NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) 2007. I decided to join the madness only a few days before November. There was no time for me to plan. I dove into a month where I was supposed to write 50,000 words with nothing more than a “What if?” and a couple character names. I’d already decided my writing sucked, so what did I have to lose?
On November first, I wrote something like 7,000 words. I remember looking at the total and thinking what a breeze the 50k was going to be. Over the next two days, I doubled my word count. If I remember correctly, by the end of the first week, I was over 20k. Then things slowed down to a crawl. I didn’t know where to go with the story. It was supposed to be a novel, but I couldn’t see how I could possibly stretch this little, weird, time-travel-but-not, paranormal-but-not, fantasy-maybe story into something long enough to be made into a book.
But I plowed ahead. I finished November with right around 53k. The story wasn’t done, but I was mentally fried. I’d pushed and pushed until I felt like I couldn’t see straight. So I set the writing portion aside, and posted the first chapter for the ritual disemboweling in my online writing group. It never came. People liked the story. Eventually that was enough to make me pick it up again (around February).
I’d been away from the story for so long, though, it took me months to finish what would end up as an 89,000 word novel. What made it even harder was that somewhere in there, I’d come up with this idea for a young adult novel that I really wanted to write. I ended up making a promise with myself that I could do it for NaNo 2008, but only if I finished Avalon’s Return.
That was my first clue that I was the type of person who needed a carrot to finish the race. I completed Avalon’s Return in August, took September to plot the young adult novel, and used October to apply reader feedback and edit Avalon’s Return. I started NaNo that year fresh again.
I plowed through November, reaching the 50k with ease, and then kept going into December until I’d finished the first draft of my YA urban fantasy Pretty Souls. Only then did I do a read-through of Avalon’s Return. I still thought it was good, so I sent it off to a total of ten agents. None of them wanted to see more than the initial submission packet.
In January, I went to Cryptic Confusion, a convention in Detroit, and had the opportunity to sit down and have lunch with the wonderful Kelley Armstrong. We talked writing, and she offered to look over my first chapter. Of course I jumped at the opportunity. The email she sent came with a warning that I might not want to read what she said. I laughed. For the first time ever, I wanted — no, I needed — harsh feedback, and Kelley didn’t disappoint. I did some tweaking to the manuscript, but somewhere along the way, even I realized the problems were bigger than I could fix at the time.
So, I moved on to the project I was more excited about — Pretty Souls. I shined it and polished it until I would have sworn I could see my face in the surface of the title page. Around April, I sent it out to about twenty agents. I had an early request for more pages, which kept me going for a while, but it was the only request I got.
Sometime in May, I decided to take another good hard look at it. I’d become friends with the assistant who had requested the additional pages, and she gave me some constructive feedback, so through the summer, I took on the task of re-writing the manuscript from the ground up.
What took me less than forty-five days to write took over three months to re-write. And at the end, I still had no idea if it was any better. The fear at that point was worse than any I’d ever had when staring at a blank page.