The completion of a novel is always a cause for celebration. And as I step down from the wild two-year train ride of my latest completion, I can assure you my knees are still sore from dancing the Charleston all over the house. That two-inch pile of paper sitting on my desk is the receipt for the last two years of my life. There it is in black and white: a thousand memories, a fair share of heartache, and a good dose of joy. Even without peeking at the worth of the words hiding under that bursting manila folder, I have every reason to be pleased with myself.
I finished a novel. I’ve finished seven novels. And that’s nothing to sneeze at. A novel is a mammoth commitment. It requires hours upon hours of ruining your eyesight in front of a computer monitor, sleepless nights of staring at the ceiling in search of that elusive plot twist, and plenty of crashing through brick walls when nothing seems to be going right. Anybody who has finished the first draft of a novel, no matter the quality of the words therein, is entitled to every bit of my respect. I’ve been there at the beginning of that white stretch of eternity, staring down that blinking cursor, wondering how in the name of heaven I’m ever going to pull another 100,000 words out of a nonexistent magic handkerchief. But by the grace of God, I somehow managed to do it one more time. You’ll have to excuse me while I go another round with the Charleston.
That said, as much as the completion of a novel is a time for celebration, it’s also a time for serious reflection.
Everything I’ve ever learned about wordcraft has happened while I’m in the midst of a project. I suppose that’s because if I don’t have something tangible to which to apply a tenet, I’m not very likely to remember it. I can look back over the course of my novel writing and tell you exactly what I learned from each project. And, thankfully, Dreamlander is no different.
Learning is the ambrosia of life. I can only pray that I never stop learning. Even story telling would lose its sheen if one day I woke up and knew it all. It’s with great excitement that I look back on my discoveries of the last two years, and with even greater excitement that I anticipate what the next novel may bring. As immeasurably as I value that stack of paper on my desk, I value even more the lessons it’s taught me.
Every novel is a hill that must be climbed. They all look insurmountable from the bottom. Taking those first steps is always the most difficult part: it’s always easiest to turn back while the beginning is still in sight.
The middle is the best part. The characters are cooperating, and the plot is falling into place like clockwork. The middle stretch is why I write. This is where it’s fun.
Then we begin to sight that final rocky ascent, and the last burst of adrenaline pierces our exhaustion. We might lose our step once or twice here, but that sweet, rarefied air at the top of the mountain is too intoxicating to let us stop. And then, with a great sigh of relief and exultation, we’re finally there.
But every novel is also different. When I wrote Behold the Dawn several years ago, I struggled through the usual fair share of trials. And yet the whole thing flowed in a way I’ve never experienced before. Except for a few false starts, it practically wrote itself. It was an experience that spoiled me. I was just the vessel on that one; the words poured into me and out of me from somewhere else.
But if the lesson I learned for Behold was that sometimes I don’t have to do anything but sit at the keyboard, Dreamlander taught me a much harder-fought and ultimately more valuable lesson. Dreamlander taught me that I have the power to make a story work. I don’t have to rely on Inspiration. If Behold was about me being a puppet in the hands of my story, Dreamlander was about my story being the puppet in my hands.
I probably say this after every book I finish, but I mean it this time—this was the toughest book I’ve ever had to write, whether due to my rookie foray into fantasy or my lack of preparation in the early stages. But, no doubt because of the difficulties along the way, it taught me one of the most important lessons yet: Don’t give up. You can do this. You don’t need to be inspired every step of the way because you’ve honed your craft long enough to make things work even when they look hopeless.
Now please excuse me: the Charleston awaits!
Story by K.M. Weiland