My writer’s journey: Part I

All I wanted for my 30th birthday was to have my book published. Of course, I was only 25 when I decided this. By the time that I actually reached 30, I knew that there was more of a journey for me to follow through with before that vital publishing step could happen.

But if you had asked me five years ago, it would have definitely been publishing. Don’t you just love naivety? It’s a beautiful thing. A sense of innocence. 

My parents always told me that I could be anything that I wanted in the world. It’s even more amazing, that I found what I wanted. It was the incredible world of literature. Of other worlds that amazingly creative minds have created. Worlds that I just love to immerse myself in. Of course I didn’t just stumble across it. I have always been a reader, since I was a wee spring chicken. At our local community library when I was a child, I managed to pretty much read my entire way through it. Yup, even the adult stuff. I loved it. Libraries are now a great sense of comfort for me. That is one of the reasons why I built my own library at home. Oh, it’s not that ‘grand’, but it is lined with books. So many books.

Skipping back to when I was young… I was also a writer back then as well. I wrote many a short story, and many a poem. I also kept numerous journals, for numerous years. But I didn’t actually know that I was a writer. I guess that it had never really occurred to me. This was not an aspiration that I had worked towards. I spent years training to be a designer. Then once I actually got to be a designer… I just knew somewhere deep down inside of me, that this wasn’t right either.

When my parents split up (when I was 25), I went through a bit of a rough time. I took a few days off work to process this fracture in my life. During those days off, I stumbled across an old diary of mine. (One of the many diaries that I wrote.) Inside was a list. A beautiful list of all the things that I wanted to do and achieve before I died. So I sat down in the bottom of my wardrobe, and I started going through the list, and crossing off things that I have done. Like bungy-jumping, buying a house, driving a racing car down the quarter-mile track, getting married… you get the idea. But on this list, stated at item number 13 was: Write a book.

Just for the record, number 13 has always been one of my lucky numbers… and reading this list was all the encouragement that I needed.

I started straight away. I leapt into character development, and storyline planning. And then I started writing. I wrote and I wrote. And in between writing, I was comforting my brother and sister through the separation. But I was writing. Writing like the wind, I would say. I was cranking out 6000 words per weekend. Now, for an amateur, that’s not a bad effort.

In the middle of all this, I started to network with other writers online. A very small grouping, but it was enough. This was when I met a really good, and long-term writing friend, Peter. He wrote these amazing stories about a chap named Tom Fish that kept me in fits of giggles.

But it was the support and the love of the craft that bonded us together. He was also the first reader of my very amateur blogging efforts. Bless. I feel sorry for Peter, now that I look back on those times.

I’m so pleased that I have walked the incredible path that I have already. It has taken me years, but still I trudged onwards.

Not long after I met Peter, I printed out the 80,000 word manuscript that I managed to crank out, and I gave it to a friend. She told me that she wanted to read it, and I let her. Big fricking mistake. I wasn’t ready. I really wasn’t. The feedback that she gave me was appalling, and I’m afraid that this has scarred me for life.

When I say that it has scarred me… well this is because I think I wasn’t ready to hear what she had to say. Maybe this has made me a better writer? Maybe it hasn’t. But what I really didn’t need at the time was for her to go through my precious first manuscript that was so close to my heart with a red pen, and mark out every single mistake I had made. I needed someone to read it, and tell me whether or not the story was okay, or whether or not the storyline needed further work. It was hard enough hearing her say that she thought my story was a trashy novel reincarnated, but it was even harder reading through all the red pen. Needless to say, that story [The Legacy] is hiding away in a deep dark drawer waiting for me to finally pay it a little bit of love and attention again.

This story is particularly close to my heart because this was the novel that I wrote during an incredibly emotional time with my parents, and my family unit falling apart. This was the story that helped me work through a multitude of issues. My husband once told me that I should burn it. put it through a formal burning ceremony, to release and let go of those dark days… but a part of me just can’t burn up months and months of solid and hard work. You see, it’s not just the manuscript that I would be burning. It’s a part of my writer’s journey. The foundation stone of this journey.

After getting that first initial lot of feedback, and after all the hurt, I sat back and took stock. I looked at everything in detail, and reinvented my ideas, and my working methodology. During that time, I also started to build a fortress around myself. I taught myself that feedback is one person’s opinion, and that you can either take it or leave it. But it is a readers opinion. And if you want anyone to read your work, then you should probably pay attention to it. You don’t have to take it on board – just pay it some sort of attention. After all, the reader has taken the time out of their lives to give this to you. it’s a gift. Embrace it. Embrace the criticism, because only you can learn from it.

I still consider myself being at the start of my journey. Perhaps I will always feel that way? Perhaps not. All I know is that there is so much more out there for me to learn, embrace, and produce. There are many more stories and novels in me. And only I can put them out there.

So, that’s me for the moment. This is part I of my story. I’m sure that there will be many more parts to this as I progress, but this is it for now. This post was intended to be a post about me reviewing other people’s work… but somehow it morphed into something bigger than just that.

Tom, Me, and Millie. My siblings, and the most awesomely creative people.
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9 Comments

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  1. What a beautiful post. I’m so sorry that you had to experience that pain–the pain of the divorce, as well as the harsh untimely critique. I know the latter intimately, and it isn’t fun at all. I suppose that’s why I’m so careful with critique partners. Actually, I’m careful to the point that my alpha readers, are just readers, not other writers. They tend to do less ‘writerly insertion.’ And by that, I mean that they don’t insert what they would have done as authors, into MY story.

