distraction no.99

Nova Ren Suma | On Writing & Writing Distractions

Not an Author Newsletter… something else.

Turning Points: Guest Post by Cindy Pon (+Giveaway)

Turning Points: Guest Post by Cindy Pon (+Giveaway)

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.


Congratulations to the giveaway winner of a *signed* paperback of her debut novel Silver Phoenix! The winner is…

Isabel Randolph

Congrats, Isabel! Thank you to everyone who entered—and to the author for the prize!

There’s more in the Turning Points series. Catch up with any posts you may have missed here.

37 responses to “Turning Points: Guest Post by Cindy Pon (+Giveaway)”

  1. I’m enjoying the “Turning Point” series. It’s fascinating to hear how each author has a different turning point for them in their writing. Cindy Pon reminds me a lot of myself in that I’m a pantser and I’m overwhelmed at writing a full length novel! I’m used to the shorter stories and poetry…the thought of churning out 60,000 words brings on the panics. Thanks for the encouragement to push through and keep writing!

  2. I can’t get enough of this series. Each time I see how diverse everyone’s process is, I trust my own a little more. Especially when I hear of success after a long break from writing.

  3. I love hearing about author’s Turning Points! The process, the challenges, everything is really inspiring. Really dying to read Silver Pheonix!!!

    • so glad you found it interesting. and yes, do trust your process. but also know you can be your writing’s own worst enemy. we often come up with great excuses (never mind fear) to never finish that novel. good luck!

  4. This was another great addition to the Turning Points series. If I were confident to write (which I’m not) I could completely understand how a full length novel would be overwhelming. Sometimes just writing a few pages can be too much for me. Even though Cindy may think she has trouble it, I can assure her, I love her stuff 🙂 Whatever she’s doing, it’s just right!

  5. nova, thanks again so much for letting me stop by and share my thoughts. i will be coming to read comments and replying to them. and any questions as well. i think i might have been replying to the wrong comments–sorry about that. ha!

  6. I work in publishing and have an insider perspective, but it’s always nice to be inspired by an author’s struggle to finish the first draft. I’ve always loved Cindy Pon’s SILVER PHOENIX cover. Even if I don’t win, I will be getting this book!

  7. Cindy, great post! The feeling of starting a novel, getting a few thousand words in and getting partially paralyzed by the sheer enormity of all the words left to go….yeah. I know it well. And that writing is a lot about faith — I think that’s true. As I face the mountain of revision looming before me, I needed to be reminded to just take it one step — one word, one scene, one chapter — at a time. Nova, thanks for having Cindy stop by!

    • yes. one day at a time for me to, when it comes to writing. good luck to you, jennifer! thanks for reading and commenting!

  8. I love this blog series so much, Nova!

    Cindy, thanks for sharing your journey! I feel you soooo much, especially on the “crap, I need like 30k more, and I have maybe 10 if I’m lucky.” That’s where I am right now. lol

    • *bumps fist with you* i am starting my sequel and only at 7k. so you are way ahead! go you!

  9. I am so inspired by Cindy’s journey because I encounter that feeling a lot – I’m always stuck at around 10-15k and then I get discouraged. Thanks for helping us see how there’s definitely something there, if only we have a little faith.

    I’m now off to work on my story, and I’m so grateful that this post is up. It just inspired me to continue when I just wanted to give up!

    • all the best luck to your rough drafting! i know how you feel.
      all writers have been there!

  10. Oh wow, Nova you’re super epic for coming up with Turning Points. And WHOA CINDY! I admire that you started writing in order to conquer the fear (of writing. HAH!) This does help me with my own writing where I managed to write an epic fantasy of 64k words and the one thing that sticked is that you are a pantser *bows down in respect because I refuse to schedule anything in real life but *must outline* when writing* Strange stuff. Anyways, thanks Nova and Cindy for sharing these insightful tidbits!

    • jazmin, isn’t that so funny how our processes vary so greatly? go you on your writing!!

  11. I’m really enjoying this series! I also thought it was great to see that NaNoWriMo was such a turning point. I’ve had that same feeling, although I’m still in the trying-to-write-a-draft-I’m-happy-with stage. NaNo has helped me get back into writing, and it’s great to see that it’s helped others, too. That’s the sort of thing I need to remember whenever my mother starts one of her “that writing thing is a waste of time” rants. 🙂

    • aww, i hope you keep at it! it is a long process and can get discouraging. but know that it is something that *every* writer struggles with!

  12. I already have a copy of both books, but I this was so cool to read! Cindy, I think our stories mirror each other’s in a lot of ways. Glad to know you and your wonderful writing.

    • aww thanks so much for stopping by to read and comment, lindsey. and that’s great to know! and ditto! =D

    • never! ;*) seriously tho, i go with the flow when it comes to writing books!

  13. Wow, it’s nice to read this kind of information from another “pantser.” I have lots of books and classes that suggest very interesting, tidy ways to put my stories together, but none of them really work for me! (They’re informative, but stories I work on using them don’t come to be…my muse likes to keep me in the dark.)

    • thanks for reading and glad we could commiserate in our strange novel writing styles. =) everyone is different!

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