How does one describe the experience of writing one’s first novel? A few one-word answers: exhilarating. Draining. Surprising. Exhausting. Liberating. Empowering.
And so on and so forth. Once the commitment was made I was determined to see it through if it killed me. I was armed with an outline of an epic fantasy novel. I broke down the characters, sketched out some details, created an entire world of kingdoms and provinces, even created a painstakingly detailed map using a frustrating cartographer program. (Of course, it looked like an almost carbon copy of the medieval Europe fantasy map that writers have been stealing since Tolkien, something I have yet to change. I truly dread cartographer programs.)
Had I any sense, I would have never attempted an epic fantasy for a first novel. The work involved is monumental; having to paint an entire world from the ground up that becomes real and solid to the reader as they follow the characters. That alone is a towering request. If I’m writing a contemporary novel set in New York or a similar location, chances are most writers will associate the appropriate images without much trouble. But set a story in Kaerleon or Glacia or Albriktan or any other location on my fantasy map, and chances are you won’t have the slightest idea what I’m talking about. So I have to describe those locations, not as a geography lesson, but through the eyes of the characters as they traverse the terrain.
Every character has to have a name. Every city has to be named. Every race has to be described and given distinctive traits. Every location has to have its own history, agriculture, commerce, and culture, including styles of dress and architecture.
Legends have to be created. Histories of the world have to be constructed, including religious beliefs and superstitions. Political maneuvering, rises and falls of kingdoms and empires all have to be threaded into the narrative.
Small wonder these novels tend to span so many pages.
I was in above my head before I even dove in, but once the under that yoke there was no turning aside. I promised myself that I would see it to the end, and I was determined to do so. There would be no more excuses, no more false starts, no more defeats by a mockingly empty screen devoid of words.
It was time to release the clacking.
Of the keyboard, I mean. That was the only sound that could satisfy me in those months. It was no easy task. I worked two jobs at the time, with little downtime to divide with all of the real-life issues and tasks that harried me. But I did what I could, pounding the keys late at night with the determined fervor of a certified lunatic. What had been so difficult, what had eluded me so many times in the past was now dashed to pieces, ground to dust by the juggernaut of creative determination that was finally unleashed.
I would sometimes fall asleep while typing and wake up to several pages of thisssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssss. No matter. I was in a zone. My characters were given flesh and freedom to claim their destinies. The story became a beast of its own design, refusing to stay within the confines of a petty outline. Characters I’d never dreamed of created themselves, inflicting all sorts of damage to my prearranged outcome. I cherished the surprises, the revelations that I didn’t see coming, all the joy that comes from writing unfettered, plunging into the roaring rapids of creativity released for the first time.
I started by wondering how to describe how it feels to write one’s first novel. The answer is that the experience is indescribable, at least not in any way that can do it justice. As well ask how it feels to be alive. All I knew was that I was doing something that I wanted to do for so long, and it felt marvelous.
Several months later it was finished. I accomplished what I set out to do. My determination paid off, and at the end, I had a whopping epic tale that topped 200,000 words. I had written my first novel from start to finish, and in that fact alone accomplished something that many others have tried and failed to do.
And no matter what else, that triumph could never be taken from me.