It was spring break my first year of college, and I was going to be stuck on campus. With nearly everyone gone and nothing to do, I decided, practically on a whim, that I was going to write a book in one week.
An impulse decision, as I had not developed anything in my folder of book ideas. I sat down on my bed, computer on my lap, and asked myself: What is the one book I’d always wanted to read?
The answer came far more easily than I had anticipated: a superhero story set in a fantasy world starring a lesbian protagonist. An amalgam of my favorite genres with a main character who I could relate to.
Three days of planning, plotting, and developing the idea, and then seven days of writing. As a student, I had never been able to completely give my time over to writing. Being able to write all day, to live and breathe the story as I wrote it, was incredible. It was also exhausting, and when I typed out ‘the end,’ I didn’t look at it again for months.
The first draft of The Iron Phoenix was the worst draft I’d written in years, full of uneven characterizations, dropped plotlines, thin worldbuilding. But it had a spark, and that drew me back to the mess of a draft. Revising it took the better part of two years (and a lot of patience from my wonderful critique partner), but with each pass, the dead parts got stripped away, and the essence of the book I was trying to write became clearer.
I’m not very good at ‘writing is like’ analogies because, for me, the nature of writing changes from book to book. I’ve written manuscripts that have been like building a home (or so I imagine): careful blueprints, steady constructing, finishing fixes, and minor polishing. And I’ve written stories that behaved more like a road trip: a rough map of the freeways with a clear destination with little to no idea of what I’ll see on the way.
Some writers are explorers, knowing nothing of the terrain except what is right before them. Others are engineers, constructing each piece carefully, fitting interlocking bits of the story together.
As I consider the process of writing The Iron Phoenix, it proves difficult to pin down to a specific analogy. Writing it did not feel like constructing anything, or following a map. Instead, I felt like I was unearthing the story from all the books . I knew what was buried beneath all those plot ideas, secondary characters, and fantasy descriptions. I knew what I was searching for as I wrote it, and each word I put down, each word I rewrote, brought it that much closer to the surface.
So, perhaps, for this book at least, writing is like archaeology, a slow uncovering an artifact, learning its secrets one at a time.