Because I can only do something for the first time once (unless you believe in reincarnation) I thought ‘future me’ would like to one day reflect on this inaugural Journey of Discovery.
I call it a Journey of Discovery because it that’s what I feel I am on. I came up with the idea for my novel slowly. It ebbed and flowed through me in pieces, circulating my cells in a continual motion that began to pick up speed as days passed. It was waiting for me to believe that I could create it. It began in 2013. A friend of mine told me they completed a novel during NaNoWriMo and I felt a jealousy well in me that I acknowledged wholly and refused to encourage. I’d always wanted to write a novel. What was stopping me?
It was enormously clear: I was the only one stopping myself from one very attainable goal.
I’d already started thinking of the book I wanted to write, I’d even written a few stories for it here and there, but it didn’t feel right. It felt bigger than me. I felt scared of it. It was massive and important. I remember feeling stunted hearing that some people just sit down and write a book; frustrated that I couldn’t do that. But I knew my book wouldn’t be that easy for me.
During my Artscape residency someone told me they’d been working on a play for 20 years. “It’s not ready to come out,” they said. “I keep trying to force it, but it’s not right. It’s not good.”
In 2015 I applied for a Toronto Arts Council grant for my novel. I didn’t get it. I knew the story wasn’t all there, and I wasn’t putting in the effort to get it there. “I need time,” I kept telling myself. “And guidance.” Small parts of me began to piece together plot holes and ideas on a very lax, part-time basis.
I was too busy, I thought.
I made all sorts of excuses.
I knew my book required me to research, learn, and discover. I knew I could do it, but I knew it would take serious effort and focus. I was procrastinating, despite loving the practice of all these things. I’ve never been that great at “investing” in my future. I focus on the now, the money I’m making, and how much I owe each month on my credit card bill. Investment is an idea I work hard at redefining and understanding. I wish I had more business training.
Last fall I applied to CUE’s Story Reno Studio with my novel. I took an entire two weeks to think only about my book, the story, the point of what I wanted to do. As I’ve grown, I have come to value integrity. I always want my work to have a purpose; a message. There is a point to my presence, and I work to discover it every day; I needed to discover what this novel I wanted to write was.
I was lucky to receive the grant, and the opportunity to meet with writers every week to talk about writing, routines, to workshop our work, and to encourage each other to create. Believe it or not, I initially felt so undeserving of it. I felt like I didn’t belong there; that my work wasn’t right for it. But it’s been an enormously valuable experience, both personally and literarily. I feel I have grown into my book, my story, my world, and my place on this planet a little more. Doors open when you let them.
The grant came with a $500 stipend to spend however we pleased. I went to Toronto Island with it. There, I set the foundation for my novel — the research, the self-education, the discovery. I invested in my future.
Some of the integral questions I explored were:
The World / The Setting
- Where does the story take place?
- What does this place look like physically?
- How did it get that way?
- Is this the only place known to the characters?
- How is this place governed? Who decided and decides the rules? What are the rules?
- What does the societal structure look like? Are there classes? Is there division? If so, how is it divided?
- What is the weather like?
- What do people do? Do they work? What do they eat? What do they wear? How do they live?
- How do the people feel about living here? What is their mood? Are they happy? Do they like it?
- Is there religion? Racism? Gender identity? Ablism? What is my novel’s stance on each? What are my own personal beliefs and how will they manifest in the book? Is this what I want? What affect could this have on my readers?
My Protagonist & Support Cast
- List all their basic information: age, height, general appearance, notable features, etc.
- What are their strengths? What brings them out?
- What do they struggle with both physically and mentally? How does this manifest itself in their daily life?
- What are they absolutely sure about in life? Are they absolutely sure about anything?
- Are they happy? What is their emotional journey?
- Are they more than just a foil for my protagonist?
Once I answered these questions and explored their presence in my story, I felt sure-footed. I had a world-building document that acted as my guide. Every time I feel I veer from the path as I write, I refer to this document. My through-lines and belief systems are all here. My integrity, my purpose.
From here, I wrote a prologue (regardless of whether or not I will use one), and broke down every chapter in point form. I inserted the journey of my world-building document’s ideas — how I want society to unfold, where, and when I can reveal its journey; how my protagonist’s strengths are revealed and when. I felt like I was braiding and breathing a life into a story that’s been in my for four years now. It is now alive in the world.
What I want to do is important to me. It’s timely, it’s complicated, and I am enjoying the heck out of it. This is possibly the most fun I’ve ever had writing, and the most enlightening conversations I’ve had with people have come from talking about this project.
I am at the stage now where I create the first draft of my novel, chapter by chapter. It is the hardest part, but for the first time, I look at the blank page, cursor flashing, and I can’t wait to pave the path. I’m on chapter 3, and I can’t wait for you to read it.