I Worked on a Novel for Four Years–Here’s What I Learned

Lifestyle

In November of 2013, I sat down at my small Ikea desk, opened my chunky school laptop, and embarked on a journey that would change my life for the next four years: I began writing my first solo novel as a ten-year-old in fifth grade. The project would span multiple drafts and hundreds of pages before finally losing steam near the end of my eighth-grade year, nearly four years later—an unfinished third draft of over 200 pages in Google Docs.

What began as a month-long endeavor for National Novel Writer’s Month, affectionately dubbed NaNoWriMo by the writers around the world who participate each November and race to finish a fifty thousand word project in thirty days, graduated to a full-fledged passion project that I devoted my free time too. I stayed up late into the night in bed, my laptop perched on a pillow on my lap. I bought a notebook—several, actually—and scribbled into it during class, jotting down ideas or first drafts of scenes that I would later type out onto my computer. I roped my friends into it, and together we’d sit on the floor of my room over a giant poster board, mapping plot points and character arcs.

And though I never completed the book, and there’s no way that draft will ever see the light of day, I can’t say that I regret the time I devoted to it, or that it was a waste of time. Here’s why.

I found an introduction to the writing world

I didn’t know much of anything about writing before starting the novel. My prior experience came from writing a story with my best friend in third grade about two characters (who, totally by coincidence, closely resembled my friend and I) who became stranded on a desert island. We added bits and pieces to the story on playdates, during recess, and at designated research sessions at the library, but eventually abandoned the story. So the novel I finally started a couple of years later in fifth grade was my formal introduction to the writing world: a world full of character sheets, plot arcs, and planning.

Encouraged largely in part by Pinterest, I launched myself into research about writing techniques, creating a board of writing tips that would eventually grow to over 500 pins. I learned the difference between showing and telling in writing (showing, surprisingly, is not always the way to go). I learned about dialogue tags and the infamous “said”—in contrast to what my middle school English teachers preached, “said” is sometimes referred to the somewhat flowery dialogue tags of Wattpad fanfictions. I learned about setting up character motivations and conflict, and about effective scene-writing.

It definitely didn’t happen overnight, but thanks to both research and plain old trial and error, I became a better writer.

As an added plus, thanks to all the copying from notebooks to Google documents, I finally learned how to type on a keyboard without looking at my fingers, much to my dad’s relief.

I learned consistency and patience

Writing a novel is hard work, obviously—it requires in-depth planning and thought, and a dedicated space and time for writing every day. More than anything, it requires setting a goal and, no matter how difficult, sticking to it. This novel was one of the first big projects of my life, and as such, I quickly learned the importance of focus. Never mind the after-school TV shows that I loved to watch or my nagging younger brother (or my stack of homework), because I had a daily word count goal to reach. I cleared my mind of distractions, scrolled down to the last page of my novel’s Google document, and wrote.

It was always difficult, but I pushed through—even when it felt useless.

Around halfway through sixth grade, a little over a year after starting the novel, I made the decision to restart completely. Inwardly cringing at the melodramatic beginning my fifth-grade self had written, I started a new Google document and rewrote the first couple of chapters and many other scenes scattered throughout the draft. I renamed one or two characters and added some new ones. I pulled an old school project poster board out from behind my desk, flipped it over, and used the back for a gigantic plot diagram, which I added to carefully at night on the floor of my room.

Taking what I’d spent a year writing and restarting it felt like torture, but I knew I had to do it. I knew the other option to be switching to a completely new novel—and I tried that. As sixth grade turned to seventh, I found myself bored with the book. I wanted it to be over, so I stepped back for a bit and started on a new project about something else entirely. When I got bored of that, I came back to my novel and the hundred-something pages of scenes and brainstorming. It felt like home. Invigorated by the fresh start, I dove straight back into writing.

My friends and I grew closer

I already had an amazing group of friends when I started my book, but thanks to our shared interests in writing, we grew much closer. While writing the book became much of who I was in middle school, my friends stuck with me. They read over my scribbled scene excerpts and encouraged me by asking for more. They supported me when, much to my embarrassment, my seventh-grade social studies teacher took my notebook from me during class and read a piece of a romantic scene I’d written—and commented about it in front of the entire class. I added some of them to the master Google document, and they tirelessly added comments and edits to the now two hundred or more pages.

Even during summers spent apart, even in different countries as my family moved to the United Arab Emirates for a couple of months because of my dad’s job, my friends and I stayed in constant contact thanks to writing projects. Many of them started writing projects of their own and shared them with me through Google Drive. One started writing a screenplay. Several joined me in NaNoWriMo one year—a group of us met at Panera one day after school for a writing session.

Now, with all of us in high school, I’m still friends with many of my middle school friends. And while I won’t give my book credit for that—the credit goes to my friends, for being such amazing people—I will say that many of us are still writing today, several years later.

I found a hobby that would fuel my passions in high school

As eighth grade began to wind down and my friends and I began to prepare for high school, my work on the book began to slow. I still loved writing, but something had started to change. The dystopian world I’d created in my book didn’t hold as much interest for me anymore, and I started wanting to move on to other projects—for real, this time. As I entered ninth grade and a new high school with none of my middle school friends, I left behind my book, unfinished and unpublished, in a folder on my computer. All two hundred pages of it.

Still, my passion for writing remained. And as I skimmed my high school’s extensive list of clubs and after-school activities, I kept that in mind.

A couple of months later, I turned in an application to be on the newspaper staff at my school. For me, this was a leap of faith: my first journey into nonfiction writing.

Now, more than two years after I turned in my application, I can say I’m happy I made that leap—I’m now the co-editor of my school newspaper, and I couldn’t be more satisfied with the type of writing I do now.

Sure, ultimately I didn’t finish the book. But writing it was a huge part of my middle school years and my growth as a person, and it led me to where I am now. For that, I’m more than grateful.

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Daniela Paris

Editor

Daniela Paris is a high school junior currently residing in Apex, North Carolina. In addition to writing for Teen Magazine, she enjoys writing for her school newspaper, The Patriot Press, and has a passion for politics and journalism. On weekends you can find her practicing guitar or bass, gardening, or reading a good book.


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