Friday, August 12, 2011

My Journey with "Song of the Daystar"

Every writer has a different story behind them, a different path that they've taken that has led them to where they are now.  I have always loved to read the stories of other authors I admire, and hear how their stories were first born.  Most of these tales involve obstacles and doubts and some wild inspiration - all of which encourages me in the end, because I can SO relate.

So this is the story of my current project, "Song of the Daystar", and maybe I'll be lucky and it will inspire someone else.

Song of the Daystar started life at the beginning of 2006 as a rather short and choppy three page writing splurge titled When the Winds Change, and the "first chapter" was called The Secret of Ice, which actually had nothing whatsoever to do with the contents of the so called first chapter.  That short and extremely messy splurge was stuffed into a digital folder called, Other Writing Projects, and didn't come out again until the spring of 2007 when I learned about a Christian contest for High School students called "The Tweener-Time Competition".  The object of that competition was to write a 25k chapter book, and the winner of the contest got a publishing deal with Bethany House, and a scholarship for Bethany Christian College in Indiana.

At the time, I didn't know what I was going to write: I just knew that I really wanted to enter that competition.    So I sifted through my writing files, and suddenly found that little, tiny writing excerpt in my Other Writing Projects folder.  I pulled it out and started to type.

No, I didn't have a plot.  I had no purpose for the story whatsoever -- well, except for 25,000 words when I finished.  I had NO idea what was going to happen or what the point was.  I just sat down and wrote.

Oh BOY have I come a long way since then!!

I didn't win the contest (of course) and I'm very glad I didn't.  Now, having come as far as I have on my writing journey, I would consider it a disgrace to have such a ramshackle piece of work on the market. *shudders*  Seriously, it's the stuff of my nightmares.

Of course, that was all before I started taking writing seriously.  Up until then (actually, up until a year after that) I had done little to no research on the creative writing process.  In fact, I barely knew about the internet, and I was already 18 and 19!!  Not that I cared for the interwebz all that much.  Myspace was still popular, and Facebook was just starting to thrive.  I wasn't allowed to touch either of them, of course, lest some mass murderer found my information and came to get me :p  And, of course, we had a dial up landline service (still do) which never worked correctly and took absolutely FOREVER to load.  <_<

With the end of that contest came the end of my interest in the story for a while.  I laid it aside and didn't pick it up for another year.  I was too busy working on another writing project, and felt like I had finished Song of the Daystar and there was no point in trying to kick a dead horse.   But in the winter of 2008 I became tired of working on my other story, and wanted something new for my tired eyes to look through.  So I reopened that old "dead horse" document and sat there for hours reading through it.

It was awful.  *Shakes head sadly*  Really, there was nothing "good" about it.  Like I said earlier, it had no point... and it also seemed to be lacking any sort of a middle.  Besides that, the end was extremely short and disappointing  and the beginning... well, it meandered every which way without motive.  My characters were dry and uninteresting, and the settings were all general.  In short, it was a disgrace to the writing world, and sadly it was mine... my very own Frankenstein Literary Monster.

But instead of burying the grotesque creature back in the shadows of my dusty digital folder, I decided to try and fix the darned thing. ;)  There just had to be a way to save it, for as the saying goes "One man's trash is another man's treasure".  Only this time the story was both my trash and my treasure.  I knew there had to be something I could pull out of it.  So I decided to keep some of the characters and start fresh, only with the newer version of the story I decided to brainstorm first.

Not outline, mind.  I had to do paper outlines for my High school work, and  had decided to detest them with almost every fiber of my being (It wasn't until later when I started college that I discovered the true value behind outlining).  No, this was just brainstorming.  I came up with a few more characters and gave them a real purpose.  Then I went farther and decided to give the story itself a purpose, since I didn't like the way the first draft had hopped, skipped, and jumped all over the place.  I tried to come up with a theme for the book (though it didn't stick in the end and I had to eventually toss it), and I also changed the title.

"It will just be an experiment," I told myself.  "It probably won't go anywhere in the publishing world anyway... and it's not like it has to either.  But maybe, just maybe, I can use this old thing to improve my writing.  And if I can do that, then maybe I really CAN get a publisher to look at me one day."

