Friday, April 11, 2014

J Is For the Journey

A-Z Challenge visitors, I apologize that this is such a long post. I usually try to keep my April blog posts short, but when a friend asked me to write this, I couldn't resist putting it here.

A couple of weeks ago, I had the opportunity to be a keynote speaker to a group of women at church. My topic was Following Your Dreams. As part of the speech, I was asked to share my journey to accomplishing my dream of becoming a published author. This is kind of what I said:

When I was a child, I had a plan for my future, I was going to be a ballet dancer in New York, an archaeologist, a famous actress, a marine biologist (translation: one of the people who got to swim with the whales at Sea World) and a mom. But of course I would mostly be an author. I loved books so much, there was no doubt that I would someday write some, and yet I didn’t. I was absolutely NOT one of those children who were constantly writing stories. Being a writer was always some future event. In fact, in college I didn’t even take an English course. My ACT scores were high enough that I didn’t need one and to tell you the truth, I was at college to play, not to take extra classes just because I was interested in the subject (oh silly Melanie. If only I could go back…)

I was in my last semester of my Master’s program at BYU when I realized what an opportunity I was wasting. There was a class on the course schedule called “Writing Science Fiction and Fantasy” and I realized that I needed to take that class, even though it had absolutely nothing to do with my degree in Special Education. So I signed up, blissfully unaware of how foolish I was being. It was a 400 level class, but I was in a master’s program, which somehow made me feel overqualified for any undergraduate class.
So here I am, with a full master’s degree course load, working on my thesis, with a full time job. Did I mention I was also engaged? Our wedding date was two days after the semester ended. Writing Science Fiction and Fantasy was taught by the amazing Dave Wolverton, though years went by before I realized how cool that was.

My favorite part of the class was our textbook, a book full of short science fiction stories, including “It’s A Beautiful Day” by Isaac Asimov, which is still my favorite short story ever. My least favorite part of the class? Writing. I had no idea how to pull a plot together, how to assemble a cast of characters…And this class was not about how to write a story, it was about how to perfect a story, and how best to add fantastical elements to it. I was hopelessly out of my depth. And busy with my “real” school life, and my jobs. And addlepatedly in love with my fiancĂ©. A few days before the end of the semester, I realized I was getting a C in my writing class. A C! As a master’s student, I could not get a C on my transcript. It would be dreadful.

So I met with Professor Wolverton. I explained my situation, in the hopes that he would give me an extra credit project or something. He was very nice. He said that he thought it was awesome that I had taken the time to take a class out of my program of studies, and that he had done the same thing as a student too. He agreed that a master’s student could not get a C on their transcript and promised to take care of it.
And he did. He gave me an A, no strings attached. When, years later, I found the Daily Kick In the Pants, and realized that my former teacher was an icon in the science fiction world, this little blip in my path to writing took on even more significance to me.

But I stopped. I finished my thesis, of course, and I never stopped dreaming about writing fiction, but I didn’t. I loved being a mom, but it wasn’t something that came naturally to me. In those early years of parenting, I have so many memories of driving down the street with tears streaming down my face, trying to figure out how I was going to survive the soul-crushingness of parenthood. Don’t misunderstand me. It was hard, and not something that came easily to me, but I desperately wanted to be a stay at home mom. It was the best choice I ever made.  But that didn’t stop my driving down the street sobbing about how hard it was, and praying that God would tell me how to make it work.

His answer? Time after time after time I would feel the quiet prompting that I needed to write. But I didn’t. I didn’t. I didn’t, and I don’t know why.

