A year and a half ago, in March of 2012 my mom, Kristina sat down and typed out the opening chapter in what would eventually become The Sowing, the first book in the Seeds trilogy. She emailed it to me and I realized I liked what I was reading. It was an idea with promise, I thought. I could feel the energy in it. So I sat down at my favorite coffee shop, plugged in my headphones, and five hours later I had written chapter two.
Spring came, and we wrote some more. My sister, Elena, started writing chapters as well. By June we had thirty thousand words. By August we had seventy thousand. By December, we had almost one hundred and twenty thousand words, a rough draft of a still-untitled novel that we believed in, loved, and wanted to share with the world.
But there were some problems. Lots of problems, actually. The biggest one was that our protagonist, Remy Alexander, had superpowers, and none of us were able to explain why. In one scene, she mysteriously zapped someone with a bolt of electricity, and in several others, she was able to see wavelengths of light that are invisible to the human eye. Why? We had no idea. Mostly, I guess, it was because we thought it was cool. The other problem was that we had originally wanted our book to be about genetically modified food and the ways scientists could use that food to manipulate and influence people. We wanted to use it as a way to talk about the problems with the modern day American food system, but in our first draft, we didn’t talk about food much at all, let alone genetically modified crops!
And so, ultimately, “because we thought it was cool” wasn’t a good enough reason for Remy to have superpowers, and we had a ton of restructuring to do if we wanted to incorporate food and genetic modification into our story. Not to mention the countless other things that were wrong with our first draft – we had too many characters, we had characters who disappeared and never came back, we had characters who showed up without explanation or justification. Our ending had a lot of climax but no resolution, and ultimately, we really weren’t sure why our bad guys were really bad.
So, in January of 2013, we sat down and started to revise. We junked whole chapters and re-wrote them, added entirely new chapters, tossed out some characters and created one or two new ones. We made the bad guys really evil. We wrote new scenes with food and genetic modification, killed Remy’s superpowers, and created a puzzle for our characters to solve that perfectly encapsulated the overall themes of the book. We turned a story with missing pieces and broken machinery into a working engine that would drive the novel from beginning to end.
Even after all that, there were still problems, so we went back in and fixed those. Then there were more problems, so we fixed those, too. Write, revise, repeat. We did that at least fifteen or seventeen times, down to the most minute of changes, a comma here, a dash there, a word change here, until the final edition of The Sowing was published in September of 2013.
Without the original bare bones draft, we wouldn’t have had anything to improve. Without words on paper, we wouldn’t have had problems to solve. Without characters to work with, however flat or two-dimensional, we could never have turned them into people you could imagine living and breathing. In order to write a great story, you have to write, period. Write, revise, repeat. It might take you three revisions, or eight, or twenty, or sixty-two, but eventually, you’ll have a novel. More than that, you’ll have a great story, a piece of art, and at the end of the day, that is what writing is all about.