A Good Look Back

NaNoWriMo’s website is doing a running activity to help all their users cope as we weather through COVID-19’s storm. There is usually a daily activity for the individual categories of mental, physical, social, and creative health; though I haven’t been participating in this (I am never at a loss for projects), today’s checklist for creative health was to “explore a new creative outlet” and let yourself experience being a beginner again.

Normally I would take that as permission to finally sit down and start trying that doll-refurbishing hobby I’ve been trying to get into, but alas, just don’t have the time to add another new thing to my overflowed plate. 😅

Instead, I want to share with you some of the development history of my thesis project, The Flower Key Rebellion.

In late 2004 or early 2005, when I was but a wee 13-year-old bab, I was in the midst of a prolonged move with my family. My father was hired by a company that had us move from Arizona back to Texas, but then left him cold and job-searching. We lived in a 40′ fifth-wheel camper for several months, three of us plus three dogs, a cat, and a parakeet. It was in this arc of my life — a permanent transition phase with nowhere to go for peace and alone time — that I retreated to writing. It was a way to be alone in my head, even if I couldn’t be alone in real life. What started out as a Beyblade fanfiction called Sokaiuan Stars eventually tickled my imagination so much it became an original story; and it was in that noisy, chaotic environment, just like a big bang, this story for the stars was born.

I was very “Greek mythology”-inspired. Beginning-writer Me thought “everyone’s wearing Greek clothes!” was a good idea. And picking “fantasy-like names!” + “difficult spelling makes it more fantasy, right?”

Are you cringing as hard as I am, yet? 😂

It seems the old documents have been lost to time, but I specifically recall how my character profiles could be measured on the page at about three inches (or 7 cm) square. Name, age, title, likes and dislikes… and somehow, I thought that was plenty.

I was happy with my “Planet of Hats”-like approach, and creating new names was fun, and my mother seemed so impressed with the first few chapters I spun out for her. She encouraged me over and over to keep going, to write more… and yet the process stagnated. I wrote more fanfiction. I wrote a wider range of fanfiction, moving on to series like Naruto and Inuyasha. I wrote romances until reality and age caught up with me, and then the focus gradually shifted to adventure and intrigue.

In 2009 the story got its first major overhaul, and started looking quite a bit more like it does today. This was around the time I picked up art; the goal was simply, “Learn to draw my characters legibly enough to create references for actually skilled artists.”

Whenever I drew something with more than one character, I felt like I’d turned out a new masterpiece… ngl, I still feel that way. Eventually, I drew more than I wrote… and so, once again, the story fell by the wayside.

I finished Phantom at 75k words, making it my first book ever, just before leaving for college in summer of 2010. I finished Quill at 40k words, making it my first novella, before that year was out. I wrote fanfiction casually, wrote occasionally on commission, but art became a bigger part of my life. In just a few years, my skills as an artist grew to a point where I could get commissions, and so I drew even more — this time as my job. But sometimes, I would start thinking about this story again… and so more development would happen at random. Just a small spattering; concepts for villains, art for my characters, an attempt at a comic that ended because my attention just couldn’t stay on it long enough.

Further development was inspired by my World Literature course in college, where the teacher had us read the Sonjara — a transcribed African oratory epic. Fascinated, I soon found myself in the third major overhaul for the Kitheriyan Chronicles universe, restructuring each of the realms to cover as much of the world’s major ethnicities as possible — including Africa, Southeast Asia, and the Middle East.

From a “Galaxy of Hats” (because pfft, why should I limit myself to just one planet?) to a highly diverse system of cultures, and from mini-profiles to three-pages-and-counting… Fifteen years of development, and yet, I still look at the pages and wonder if I’m good enough to write this story yet. I still wonder if I’ll be able to do these characters justice, knowing them as well as I do. I’ve had a longer acquaintance with these kids than with most of the actual people in my life! 😂 Even when I’ve been doing this for years, I still feel like an amateur… a silly beginner, prattling off about her original characters.

I’ll tell all of you what I have to tell myself on a daily basis — it’s ok, just do it. It can be a mess, and you may have to do it over again a dozen times. It’s okay if you lay something on the page and all you see is flaws. Refine it over time, just as you, as a person, are being refined over time. Wine isn’t made just by putting it in a bottle. Houses aren’t built just by raising a frame. Stories aren’t written by just slapping words on a page, and humans don’t mature just by breathing.

Allow yourself the time, and use your persistence. Effort and progress are something seen after your mistakes are made, so go be a beginner.

Keep on going. Keep on hoping.

~Aviva Godfrey