There are many things that I believe in. The love of my family. The power of ink and paper. The path of the sun across the sky (well, technically, the earth around the sun, which doesn’t sound quite so poetic). But I am not a religious person. I find it ironic, actually, that the most significant stage in my writing journey to date began in the middle of Christian Education class.
I was thirteen, and in my first year of high school. Like many Aussie kids, I’d already been subject to seven years of religious instruction while at primary school, and I was facing yet another five. Somewhat ambivalent about the whole thing, I slouched in my seat and stared out the window, losing the battle with my eyelids, which grew heavier by the moment.
My mind drifted. I found myself pondering all the different religions in the world, the ones I’d yet to learn about, and all the various gods and deities humankind had worshipped throughout history…
…and then I found myself creating my own. For several months I entertained myself—at school (bad!) and outside of it—by crafting a pantheon of gods and goddesses, each with their own purposes and quirks and origins. Before I knew it I’d built an entire world that revolved around that pantheon, and at its heart lay a very special girl with a very important destiny.
Thus was the genesis of The Willpower, a YA fantasy writing project that consumed the next five years of my life.
It got off to a rocky start.
In the first two years, I must have begun writing half a dozen times. Sometimes the narrative was in first person, sometimes in third. Sometimes I only finished a page or two, and others I lasted almost an entire chapter before starting again. I never lost an ounce of passion for the project—this was The Idea, after all—but my lack of progress quickly led to frustration.
There was something I’d forgotten in my enthusiasm: the second piece of advice that Carole’s letter bestowed upon me (read the full letter here). “In order to help your stories end,” she said, “you’ll need to have clearly in your mind how the story problem will be solved and stick to your plan.”
That was it! I was struggling to get past the first few pages of my story because I had no idea where it was going! I’d created this intricate, detailed world, but I only had a vague understanding of the actual plot of my story.
When I finally figured this out, I strapped myself to my desk and planned out the entire first book (and much of the following two). I planned it start to finish, scene by scene. In one notebook, I would jot down relevant ideas and twists and subplots as they came to me, and in another I pieced together a diary recording what each of my characters were doing day-by-day. And it worked. One afternoon in September 2009, I started writing Legend, first of The Willpower trilogy, and I didn’t stop until it was done—fifteen months later in December 2010.
It’s hard to describe the elation one feels at finishing their first novel-length piece. I was honestly stunned I’d managed to do it, and I was so elated I thought I’d lift off the ground like a helium-filled balloon. I got my dad to print off a few copies at work, and then I raced to Officeworks to have them bound like a proper book. The volume was a colossal 240,000 words…and there was still more to come!
The writing came to me more easily after that. I’d done it once, so I knew I could do it again. I launched straight into writing part two, Hero, and this time it only took twelve months, despite the finished product being 120,000 words longer. By the time I drew the third book, Saviour, to a close in December 2012, I was eighteen years old and had written a YA fantasy trilogy over 950,000 words in length. I couldn’t have been more proud of myself.
A lot of people have asked me why I’m not considering publishing The Willpower after all the blood, sweat and tears I put into it. The honest answer is…the writing sucks. I was a novice, trying my hand at the craft for the first proper time. “So rewrite it”, they say. Maybe one day I will. I believe in the merit of the story’s premise, and I actually started rewriting the series a few years ago. But I soon lost interest. You see, I spent over five years living and breathing this world I’d created—and that was over a quarter of my life at the time. I need a break from it. A long break.
Whether I do or don’t rewrite The Willpower isn’t the point. The point is that those high school years I spent working on it taught me so much about not only the writing process, but also about myself. These days, whenever I start to doubt my ability to see a story through to its conclusion, I look across at that tall stack of bound and printed pages on my bookshelf and remind myself that I’ve done it before.
I can most certainly do it again.
- World building is the best thing ever! I think I might write more about this one day soon. Hmm…
- Planning, planning, planning. Maybe not everyone needs to do this, but I do. When writing, I am far too scatterbrained to bring a story to a fitting end unless I have a detailed roadmap on how to get there. For me, time spent on planning is never wasted.
- Dedication and determination are just as important as discipline. There will be doubt. There will be times when reaching the top of the mountains seems an impossible feat. But if you dig in your heels and grit your teeth, you will get there eventually.
- If nothing else, those 950,000 words taught me to touch-type. So there is that
The story of my writing journey will be continued in PART 4: Adding fuel to the fire…