Reflections: My First Year as a Writer

This Friday, November 1st, 2013, is not just the first day of NaNoWriMo. It's also the anniversary of the day I wrote my first word of fiction.

Yeah, sure, I wrote short stories and poems in high school for class, but I never thought much of them. And I certainly didn't do any of that during college or grad school. That is, until I discovered NaNo on a whim in 2012 and discovered my love for writing.

NaNoWriMo itself was a whirlwind of emotions. When I crossed the "finish line" of 50K words andfinished my rough draft, I was in a state of shock and amazement at what I'd accomplished. I never would have imagined being able to write a novel, let alone in one month, while also going through grad school full time. But I soon learned that the NaNo finish line was really just the starting block, and the gun was about to fire.

When December 1st came and I looked over what I had written, I quickly realized I had no idea what I was doing. I knew nothing about novel structure, and I didn't really know anything about character arcs or how to write compelling dialogue. I was an absolute novice with a completed first draft on her hands.

After some online research of different revision books/courses, I ultimately settled on Holly Lisle's How to Revise Your Novel. It was the most expensive option in consideration, but it had great reviews, including from a published novelist whose work I enjoy. I knew I had a lot to learn, and her course promised to teach me everything I needed to know to revise well. And it did that, and so much more. If you have the money and the time (the course takes a minimum of 5 months to complete because you get weekly lessons) I cannot recommend that course enough. It's amazing.

So, with Holly Lisle's course at my disposal, I worked my way through my absolute mess of a first draft. And by June, I had a completely revised novel, a novel that I felt confident letting other people actually read (no one, let me repeat no one, will ever read that first draft. It was that bad). VISIONS OF DARKNESS was now 84K words and ready to be beta read. It was around this time that I met the wonderful and amazing Victoria Boulton, who later became my critique partner. With the help of Victoria's thoughtful feedback (seriously, she's amazing), VoD went through another round of revisions (and another in the fall).

July rolled around, and I attempted Camp NaNoWriMo with a YA dark paranormal project that'd been swimming around in my head. I made some decent progress (ultimately getting approximately 25K words), but VoD revisions distracted me and I shelved the July project to focus on fixing my first novel. I really wanted to get it ready to query by January 1st as per the goals of the other blog I participate in: the Writers Challenge 2013.

It was also around this time over the summer that I researched local critique groups. I joined two different groups in my area, and ultimately found my perfect fit over with the folks at the CNY Writers Haven. I've learned a lot from that group, both through critiquing for other writers and having my own work critiqued. Every week I walk away having learned something new, and I like that I'm also building friendships there, too.

Also over the summer I connected with yet another amazing group of writers, and the four of us formed the YA League. We're a group of YA writers all on the journey to getting agented and then eventually traditionally published. We connect via Facebook and Twitter and also have weekly video chats (two of us live in the US and two live in the UK). I love these folks and they have been incredibly supportive in all aspects of writing, including all the "business" stuff, like researching agents, writing query letters, and giving each other a heads up when we notice an agent might be a good fit for someone else's MS.

With the advice and support from all these sources, in September I researched agents and drafted my query letter. And as the month came to a close, I sent out my first batch of query letters to actual literary agents. I can't speak too much about that process so far since it's still on going, but I can say that it's certainly been a roller coaster of emotions.

Whether or not VISIONS OF DARKNESS gets me an agent is still up in the air, but either way, this past year has been an amazing journey. From idea inception to querying the novel in less than a year is pretty exciting. This October I've been planning for my next novel (A STOLEN THRONE), and I am beyond excited to write it. And after it's done, I know I have the resources and support to revise that novel and get it ready to query, too. I can't wait to see what this next year of writing has in store for me.

To all the first time Wrimos out there, I send you my best wishes. Never give up and never surrender your dream. You never know where you'll be this time next year. And for my NaNo veterans...let's do this!

-Isabel