I was seven years old when I wrote my first book. The main character wandered along the street, asking others “Would you be my friend?” It had a happy ending, although I can’t remember much more about it.
Over the course of my life I’ve gone through cycles of writing fiction intensively for several years, then completely dropping it for a few more years. My most recent writing cycle was 2005 through 2011, when I was a regular participant in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) and got to the 50,000-word finish line six times in six successive Novembers. On my last outing in November 2011 I only got about 5,000 words into the story before stopping. Life had staged an intervention: I had slipped on some stairs and fractured a leg bone; my car had been rear-ended at an intersection and I was hobbling around town trying to locate a replacement; and Wednesday nights were off limits for writing because by then I was a dedicated participant in the local community band scene.
Well, I’m back. And this time I’m actually going to publish something.
Due to a serendipitous encounter at the supermarket with an old acquaintance — a lot of that going on nowadays! — I’ve hooked up with a writing group again. The last such group had dissolved, with one of the principals moving out of town and another passing away, and because writing had taken a back seat to music I hadn’t been in a massive hurry to locate a new one. It still annoyed me to have half a dozen first-draft manuscripts just sitting around the house, and I intended to do something with those stories eventually.
Last Thursday evening was an eye-opener, enlightening and humbling. Because my old novels are currently on a USB key in a safety deposit box downtown, and in a jumbled pile of print-outs in a box on my office floor, and possibly on an external hard drive that needs to be hooked up sometime so that I can see what’s on it, I decided instead to read out this post from this blog. The feedback was an “Aha!” moment of epic proportions. Although I had described a chaotic jumble of goings-on, and my efforts to get from hither to yon to get everything done, one key element was missing.
For someone who aspires to be a serious writer, this is a rather grave omission. I’ve known for some time, over multiple writing/not-writing cycles, that my style changes markedly every time I return for another attempt. It never even occurred to me that something had been left behind in the transition to the latest style.
Well, now I know what I have to do. As I rework characters that had been lightly sketched out in the race for 50,000 NaNoWriMo words, it’s necessary to put a few gouges and scratches in their personalities. I have one female lead in particular who’s much too Mary Sue for my tastes, and I am determined to make her into less of a Good Girl and more of a jerk. I had a second “Aha!” at the writer’s group that showed me a way to do that: With each story, her experiences wear her down a little bit more and she acquires a few more flaws in response to what she’s going through.
And somewhere along the way, she is going to learn how to feel something, whether she wants to or not.