So I rewrote that story.  And rewrote it.  And rewrote it.  All in all, it went through the rewriting process four times before I finally decided to try to send it out in August of 2010.  I still didn't know if it was ready, but I'd felt at the time like I'd given it everything I had... how could I polish it any further?  I'd been vigorously studying the writing and publishing world.  I'd been reading every "writing how-to" book I could get my hands on.  I'd studied the current market.  I'd read and reread, and then studiously scoured through the words written by my favorite authors until my eyes were sore and I was exhausted from staying up too late.  I loved every minute of it, and truly I knew I was still a baby in the world of creative writing, but I'd felt like I'd taken my little experiment as far as I could take it and it needed to be set free.

So I started querying.  And of course I received a lot of rejections.  So I started praying to, and I felt like God told me to submit SOTD to a new, independent publisher called Flaming Pen Press.  It was so new, in fact, that it was just getting ready to release it's third book, Kestrel's Midnight Song, in September.  However, I'd been following the publisher's blog, and researching them, and I'd been following the author of KMS as well... (Jacob Parker was actually the very first follower at the P&P, even before I knew he was another writer. :D)  I learned that Mr. Appleton's book, Swords of the Six, had been picked up by AMG, which showed further promise in the company, and I decided to give it a try.  I started by emailing Mr. Appleton a few questions about his company and manuscript submissions (I wanted to get it right, after all), and he was kind enough to answer my questions and give me a few tips as well.  He even suggested that after I submitted my manuscript, I should start rewriting the book YET AGAIN, because usually publishers will want a revision to strengthen the book before they actually agree to publish it.

Well, at first I wasn't sure where to go with that advice.  How could I rewrite it yet again?  It was too painful to think about -- in fact, I truly thought it was useless to try for yet another revision.  I was burned out on it, you see.  But I figured I could at least get some feedback and see what other people thought.  I went to the writing forums I'm a member of and starting posting some chapters there.  Most of the answers were similar to each other: it was good writing - much better than my first draft - and often times they liked my descriptions and settings; I definitely had something good going, they said.  But something was still missing, they told me, and it seemed like they couldn't quite figure out what it was.  They encouraged me to keep writing though, told me they had faith in me.  They really helped me not to get too discouraged with the book, but they also kept me humble... kept me striving for the best I had, kept me learning to be better.

The problem was that I couldn't figure out what was missing either.

Then another friend of mine asked me if I would like to do a beta-swap, and I agreed.  I'd critiqued chapters before on the forums, and I figured it couldn't be much harder than that.  And really, it wasn't, but that's not what made my this beta-swap so special.  What made it special was the fact that my friend came back to me and told me what she thought was wrong with the story...

"It seems to jump from thought to thought," she said.  "I like your character, but I think he needs more... character.  More motive and more drive."  (she didn't say those words exactly, but it was along those lines...)

And I, of course, being so burnt out on the story as I was, I had to ask her what she meant.  We ended up having a long and very refreshing brainstorming session in which I decided to pick up the reigns of the dead horse yet again, and see if I couldn't get it rise up a just a little bit.

Surprisingly, I found that that "dead horse" wasn't dead at all.  In fact, it was very much alive... it'd just been stuck for a while, as if it were trapped in some sort of time-warp.  With the help of my friend, I'd found what was missing in that story and I was determined to fix it.  I also found my inspiration.  I started writing again - hard, and it wasn't long before I had two brand new chapters that were at least 50 times better than the old ones.  I posted bits of it to the writing forums I am a part of, and (much to my surprise and gratitude) the new chapters were highly praised.  At first I really couldn't really believe it, but after a couple months of working hard on the rewrite, I decided to pull out that old manuscript that I had subbed out and see if there was really that much of a difference.

There was.  In comparison to my latest rewrite, that old "finished" draft looks about as primitive as my very first RD when I first pulled it out again in 2007.