We moved across the country and had more children and they started to grow, and one summer while my older children were taking swimming lessons 4 days a week, my youngest son would splash around in the kiddy pool. And as I stood in the kiddy pool, day after day under the blazing sun, a story started to form in my head. It became an obsession, this snapshot of a moment I could write about. Characters developed, and my story grew to fill every moment of my day until I knew I had to figure out how to get it on paper.
I checked out a book called “Writing Science Fiction and Fantasy” by Orson Scott Card, and began the laborious process of figuring out how to write a novel, including world building and all that jazz. On every page of that book, OSC offered advice about things you needed to think about before you began, and I would spend days imagining how to fit those ideas into that snapshot of a girl standing in a kiddy pool waiting for something…

That year I decided to homeschool my oldest daughter. We were at the library one day, and I found a homeschooling magazine. The feature article was about Nanowrimo, and although I’d never heard of it before, I felt an immediate connection to the word. I knew, even before I had any idea what it was, that Nanowrimo was going to change my life.

Sure enough, it did. Nanowrimo, as you probably know, is National Novel Writing Month, and its main event is held during November each year. Participants are challenged to write an entire novel in a month. The goal is to write 50,000 words. That first year, I participated on the forums, and I wrote and wrote and wrote. I finished the challenge, and then I kept writing. It was January before I finally stopped, and I think I averaged about 3 hours of sleep a night during that time. It took me years to fully recover.

When I finally wrote “The End” I was so proud. I edited it. I’d changed from first person to third person midway through, and going back to fix that was a beast. And I made rookie mistakes like head hopping. So much head hopping. Blurg. But it felt shiny and beautiful, and so I gave it to everyone who showed the slightest inclination to read it. Those poor, poor people. So many of them gave me good advice, though some of it was painful. And there were several people who thought my story was absolutely amazing and kept me going through the pain of learning how to fix it.

Another year came, and I did Nanowrimo again, this time on the sequel. I still wasn’t a great writer, but I’d learned a lot. And another year came, and I finished Nanowrimo again. I came to realize that my first drafts were dreadful, but that was what they were supposed to be. And rough draft got a little less dreadful than the last one. My mind morphed into a writer’s mind, and everywhere I went and everything I did became a story. I’ve got two novels stuck inside my head based on washing dishes—and one of them is good enough it might someday become a real thing.

I found a community of like-minded people at Hatrack Writer’s Workshop, and learned how far I still was 
from perfection. We critiqued each other’s stories, and I learned so much from that. I was thrilled when Sheena invited me to join The Prosers.

Then one day, Sheena, Sabrina and I decided to write Alchemy. Sheena had self-published her first novel, and she guided me through that maze. Alchemy was so much more successful than I’d expected it to be, not that it made us any money or anything, but people read it, and share it, and tell me that they love it, and it is so much fun to watch it grow and take on a life of its own.

So I decided to publish that first novel, Hidden Magic. That had been my dream for nearly six years, and even though I knew it was a story that had gone out of fashion when Twilight went out of fashion, I wanted it out there. It hasn’t done nearly as well as Alchemy in the blogging world, but it does have its own group of followers, people who looked past its little flaws and learned to love the characters. So publishing it turned out to be bittersweet. But I wanted it out there so badly, and there comes a point when you’ve got to stop tinkering with a story and call it done. I learned so much from publishing it. I am excited to use that knowledge to publish something else of my own someday.

But for now, Sheena, Sabrina and I are hard at work on the sequel to Alchemy. We’re planning to release it this summer. All those times God told me that I needed to write? Well, it turns out he was right. Being a writer has brought me so much joy, so many interesting friendships, and helped me through so many hard spots in my life.

I’m still on this journey to achieving my dreams. I hope it never ends.


  1. Great topic. Pursuing dreams is always a big, fascinating journey full of pitfalls and delights. I wish you well.

  2. Glad to be a small part of your journey!

  3. Hi Melanie! I absolutely love your post. I felt like you were writing about parts of my own life! Especially the tears streaming down your face as you're driving and you don't know how you're going to do it all. Also, the part about feeling the need to write and then only getting a few hours of sleep. I totally get that! When I was inspired to finally finish my first novel I had started years before, I wrote constantly, staying up until two in the morning and jumping out of bed at six, eager to get the words and thoughts onto the computer screen. It's an amazing feeling, isn't it.

    I'm still trying to get my first novel published. Apparently it's easier to write the novel than it is to get an agent! Lol. Glad I found you in this blogosphere...looks like we have a lot in common!