How My Independent Study in Novel Writing Changed Me and My Writing

I’m pretty reserved in person, but there is one foolproof way to get me blabbering: ask me about my independent study.  I loved it.  I love it.  I will continue to love it because it was so freaking amazing.

Let me start by telling you how my independent study came to be.  As I mentioned in my Mystery Blogger Award post, I took a poetry and creative writing course my junior year of high school.  I came into high school with a schedule specifically designed so I could take that course and get acquainted with my teacher, who would become my advisor and therefore sponsor my independent study.  I was a girl on a mission and, luckily, all the odds fell in my favor.

When the time came to choose senior year classes, I approached my teacher and asked if he would consider being my advisor and sponsoring this course.  Seconds into the conversation, he agreed and my independent study was born.  After jumping through some clerical hoops and finalizing the paperwork, I was ready to write.

Fast forward to the beginning of senior year: I’m writing my novel, cranking out pages like I’ve never done before.  I had a renewed sense of purpose and autonomy that, when coupled with the accountability I had to regularly turn in a draft to my advisor, created the perfect storm.  I was on a roll and the inspiration seemed endless.

Yeah, that feeling of unbridled inspiration didn’t last long.  I got to the second chapter and lost some steam.  My writing started to feel forced about three chapters in, and my motivation was in shambles by Chapter Four.  Why was it so hard all of the sudden?  I’d signed up to do this, I’d taken the initiative and showed the interest.  Wasn’t I supposed to be writing this book instead of hating it?

Writing a book is a marathon, not a sprint, and I had to learn this in the thick of it.  I had to get comfortable with the idea that I would probably despise my first draft and I had to get comfortable with it quick.  As my advisor reminded me, I’m racing against myself to get this sucker done, to finish telling my story.  First drafts always suck to the people who are writing them.

And so I did something that I surprisingly didn’t expect to do: I learned.  Before I could sit down at my desk and write and write and write, I had to learn about the painful way novels are written first.  I had to learn to outline, even though I consider the practice of outlining a hinderance to my creative process despite the popular opinion that advocates otherwise.  At the same time, I had to learn how to listen to my characters.  I’ve spent years thinking about my protagonist and developing her in my head, so I know her like I know an old friend.  I had to learn to let her drive the plot; I had to learn to listen to what she has to say.

I learned why I want to do this for the rest of my life.  Even when I doubted myself, worried about my worth, convinced myself that I just wasn’t good enough, I had to continue to put words on paper.  I had to find a way to make it fun again; I had to surprise myself.  I had to remind myself, day in and day out, that writing was supposed to be my passion and, on days when I disagreed, I had to find a way to shove myself back on the right path.

I learned that the best things in life are not sprints, but marathons.  While I didn’t understand this when I was on the Page 1, I figured it out by Page 142.  I went into senior year set on being a business major because it was the clearest path to financial security and I left with a diploma and a heart set on writing books for the rest of my life.  I learned that what is easy and what is right are so rarely aligned that we have no choice but to listen to the voices in our head.  From my experience, they know what they’re doing.

XO, Annie

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