I love books–and I need them. I’m an incest and ritual abuse survivor, and a big part of the way I survived my child- and teen-hood was by reading (and writing). I’m not sure I could have survived without books. Books became my escape from the abuse, and glimpses into worlds I didn’t know, where parents could be kind and loving and “normal.” I also needed writing to survive–it gave me an outlet, and helped me listen to my own self. My abusers frequently threatened to kill me if I talked, so writing (and art) became my voice, my way of speaking out. Writing has always felt natural to me, and used to feel more natural than talking aloud.
I write YA books–both edgy realistic and edgy fantasy. I put a lot of myself and my trauma experiences into my books–though I make sure to only put a fragment of my abuse into the books, since I don’t want to overwhelm my readers. I write the books I needed as a teen, books that didn’t exist. It’s so important to me to break silence, to write about painful issues that aren’t talked about much and that there’s (often) a lot of shame about–things I’ve been through–like self-harm, sexual abuse, and being queer in SCARS, and like ritual abuse/cults, torture, and oppression in (the upcoming) HUNTED. I want to help people who’ve been through similar experiences to know that they’re not alone, that there’s hope, and that things can get better–and to encourage people who haven’t been through those experiences to have greater compassion for those who have. And I know I’m succeeding. A year and a half after SCARS came out, I’m still getting reader letters every week, telling me that Scars helped them feel less alone, helped them to stop cutting, get into therapy, talk about being queer or self-harm or their abuse for the first time to others, or help them know that things will get better. And I get letters from others telling me that they understand more, now, or judge less. It’s wonderful!
I usually write my first drafts of novels pretty quickly (though I’ve gotten slower since I need to spend so much of my time doing book promotion to make sure my books reach others, and also since I got a concussion a year and a half ago). It used to take me about 2 months to write a first draft; now it takes longer. I write quickly because that’s the way I work, it feels right for me–but it also helps the words flow. In writing quickly, I can (mostly) avoid the internal editor or criticizer, and just get the words out. I don’t think editing belongs in a first draft–at least, it doesn’t for me. But once I’ve got a draft, I then edit and re-edit my manuscripts until they’re working for me, until they feel publishable. I do many kinds of edits–edits where I’m looking at the story as a whole, edits where I’m working on specific threads or storylines within the overall story, edits where I’m looking at the language. Once I’ve got something I’m really happy with, I send it to my agent, who will give me feedback, and once it’s ready, she submits it to my publisher.
I never used to plan out my writing–I just did a heck of a lot of drafts, and I preferred writing that way, intuitively. But for the manuscript I’m working on now (the sequel to HUNTED), I planned it out a bit more, making sure I knew the major revelations and conflicts. I still gave myself a lot of room for what happened in the book, but I knew a bit more of the direction it was going in. I’m hoping that will mean less revisions, but I don’t know yet; I’m still writing the first draft.
For Scars, I wrote more than 40 drafts over the 10 years it took to get it published. For my next book, HUNTED, I did far less drafts–about 15 complete edits. I think (and hope) that I’m getting better as I go along. I want my writing to reach people, to move people, and to be the best I can make it.
I write and edit my novels longhand. I feel more connected to myself and to my creativity when I write longhand; the novel I tried to write through typing felt more disconnected, not as alive or as vibrant, not as much in my own voice. I also learned, when I took courses in editing, that you miss much more when you’re reading on screen, and that you can catch so many more mistakes when reading text that is printed out. After I’ve written or edited my work, I then type in any changes I have (and my pages are usually littered with changes). Once I have a few drafts written, I read my work aloud, making changes as I go. I find that that helps me hear when things aren’t working, when the language isn’t flowing.
I’ve read that you’re not a “real” writer if you don’t write every day. That isn’t true. You can be a real, serious writer, and not write every day. I don’t. I have periods where I write for crazy long hours every day, and then periods where I don’t. Other times, I get a fair amount of writing done for days on end, and then take a bunch of days off. I find that for me, personally, I sometimes need a break to recharge my creative batteries. I also struggle with depression and the effects of the abuse (post traumatic stress, DID, etc) and so sometimes I can’t write or can’t write much. And book promotion takes up a lot of my time every day. But I need to write–it’s who I am, it’s how I have a voice–and I always come back to it. And I write a lot. I will likely have another book coming out soon, and I have others that I want to polish and then submit. I have a lot of books in me, and I can’t imagine not writing. I have always written. I think writing is such a creative thing, and we all have our own way of going about it.
I love how, in writing, I can rewrite events so that I have a happy ending or outcome, where I didn’t in real life–such as Kendra’s abuser in SCARS having consequences for his actions. My abusers didn’t. It felt good to be able to write that ending. I also love how my books reach people; it feels SO good to know I’m making a positive difference in the world.
I am grateful that I can make a living writing; it is my dream, and it feels incredible to have that happen! And I love that I am touching readers now, just the way other authors have touched me.