Not only that, but I now knew what I needed to work on my other WIP, Eldrei, and I started rewriting that manuscript at once  (the difference between the RD of that one and the rewrite is so IMMENSE, it's like the manuscript went from being a piece of rock to a shining butterfly overnight, even though it actually took much longer.)

Then I received the reply from the publisher I'd queried.  And he liked it!  Or rather, he liked the concept that I had in that old draft.  He  wasn't so sure about the writing though, and told me he was going to send me a revision request and perhaps a critique of the prologue and first chapter.

That's when I realized how much my friend had truly helped me.  I told the publisher that I'd already started revising, and asked if he would like to view the first couple of chapters, and he said yes.  I sent it to him, and his response was the most encouraging part of SOTD's progress of all; he liked it... very much.  :D  And he asked me to please resubmit when I finish the rewrite.

So that's what's brought my book, Song of the Daystar, to where it is now.  It's been a very long and arduous journey, but it's been worth every step.  I love writing more now than I ever did before.  And best of all, what started out as a halfhearted experiment - a mere dabble in putting words coherently together - became a project that's very close to my heart.  Slightly ironic, isn't it?

Since February, when I received the publisher's reply, Song of the Daystar has grown v.e.r.r.y. s.l.o.w.l.y.  But it has grown, and every bit of new writing is gone over and over again to ensure that it is at it's very best.  No more second-hand writing... I'm taking this whole thing to the next level.  I now have more faith in my story than I've had in it since it's beginning.  In fact, I believe it has every bit as much potential as my other WIP, Eldrei has (which is really saying a lot, coming from me. <_< )

So all in all, that's the story behind SOTD.  Now you know.  It's the proof that "awful" can become "excellent" when hard work, good writing friends, and solid critiques are involved.  No one starts out great, but we all tend to think we do. (I don't say that to discourage anyone, but the proof is definitely in the pudding.)  I hope my story encourages someone to take their writing to the next level.  And then the next.  And the next.  It will seem like you are "reaching" forever, but if you never settle for "better" and always reach for your best, you will always improve.  Then one day you'll look back and realize how far you've come,  and you know what?  By God's grace you'll still be humble, because you know that with Him on your side and you friends behind you, you can still do better yet.


Andrew Y. said...

WOW! I think you did inspire someone.. (me) :D

I hope all goes well with the publishing part of your writing journey!

God bless!

Jake said...

FANTASTIC post. :D That was extremely encouraging.

I'm struggling with my works right now. A good kind of struggle: I've been rewriting and revising up a storm in "The War Horn". And now, looking back on TBOS (which I thought was getting closer to "ready"), I'm thinking, "I have a LOT of work to do here. How can I possibly DO this?"

And so, this post was really relevant. :D Thanks so much!

Philip Nelson said...

Just wanted to say hi! I saw one of your comments on Konrath's blog and followed you here.

It's cool to find someone else who likes Christian fantasy, especially writing it. :)

The Director said...

Wow. That was encouraging, inspiring, and very heartening :] Thank you so much for sharing your story, Nicole... I can't wait to see how it continues :]

David Powers King said...

I swear I've visited your blog before. Now that I've found it again, I'll start following.

Thanks for your feedback at WriteOnCon! :)

I enjoyed reading about your journey. The goal is the same for all of us, but never the path. Keep going. Never give up.

Galadriel said...

Well done

Lori M. Lee said...

Wow, what an amazing and inspiring post. I wish you the best in this next chapter of your story.

Star-Dreamer said...

Thank you everyone for the comments and well wishes, and I'm very glad that you all enjoyed it. Philip, David, and Lori: Welcome to the P&P. :D it's very nice to meet you!

David: You're welcome for the feedback and thank you for yours as well. :) I enjoyed what I read of your story and hope to someday read more.

Philip: thank you. It's nice to know that there are others out there who are willing to stand up for Christian Fantasy and Sci-fi. The genre is definitely open for the market, and I for one can't wait to see where it goes. :)

Jake: Don't give up. I've read your stuff... I know how good it is. The path is extremely difficult, I'll admit, and sometimes you just want to quit, but don't. If you keep working through it, you'll find that it's fun BECAUSE it's difficult. :D