From Spring 2009 to Spring 2010, Ana and I worked on the novella project. From 2010 to early 2011, I didn’t write a lick as the novella had been published and was in circulation as an e-book. However, I was kind of discouraged about it, believing it still wasn’t ready. After the publisher graciously rescinded the rights to Deshay in 2011, my muse returned—I had been mulling over ways to improve the story. It had been several years (not since my college days in the early 2000s) since I had been involved in any online writing community, but on a whim I decided to check out the old virtual stomping grounds for a peak. I even reviewed the works of a few authors at random. One author responded—to paraphrase, she said my review was somewhat curt and borderline mean. I was horrified! I try my best to be fair but sensitive. I re-read my review. She was right. It had been so long since I’d reviewed anything, and my words came across a bit too antagonistic. Lucky for me, she was able to push past the negative tone because of a driven need to better her writing—this is a mark of a true writer in my estimation. I say lucky for me, because she’s been one of the most helpful reviewers/editors ever since, not to mention a great, supportive online friend (You can check out her blog to see what a wonderful person/writer she is).
She also introduced me to another writing community website, one that featured solely aspiring novelists, called Authonomy.com. I posted my novella here and for about a month it got ripped to shreds and nobody was backing it (the Autho system is based on other users/readers adding books to their “shelf”—of which has only five spots—when they think it’s worthy of supporting or promoting). This was discouraging. I knew how to write, dammit. I had graduated college with an English degree, spent the greater part of the last decade editing and writing professionally on the technical side. Numerous articles I had written covering myriad topics had been published in online and national and local print publications! That had to account for something! It was about that time when I came across an article written by a renowned author. He said that a lot of people knew how to write, but that writing a novel was something completely different. He was right, by the way. I shoved my ego aside and re-re-re-read my novella. And it hit me. I had written it the same way I might write a technical article: with all the facts and little flavor. Novels can’t be written this way; it was so obvious now and I felt foolish for having been so blind to it. I wish I could have read my own words five years ago.
So I inserted a bit of description here and there—not a lot at this point, but once upon a time, when I had attempted fiction writing in high school and college, I had been fairly decent at writing imagery. Just like that, this early, early version of Deshay of the Woods started getting a bit more notice. It still wasn’t great—I would content it wasn’t even that good—but it was getting that, and I had resigned myself to the approach of paying my dues and learning, learning, learning with baby steps (Incidentally, I’m still learning. I suspect I always will be). I worked hard at plotting ideas and revamping the novel to make it work better as a story and to connect the dots and fill in the gaps and holes in the plot. When I say “revamp,” I literally mean I had scrapped much of the novella version. As a result, it grew into something more than a novella. It was becoming a novel.
A year later, Deshay of the Woods made it to the Authonomy.com Editor’s Desk, which is about as high as you can get without Harper Collins stepping up and saying they’re considering your novel for publication. The Desk doesn’t mean the novel will make it in the publishing world, it doesn’t necessarily even mean that it’s any good, but it was progress. The award for such an accomplishment is a review by one of the HC editors. At this point, the novel was 60K words (compared to the 36K word count of the novella version), but I still knew it wasn’t finished. I feared I was submitting it for review prematurely. I had even added a new character to the mix, a raven named Scarab, whose story had yet to be properly woven into the main plot.
The review I received from the HC editor was pretty much what I was expecting. They said it still looked like a draft version. However, my efforts hadn’t been for naught! I had been stumped on how to write and proceed upon several key parts of the story, and few things are more agonizing to a writer is seeing where you need to be but not seeing the path. The review helped give me direction. That and it confirmed that I wasn’t wasting my time with this whole writing thing. I had read several reviews of other authors who had made the Desk—enough to know that they don’t hold back punches. I had even read reviews where they told the author (in so many words and with more diplomacy) to learn how to write. It was therefore nice to read that the writing was “great” and that they saw lots of potential.
What I’ve learned from the year in discussion is that the learning aspect of novel writing never ends and takes patience and persistence. For that reason, the most important thing to remember is to keep having fun. If you’re not enjoying what you’re doing, you won’t stick with it.