Reflections from Jade Olivia on Writing Her First Manuscript
Believe it or not, my novel started as an idea for a novella. I had a rough idea of the characters, but knew it would be a romance with a juicy reunion of sorts revealed midway. Slowly but surely, I started writing. Three hundred words one day. One thousand words the next. I looked on my computer one day and realized I had more than 50,000 words. It seemed like the story literally grew legs and started walking. I had no idea what I was doing or where the story was going to end up, but I was having fun with it. Too bad that didn’t last as long as I expected.
About two months into my writing high, I woke up one morning, prepared to get some words down on the page like I did every day for the past month and a half. My coffee was sitting on my left — my lucky side — and my laptop was up and ready to go. I was excited to get back into my characters’ world. I starting typing a paragraph, but something was off. A little voice in my head that I’ll call Nagging Nancy whispered to me, “that’s stupid,” “there’s no way anyone’s going to read this garbage,” “why even finish what you know won’t go anywhere?” Other writers discuss this little voice but thought it’d never happen to me this early in the process. I was nowhere near done. Low and behold, she was here, egging me on to not finish what I started.
Unfortunately, she convinced me.
I decided on that day to let my manuscript sit for a while. I made the plan to let it sit for two weeks and look back at it then. Those two weeks eventually turned into four months and I looked back at the manuscript with no clue of who the characters even were. A good friend of mine knew my plight and suggested for me to go back and read what I wrote, figure out the holes and move forward.
It turns out the months I took away from my work was what I needed. I read parts of the story (as objectively as I could) and started getting to know my characters again, but this time, I started working on their motivations, backgrounds, likes and dislikes. I wrote about 10 pages of background for my two main characters and broke down everything, from their favorite color to their zodiac signs. You know when writers talk about feeling for their characters and “crying for them?” We’re not totally crazy (okay, that’s a lie); we just spend heaps of time even after the background writing getting to know who they are and what they’re going to do next. If we’re really letting the characters lead the story, we’re not even always sure where they’re going to lead us.
My protagonist was originally written as a quiet, observant young woman with a calm demeanor, but as the story is unfolding, she’s not as docile and quiet as I originally thought. Now that I let her say what she wants and react the way she chooses, I’m having a lot more fun getting into the story and more excited about where she’s going to take me. I’ll let you know how she ultimately grows when I’m done.
I’m now at the second draft of my novel and my process is a little different from the one I used to write my first draft. For one, I’m a lot more organized with a dash of pantsing. I have the major plot points and story before the climax outlined. But, I’ve kept just enough of the story ambiguous for the characters to breathe; they’re ultimately driving the car to the destination.
The tool that has helped me sit down and finish this journey is implementing a daily 15-minute minimum. No matter how happy, sad, frustrated or elated I feel in the morning, I set a timer to write for 15 minutes without immediately looking at what I wrote after. Some days, I can’t wait for the timer to ring while other days, I find myself so engaged that I don’t hear when it goes off. Many writers may set word counts or page minimums, but I find the time requirement a lot better for me and not as pressure inducing.
As I continue writing, I appreciate that there’s not a set list of rules that you follow to guarantee success. While my method may work for me, you may be more of a page-driven plotter who thinks linearly, writing from point A to point Z in a matter of months. It doesn’t matter what method you ultimately choose. Let yourself go, listen to your characters and don’t let the nagging voice in your head stop you.
Jade Olivia is a freelance writer and editor who pens contemporary fiction for modern women. She’s currently working on her first novel, “Until Further Notice,” and holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Journalism from the University of Missouri-Columbia. When she’s not writing, she’s exploring new museum exhibits or perfecting her downward dog in yoga. You can follow her on Instagram @jadeoliviawrites or visit her personal website here.