    Now, not all writers are that way. You should consider yourself blessed if you’ve found a handful who aren’t, and it sounds like you have. They are rare creatures.

    I sincerely hope you do go back to that first novel, the one that was treated so poorly by your friend. Those works, the ones that are borne of sweat, tears and blood, are often our very best. I, personally, looking forward to seeing it on the shelves one day.

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    1. J, I really like your suggestions and thoughts on alpha readers. I think that when I read other writers works, I sometimes forget that it’s not my story. Thank you for reminding me of this fact. It will help me stay on track with critiques as I am now trying to look at works from a reader’s point of view instead of what I’d do.

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  2. Thank you for your comment J, really appreciate it.
    I think that all writers have their own fascinating journeys, and I guess that this is just a part of mine. For me there was a big trigger point in my life… and I guess that I never really knew what it was until I looked back on it.

    I think that the problem with my parents breaking up was more about the fact that it was one of the most solid and stable relationships in my life, and watching it shatter like that, made me question all sorts!

    That was when writing really kicked in for me. It allowed me to explore different feelings, and situations that were either directly related, or not related at all. The story created a safe haven for me. And when I was in it, it was a totally safe environment. I guess that I was sheltering from reality, in a way.

    I have definitely found good people to work with now. It’s such a huge change from back then! One day, when I revise the old MS… and when I’m ready for it to be released to the world, I’ll drop you a line and let you know. 🙂

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  3. Don’t burn it. Line edit it and bang on the plotline if it needs it.

    There comes a point of understanding that typos, grammatical mistakes and other problems that would deep six a magazine with an editor are routine polishing – that a good book and a lousy book will look the same at that stage. It’s probably better than you thought – and genre preferences have a lot to do with that initial feeling too.

    The only manuscript that can’t be edited is a blank page. Even if you find it easier to start over on the concept and write the whole thing again with more skill, keep the old one. It’ll help remind you of what made you write it in the first place and it does matter a lot.

    Of course you weren’t as skilled then as you are now. Nor are you as skilled now as you will be in the future. That’s what art is, lifelong learning.

    The older the pieces you save, the easier it is to see how much you have learned. Problems that seemed insoluble then start to come back down into perspective. Eventually all the mistakes boil down to something as routine as retyping the thing, except that with computers you don’t have to retype the whole thing to do that. They used to.

    I threw out forty versions of Raven Dance before I had a manuscript that was too big to dump, with over 500 pages I couldn’t toss that much work. It’s a good thing.

    Robert

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    1. The only book that can’t be edited, is a blank page. I really love that quote Robert. I’m going to save it into my little quote book to reflect on.
      Surprisingly enough, last night after I arrived home, had dinner, and settled in for the evening, I started think long and hard about that book. I do actually think that one day it could be dusted off. One day, when I have extreme stores of patience with myself – I just might bring it out for a good edit…
      But you are absolutely right when you say that I more skilled now than I was then. Creativity is a journey that I think every soul needs to embark on… because we can only learn, and grow, and become better people.
      I can’t believe you threw out 40 versions!!! That takes some guts. Kudos to you, my friend.

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  4. I love this post. I’ve written a multitude of things that won’t ever see the light of day but I cannot seem to throw them away either! There is always something in them that I find may be useful for a future project. And I love your advice about critiques. They ARE another person’s opinion, and that of a reader. You can take it or leave it but it’s worth thinking over–I tell this to other writing friends, and have been told it by them as well 🙂

    Perhaps your novel won’t ever see the light of day. Perhaps it will. It was your beginning into a journey that is well worth walking. I’m happy you shared this story. I love to hear how other authors began.

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    1. I’m glad that you enjoyed this post, Leah! There is probably much more that I could add to this journey of mine… but those are other potential posts waiting to unfold at this stage.

      Yes, maybe it will see the light of day one day… and maybe it won’t. Perhaps this book will always sit as one of my writing foundation stones, and I could draw energy from it every now and then for new work.

      If I hadn’t written it – I wouldn’t be where I am today. Each book is a new journey. Each book that unfolds before you in another pathway to be explored. I’m just pleased that I spend so much effort and time doing something that I truly love doing.

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  5. Hey chickie, brilliant post. It’s not easy to put yourself out there especially for a critique. I know from experience the feeling of receiving that very first crit- desperately hoping that the reader would say “Brilliant! Bravo!” but at the same time wanting to know, as you said, if the storyline make sense, is anything missing for the reader, is the story even believable.
    When I read my first critique I was baffled. Thankfully I didn’t have the same experience you did with red pen and negativity. But thought I got support and praise there was nothing constructive about the critique.
    That is the only reason I am picky about my CP’s. In the first place I look for talented writers. Confident writers who know where to spot a problem. I also look for personality and honesty and openness. A CP partnership is essentially a friendship and trust is so very important in that relationship.
    That is also a reason I have a group of non-writers as my Beta readers – I train them to look at storyline, theme, characterisation etc so they are able to give me a readers POV – which is essentially what we want.
    So my friend, here’s to CP’s – may they critique you, may they challenge you, may they kick you but or hug you as and when required….
    xx
    Tee

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    1. Thank you Tee!
      You are quite right… it takes a lot of guts to put your work out there with people. I’m really pleased with my newly acquired crit partners – they are special people, that value honesty, kindness, and they are tough women – that know when to kick, and when to hug.
      And those qualities are beyond measurable.
      🙂
      Xoxo LKH

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