Friday, January 18, 2013

@LibbyHeily on Writing Tough Girl

Tough Girl was my first novel. I made an attempt to write a children's book when I was just out of college and I wrote a handwritten draft of another book years ago, but Tough Girl is the first novel I ever truly completed. Writing your first novel is a frustrating experience. I felt like I was learning to ride a bike after only having seen it done before. And do I ever have the scrapes to prove it.
All in all, it took me two years, four drafts, and multiple plot outlines, character journals, and rounds of editing. I didn't even have the plot settled until draft number three. Part of the reason for so many drafts was the premise of the novel. I had set myself up with a tricky challenge: create two worlds — one dependent on the other.

Reggie's world is half real and half unreal. She is an isolated, imaginative kid doing what she can to survive in a tough neighborhood with no guidance and little hope. Her escape, and her coping mechanism, is to retreat into her daydreams. The story begins when Reggie's fantasy life begins to take over her reality. It took four drafts to the get the balance between the two worlds of the story correct.
I started Tough Girl with very simple plot outlines that included major scenes. Then I did a round of character journals where I wrote from the POVs of four characters. I found another pivotal character that way, Leon. He does not appear in the early plot outlines.

Then I set about writing my first draft. It was... yeah, it was written to completion is the best compliment I can give it. I made notes, did more character journals, then plunged into a second draft only to stop halfway through and swear off the project. I could not get the story to gel. The characters seemed foreign, their needs were unknown to me. I took a month or two off, and then sat down and did more plot outlines.

I then churned out a third draft, and it worked. The third draft made sense to me. The plot was actually cohesive. Tough Girl's world came completely into view. Reggie's world made sense. Reggie was an actual person. The only problem was, I told the story at break-neck pace and finished the whole thing in 138 pages. CRAZY.

So, on to draft four, where I worked on how to tell the story. I made myself stop at draft four. In truth, I probably could have rewritten it at least two more times to delve deeper into the prose, but I honestly think my psyche couldn't have taken it.

Draft four did receive extensive edits. I had no less than eight beta readers, and each one pointed out something new for to me to look at. I am unbelievably grateful to each one. Fresh eyes were desperately needed and much appreciated.

I'm excited to see Tough Girl go out into the world. She's my firstborn, my baby, and like any new parent I fear for the mistakes I may have made. But I'm also filled with pride.

I'm a bookworm and a writer, a nerd that's seen every episode of Farscape and can't wait for the next Dr. Who Season to begin. I enjoy running and playing sports and am always hopeful the Baltimore Ravens will win a superbowl. I love movies but don't care about the Oscars. I eat apples regularly but find apple juice bitter and don't like it. I'm a foodie and a beer snob. I eat babies. Okay, just baby carrots. I studied acting, video production and creative writing. I've had very few jobs that reflect any of those years of study. I am Libby Heily, and it's nice to meet you.

Twitter: @LibbyHeily 
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