This guest post is part of the Turning Points blog series here on distraction no. 99—in which I asked authors the question: What was your turning point as a writer? Here is YA author Cindy Pon revealing hers…
Guest post by Cindy Pon
Thank you so much for having me at your wonderful blog, Nova! It is an honor and a pleasure.
I think turning points is a really apt topic to ask authors, because it forces us to look hard at our journey thus far as published writers, and ponder and analyze. Because no matter how much research you do to equip and prepare yourself, no matter how much commiseration you share with other writers who are trekking the same difficult journey (though one should note, we never are taking the same exact path)—you are never truly fully prepared.
I wrote Silver Phoenix on a lark. After more than a decade of not writing creatively, too busy in my twenties with Real Life like graduate school, marriage, major moves, and finding jobs. It wasn’t until I had my two bubs (or rabid monkeys, depending on the day =) that I remembered my first love—writing. I was staying home full-time and desperately needed something to call my own again. This was a turning point for me. I signed up for creative writing classes at the local university extension and took several, including Novel Writing twice. It was how Silver Phoenix came to be.
But after my first Novel Writing class, I only had forty pages of my novel. I had only ever written short stories and angsty poetry when I was younger, and although I loved reading, I had no idea how to go about writing an entire novel. All I could think was, I have forty pages, I don’t know what to do next. I stopped writing for six months, paralyzed by my own fear and insecurities, by the sheer vastness of the idea of a novel.
In the fall of 2006, I repeated the Novel Writing class and decided to try Nanowrimo online for the first time. I was desperate to write again. I wanted to overcome my fear and finish this. It was never my intention to write 50k words that month. I merely wanted to establish a writing routine, and I did, writing about 1k to 2k words a night, five days a week. By the end of November, I had 35k in words and had muddled through The Dreaded Middle. Not all of it was useable, but it gave me the confidence boost I needed to go on and complete Silver Phoenix in January of 2007. Nanowrimo was a turning point for me.
After revising Silver Phoenix at least six times for an entire year, and after receiving more than one hundred rejections, I sold Silver Phoenix and Fury of the Phoenix at auction. I was left to face writing Fury of the Phoenix in a very different way than I had approached my debut. With deadlines. With reader and publisher expectations. While all the while juggling the business aspect of being a published author.
Writing Fury of the Phoenix was probably one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. I sent a messy jumbled draft to my editor, totally mortified. It felt as if I were prancing around in front of her in my underwear. In very old, ugly underwear. Ha! But we went on to revise Fury multiple times, collaborating to make the novel stronger, and in the end I’m very proud of my sequel. I love it even more than Silver Phoenix—I think it is the stronger novel. I felt as if I’d grown as a writer. And I realized after completing Fury of the Phoenix that so much of writing is about faith. The belief that as frightening as a blank page is, as overwhelming as the thought “I need 50k more words and I think I only have 20k,” it will work itself out in the end. That the novel will emerge as the story that it was always intended to be. This was a turning point for me.
I sat down with this notion of faith, and trusting myself, and trusting my process when I started my third unsold novel. It has a heroine that is a shape-shifting serpent demon who falls for an almost monk boy trained to kill her kind. I only had snippets of the story. I was trying to write a strong female friendship that I’d never attempted before, in a relationship that is complicated. I had no idea what the climax would be. An immortal character emerged from nowhere, and stayed, making his presence felt. Although I am a list maker in life, a planner, someone who likes to book holidays months ahead and arrive at the airport a few hours early—I am basically a pantser. I don’t outline. I don’t plan. I don’t plot. I am an intuitive writer and the entire rough-drafting process can be terrifying.
I know that I’ll feel lost, uncertain, wondering where or how this story will go. If I can ever finish it. But now I remember to keep the faith, to trust in my own particular process. This was a turning point. And I’ve written a third novel that I love a lot, that I hope my readers will love as well.
Cindy Pon is the author of Silver Phoenix (Greenwillow, 2009), which was named one of the Top Ten Fantasy and Science Fiction Books for Youth by the American Library Association’s Booklist, and one of 2009′s best Fantasy, Science Fiction and Horror by VOYA. The sequel to Silver Phoenix, titled Fury of the Phoenix, was published in April 2011. Her first published short story will appear in Diverse Energies, a multicultural YA dystopian anthology from Tu Books (November 2012). Cindy has also studied Chinese brush painting for over a decade. Visit her website at www.cindypon.com.
GIVEAWAY WINNER ANNOUNCED!
Congratulations to the giveaway winner of a *signed* paperback of her debut novel Silver Phoenix! The winner is…
Congrats, Isabel! Thank you to everyone who entered—and to the author for the prize!