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 debut author S.J. Kincaid revealing hers…
Guest post by S.J. Kincaid
WHAT WAS MY TURNING POINT AS A WRITER? AUGUWRIMO
It’s hard to isolate one single turning point, since there are so many moments that added up and led to Insignia, my debut novel. For the purposes of brevity, I will just discuss one significant day several years ago, sometime in 2008, I believe.
I was in the middle of taking an EMT course. I’d already written two manuscripts, but one was cowritten with a friend, and the second one was more a labor of love that I’d hammered away at for two years. I was just starting to toy with the idea of seriously trying to get published, but my plans were still murky.
Anyway, the night before I was scheduled to do my mandatory, twelve-hour ride-along with some EMTs in an ambulance, I was idly surfing the writing boards on the internet, and I read about something called NaNoWriMo.
It was August, not November, but I thought: This is an awesome idea. I’m going to do it now.
I had a choice. I could either go to sleep right away, and get some meaningful shut-eye before my twelve- (or as it turned out, thirteen-) hour ambulance ride, or I could stay up a bit and write the first thousand words of a story and do my own AuguWriMo.
You know where this is going. I decided to stay up.
A short while later, I had the first thousand words of a story. I was pretty thrilled with the idea of this project, since I’d never written blindly before. I didn’t even care that it was now too late to get much sleep before my ambulance ride the next day. I felt pumped up and wide awake, so my ambulance ride would be no problem. I reread what I’d written and revised in the short time before I had to depart for the morning, and did a lot of feeling-smug-about-my-accomplishment type stuff.
That day was the launch point. For the next several weeks, I returned to that story over and over again, with no idea where it was going, where I’d take it, but I just pounded out some words. I’d simply write and write until I had my thousand minimum words for the day. Even on days when I didn’t feel like writing, I wrote. I made the words come out. Finally, twenty-six days after I’d begun, I had a complete YA manuscript.
Now, this manuscript was a terrible, angsty piece of melodramatic crap with a huge letdown of an ending, mostly because I’d had no idea as I was writing where it was going, so I didn’t set the ending up, and it read like it was tacked-on and ridiculous. This was a YA manuscript, but it was by no means a good YA manuscript. I learned a few lessons from this, notably 1) I am not a pantser. 2) I never again just churn out something very commercial and meaningless that I don’t care about at all. 3) I don’t like writing heavy romance. 4) I don’t like writing first-person.
But those lessons aren’t important right now.
This lesson is: I learned that writing could be a viable career path for me.
Writing a manuscript with my friend? That was awesome, but it was a bit easier having that buddy in my corner, writing with me. I wasn’t doing all the driving on my own.
Writing a story over the course of two years that I just loved? That was also awesome, but turning out one work of true love does not a career make.
I had to prove to myself that I could imagine, create, and then put to the pages a whole new story, simply by willing myself to go ahead and do it. I had to prove to myself that I could do something like that without that very long stretch of time for the story to percolate in my imagination, or that friend to cheer me along and take over when I stalled.
And when I did AuguWriMo, I did just that. I also learned that there did not need to be some magical force of inspiration, like some wind at my back, in order for words to appear on a page. All there needed to be was the will and determination to write them. I also learned that there were no invisible obstacles that would be hurled from the sky if I decided I was going to complete a story and then chose to do so. This was an important lesson for me, and it made everything else possible.
I don’t know if this makes much sense to a lot of other people, but this manuscript is really what gave me a rock-hard confidence that I really was able to do this thing I’d just dipped my toes into. This was the first time I seriously began to think that I was a writer.
So, back on that first day of AuguWriMo, I began my writing career. I also began a miserable, hellish day of riding around in an ambulance for thirteen hours after staying up the entire night. I spent about ten of those hours cursing myself for being stupid, fighting the need to pass out, and I still shudder to think back on that awful thirteen hours that never seemed to end.
I can definitely say AuguWriMo is the reason I did not become an EMT.
It’s also the reason I became a writer.
SJ Kincaid is the author of the Insignia series, about a teenaged video gamer who becomes a government weapon in a futuristic world at war. She lives in Illinois, loves Tudor history, and eats too much chocolate. You can find her online at www.sjkincaid.com.
Insignia is out in stores tomorrow, July 10, from Katherine Tegen Books!