When I was a junior in highschool I wrote a short story about a pixie, “Pia the Wonder Pixie”. It was all of 3, maybe 4 pages. I actually wrote it while eating my lunch, probably a half hour before it was due. It was amazing to me that I sat down on such a tight deadline, and not knowing what to write, the words just started to flow. (This of course came after a friend of mine stopped in to the computer lab to ask what I was doing and when I asked her what I should write about, she responded with, “Write about me!”)
My teacher, who had been impressed with my creative writing ability throughout the entirety of the year, sat me down after reading this particular short story. I thought for sure I was in trouble. I had, after all, spent maybe a half hour on this assignment. Surely it wasn’t up to my normal quality of writing. I could feel a lecture coming on. I was caught. I sat quiet, fidgeting in my chair, as she pulled my paper from her top drawer. I was afraid to look. Not wanting to see the big red “F” drawn across the cover page. “Jessica, I really wanted to talk to you about this.” She said as she handed my story to me. I looked down to see an A+ and a short note that said, “Your creative writing never ceases to amaze me, let’s discuss a career in this.”
This is the exact conversation that stuck with me over the years. Before my last class with her she told me that she expected to see my book in stores one day and would want a signed copy, but no pressure. HA! Yeah, no pressure at all. For years after I would still hear her encouraging words. Even when I put the story to rest and strayed from my true passion of writing. Other things became more important. I lost confidence. Eventually I didn’t even give writing a second thought.
Until one day, while going through boxes at my father’s house, I stumbled across a box filled with school papers. At first I was just going to toss it, but peeking out under one of the stacks was Pia. I took a moment to reread it and those nagging (and wonderful words) of my teacher came flooding back. I started to envision the rest of Pia’s story. Where she came from, what she was going to do, all the other characters whose stories needed to be told. And now, as an adult, I could put so much more experience into this story. And yet, self doubt still won out.
Another year went by. Once again I found myself in front of boxes, this time unpacking them after a very hard transition in my life. Sitting right on top of one of the random boxes was “Pia the Wonder Pixie”. Through so many moves, and even losing a car’s worth of boxes and memories, here was this story. The handwritten message from one of the only people who ever believed in my talent, still just as bright as the day it was written. I once again sat and read through my words, imagining all the characters and places I had once dreamt up in a hurry.
That night I couldn’t sleep. Pia was keeping me awake. Her story was keeping me awake. My teacher’s expectations of receiving a signed book was keeping me awake. My passion was reigniting. I grabbed my laptop and typed out the story just as it was and just kind of stared at it. Questions starting to swirl around my mind. The lightning and thunder of a brainstorming session was creeping into my consciousness. I started to type out notes to myself. Anything that popped into mind. It became more of a journaling session, something to look at the next time this story would haunt my thoughts after I abandoned it.
True to form, Pia was onced again packed up in a box. This time carefully in my memory box, a plastic bin filled with so many things I cherish the most from my lifetime. I carefully placed it in the bin and when it came time for my husband and I’s move I made sure this bin stayed within eyesight the entire time. I would not forget about Pia. It wouldn’t be fair. To her, or to me. Her story would be told. I would finally quit being such a wimp and put my words out there.
And so, almost 10 years after I wrote ‘Pia the Wonder Pixie”, I downloaded some book writing software, and got to work. I drew up posters with reference guides to hang on the walls of my garage which I had converted into a writing studio for myself. I held brainstorming sessions with whomever was willing to sit with me and be a sounding board. My brother in law started working on a world map for me. One of my longest and dearest friends drew up some sketches based on some characters I was coming up with. I was on a roll. I had undertaken a huge project. Writing a story is one thing, but writing an epic fantasy novel is something entirely different.
I was creating an entire world. In a genre that has been done time and time again and by so many impossibly great authors like Tolkien and R. R. Martin, it would have been easy to quit. Many times I would have to go through the list of characters and creatures and research what has been done time and time again. How could I make mine different? I would stay up all night some nights just putting “pen to paper” (fingers to keyboard), trying my hardest to just write it. All the advice out there for first drafts is just to write it. You’ll have to rewrite certain parts again and again until finally (hopefully) it’s right. I was in love with my story. Mostly, I think, because I was writing it for myself. I honestly never intended for anyone to read it. As much energy as I was putting into making sure it wouldn’t be considered a rip off of the greats, that energy spent was for me. So that I would know that this came from me. And sure, I might have been inspired by some of my favorite things and added a little essence in my story from them. In one part of the story I pay tribute to my favorite movie, “The Last Unicorn”.
