I am a novelist.
Four and a half years ago, I wrote my first book and became an author.
Yesterday, I wrote The End and became a novelist.
Like so many other authors, I’ve wanted to write a novel for as long as I can remember. I’ve had about 45 years of anticipation, of buildup, of unfulfilled desire.
I did it. It’s done. I have written a novel.
It’s not done-done. There’s still editing, and editing again, and building my ARC team, and getting the cover. But the hard part, the storytelling? The sitting down day after day and plucking worlds out of my mind? That part’s done.
Alex Paige came to me on October 28, 2021. I had already decided that I would participate in NaNoWriMo – National Novel Writing Month – in November. Originally I wanted to write an historical novel based in Chicago, but I know me. I knew I would get so buried in the research that I’d never write the story. I had to start with something I knew intimately. Travel writing and surviving breast cancer.
Write what you know.
By November 1, I had the beginnings of an idea. I did fairly well for my first attempt. You’re supposed to write 50,000 words in a month. I wrote around 30,000. But, I had surgery the week of Thanksgiving, so I gave myself a break.
That challenge was a beginning, and I was hooked. I needed to tell Alex’s story. Or rather, she needed me to tell it.
December was slow-going. Like November, the month began strong, but then my parents visited for Christmas and that was all she didn’t write. But then I got back into it. I set my alarm for 5:30 am and every morning, almost every morning, I woke up, brushed my teeth, poured my coffee, lit my candle, and wrote. Three pages by hand in my journal, thirty minutes on the computer.
I wrote a novel thirty minutes at a time.
Some days I’d write a thousand words. Most days my output was closer to five or six hundred. There were a couple of days I didn’t want to write at all, but I did it anyway. And you know what? They ended being a couple of my best writing sessions.
From January 1 through February 28 I opened my laptop and wrote all but ten days. I tracked my writing in a spreadsheet. It’s my first novel, and I wanted to understand my process.
I have found that I don’t have to wait for a muse. Even though I have a rule that I don’t look at my phone before sitting down to write for the day, I don’t always follow it. On the days I check the news, email, etc., it takes me twice as long to write my three longhand pages. I keep getting distracted, looking things up. But as soon as I get in Novel Mode, the story comes. It flows through me.
The process startled me. Enchanted me.
Frankly, it’s addicting.
I’m already thinking of the prequel, because it’s a good idea to have a prequel to give away to people who sign up for your emails. I’ve got the destinations for another four or five books. I’ve got a second, connected series in mind based on a couple of the characters in this book.
This began because, in the middle of cancer treatment in the middle of a pandemic, I took the time to look at my life and my dreams. I decided to focus entirely on what is important to me. As I wrote about my health, putting the story out there for myself and for anyone who needed to know they weren’t alone, that joy, pain, hope, and fear can exist simultaneously, I connected completely with my core purpose.
I’m a writer.
I’ve known that forever, it seems, but I don’t think I really knew it, internally, as a definition, until I couldn’t do anything else. My job disappeared overnight, until I realized that my job is to tell stories. For the past twenty years, they’ve been nonfiction.
Now I get to make shit up.
It’s the most fun I’ve had writing. Getting to know Alex, William, Nick, Evelyn, Juke, Kaine, and the rest, has been joyful. It’s been eye-opening, as all the quotes I’ve read about writing came to life, just as these people came to life. I was concerned that Alex – travel writer, cancer survivor, Midwesterner – would be Me. I didn’t want to write an autobiography.
Instead, she’s her own person. She does, says, and thinks things that I wouldn’t. She’s bolder. Kinder. I like her.
And William – I love William. He’s just plain fun and his personality jumped in fully formed. Nick? He’s an asshole. I use plotting software that allows you to create your own timelines so you can keep track of the minutiae required in a novel, things like clues and red herrings, subplots, and dates and times. One of them: Nick’s an asshole.
One of my characters is black. I didn’t know he was black. He just is. I was leery of writing about something I obviously don’t and can’t know, but I trusted him.
This is truly the oddest thing I’ve ever done. The process is bizarre. Sit in front of a computer and go. It’s not all channeling stories from the ether. It’s a craft. It’s a puzzle. The story has to be logical. Believable. The pieces have to fit. And sometimes what comes out of my pre-dawn brain is convoluted or too fantastical to be mistaken as real. So I read it again, take a step back. I bet if I were to analyze the days I didn’t write, they’d be following a day where something didn’t quite work.
It’s my first novel. I’ll learn more when I write my second, and my third, and my twelfth. I have no intention or dream of writing the Great American Novel, or even being a New York Times Bestseller or being piled with awards.
I simply want to write.