Another thing Nino said that settled in was that his first drafts, at least at that time, were written to get his ideas out. Sometimes the next draft was completely different. Sometimes, he didn’t even refer to the first. I’d heard the message many times over the years that first drafts didn’t have to be perfect, or even particularly well-written. First drafts have to be written, though. I finally understood.
I started writing every day and was amazed at how easy it was. I made a commitment, a decision. I was finally taking control of my creative life. The initial goal was simply to write. Once my practice was consistent and the habit ingrained, I aimed for a page a day, then two.
I emailed Nino after the workshop to thank him for the opportunity and to let him know the influence he’d had on my creative life. Always gracious, Nino wrote back with some kind words of his own.
Even though I had a full time job by this time, I kept at it, and two years later, I’d finished my first draft.
How did you start writing your novel? Was it a focused effort, or did you struggle? Did mentors appear to guide you, or were you confronted by guardians at the gates?