Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Road Trip: Writing Journey

The ladies over at YA Highway are asking a pretty personal question this week:

What has your writing journey looked like so far? Excitement? Traffic jams and detours? Where are you going next?

Like most of you reading this, I've wanted to write stories ever since I first got hold of a pencil. I wrote in fits and starts over the years, taking a long hiatus in my early twenties, but it was never an option that I wouldn't write a book someday. And then I realized that if I was going to write a book, I had to actually do it. I spent a year or so putzing around on a story that I eventually realized had no real plot, and then I wrote a few pages of another idea that I thought had potential, but also: no plot. Adventure stories are what feels right for me, but when your adventurers are kids, they need to have special circumstances or else logic will come calling, asking Why don't the adults here just stick these adventure-loving kids in juvenile detention and be done with it?

I sat down to figure out this problem in a cafe while waiting for my husband to meet me, and a bunch of ideas came tumbling down at once. I remember getting very excited, beating my pen against the table. I was listening to my iPod but the only song that I recall hearing is Britney's Toxic. What can I say--it was in my running mix, okay? Still I didn't write the book. Occasionally I'd find the motivation to get my characters to the next scene, but I wasn't serious. It took, of all things, a New Year's resolution to get me to write the whole thing in 3-4 months.

And then what? I polished it, I let a few friends read it, but in my gut, I knew it wasn't ready. I wrote a query letter that I didn't send (thank the heavens above--I will never share that catastrophe with you). My husband commented, It's a story about people reacting to stuff that happens to them, and that's exactly what it was.

Looking for a way to get to the next level, I joined SCBWI. I went, all alone, to my first writer's conference. I started to feel a little bit more like a real writer. And then I found the perfect critique partner, Liz Briggs, who told me on one of our first meetings, "Your character doesn't do anything. And nothing's happening." (She later told me she was terrified to say this and thought I would hate her and run away. Ha! No way, Liz! You're stuck with me!) She helped me figure out where my story was, pointed me towards helpful blogs and craft books, sent me threatening messages when I hadn't revised a new chapter in a while.

It's been about a year now, and I'm almost finished with content revisions. I've cut almost a third of my word count, changed my target age group, empowered my main character. I'd be remiss if I didn't mention my other critique group, the Damn Fine Writers, who are mostly offline but also give me great notes and encouragement. I wish the process had gone faster and that I could make more time to write, but if wishes were horses, etc etc...

Where am I going next on my journey? Well, pretty soon I'll try out querying. I tested my (much revised) query in the WriteOnCon forums and it did pretty well, but I know there will be plenty of rejections in my future. I'm pretty confident, though--I know I've still got lots of room for improvement, but I'm learning, and I'm having fun. So maybe it won't even be with this book, but I like to think that someday I'll see my name on a bookshelf.


  1. I posted my query in the WriteOnCon forum, and got a NinjaAgent critique that was both encouraging and helpful. As much as we fear putting our work out there for others to judge, it can be so rewarding.

    All the best to you, Rachel! May your rejections be few, and your road to publication short. :)

  2. Wow! Awesome journey so far. Best wishes with querying!

  3. Yay for you! :-D I'm the same way...I have lots of room for improvement, but I'm learning and having fun. I think that's the best attitude to have.

    Good luck when you start querying!

  4. Good luck with querying! The best thing you can do to get better is keep writing. (But critique partners help SO. MUCH.)

  5. I so love your positive attitude and willingness to keep learning. We are all only as good as we aspire to be when it comes to writing, so I see absolutely no reason why we won't see your name on our shelves one day. Best of luck with querying. I'm quite sure your journey won't be ending there. :-)

  6. Yes! I love this! Good luck in the query trenches! May you do better than I have! LOL.