I was going strong with my writing but life threw me a slight curve ball. I ended up getting pregnant. And you’d think since I was on bedrest for half of my pregnancy that I would have had the time to write. I did have the time to write but almost every waking moment my thoughts were instead on the health of myself and my unborn child. I spent the time worrying about pregnancy and the complications that came with it. A few times I opened up my story and tried to look at it but couldn’t connect with it the way I needed to. I couldn’t invest in it the way it deserved.
Since then I have attempted to dive into multiple times as well. Opening it, reading through some sections, brainstorming, I even went through and lightly edited a few chapters. In part of my research I found some blogs/articles about fantasy cliches that damn near broke me. I saw parts of my story in these blanket statements. It came so close to breaking my spirit that at one point I actually deleted my entire book. Frustration and self doubt and fear of ridicule became too strong and I took the coward’s way out. I silenced my voice.
It was the look on my husband’s face that told me I had made the wrong decision. He looked so disappointed in me, and I was disappointed in myself. He turned to me and said, “You’re better than that.” And he was right. I quickly began to comb through all the draft printouts that I had lying around the house, none being enough to put the thing back together. Not like it was. Years of hard work, over 28,000 words just gone. Until I remembered I had backed up software after one of my all night editing/writing sessions. Would that copy be enough to get back on track? Would it be everything I needed? All my blood, sweat, and tears…
I waited what seemed like an eternity for the file to open. Each chapter taking longer and longer to search through to make sure I had everything I thought I had lost. Before I knew it, I was crying. “It’s all here” I said. And it was. The book in it’s entirety (so far) was just waiting for me in a backup folder. This copy was actually before one of my final editing sessions in which I had cut out a few things but that was perfect. It gave me something to work on that I knew needed to be done. Something to intrigue me back into the story. And this time I would do it right.
Realizing I would need some support this time around (my main sounding board, my brother in law, moved away years ago) I looked online for support groups, or meetups for authors and found Mythic Scribes it was the exact community I needed. From new to seasoned writers were at my beckon call it seemed. The first thing I would address was my fear of putting my work out there.
I cited the cliche list and expressed my concern that my novel would be compared to the greats. As egotistical as that may sound, my fears always tend to “go big or go home”. If I were to ever have the nerve to allow others to read my book I knew there would be people who didn’t like it. Not everyone is going to love my art. Art is subjective. Writing is an art. But going further, my horribly self-sabotaging mind went to what people could say about my story. “It’s boring.” “It’s nothing special.” “It’s unauthentic.” “It’s a ripoff.”
My exact post in the forums was:
I can’t be the only one who has that horribly negative voice inside that keeps shouting, “What are you doing?? Why are you trying to write a fantasy novel?? Don’t you know all the good ideas have already been taken? You are just going to rehash the same tired ideas and be hated for it. You should probably quit while you are ahead.”
Seriously, I have contemplated deleting my novel multiple times now. I’ve got 30,000 words towards something I have been working on since I was 17. It would be a shame to never see it amount to anything. It would also be a shame to realize that I’m just rewriting every fantasy cliche there is. I have obviously not read enough in this genre to know how original my writing is. The problem now is a barely have enough time for writing. So to add in time to read through multiple fantasy novels seems impossible.
All in all I’m just working myself into a complete ball of anxiety ridden writer’s block. If I can’t write I suppose I would have time to read. I’m losing it. I’m letting my characters down.
And the responses I got would bring me to tears. (which those of you who know me know that’s kind of easy but don’t let that take away from how overwhelming and incredible the support was) A particular response from a senior member named DragonOfTheAerie. I wish I could post the whole thing here but it was very long and wonderfully detailed and well thought out. He basically told me that all good authors consider this, especially those in the fantasy genre. He explained that almost every idea HAS been done but none of them have been done by me, by my mind, my heart, and my hand. That the trolls out there waiting to pounce and point out every similarity to other novels are few and far between. That wanting to quit and throw in the towel just shows how hard of a thing I am doing and that is the exact reason why I shouldn’t quit. Writing a fantasy is extremely hard. I am creating a whole new world with different species, and lands, and languages. And that is worth doing. It’s my magical place. I shouldn’t be doing it for anyone else. I need to remember that I’m doing this for myself. And to fulfill a promise to someone who believed in me all those years ago.
So here I am again. Staring at the words I wrote all those years ago. Brainstorming and researching and pushing myself to get back to it. I will finish Pia’s story. And I will publish it. It has been my dream for far too long to be a published author. It doesn’t matter to me if 1 or 1000 people read it. It doesn’t matter if 1 or 100 people love it. What matters is that I finish, that I put myself out there, that I believe in myself.
Wish me luck.