Autopsy of a First Novel

Contributed by Bonnie Cook

From its beginning in 2013 as a disembodied voice whispering in my ear, “Nothing ever happens in Oysterville,” my novel and I have been on a journey.  
I’ve always had an aversion to pretentiousness.  Well, my version of pretentiousness.  Phrases like ‘eats like’ and ‘I’ll do the fennel salad’ make me cringe.
For the longest time that was how I felt about the word ‘organic.’  Until it happened to me. Kind of how a friend’s opinion on undocumented citizens changed once her daughter’s husband turned out to be undocumented.  
Well, my new YA novel, Just Eve, was organic.

I was drifting to sleep and the whisper in my ear startled me. I had no idea from where it came or the story I would tell, but I knew where it would begin.

And from that inspiration a story grew.  

To be honest many stories grew, because Just Eve had three ugly stepsisters. When I look back on these drafts there’s hardly even a family resemblance, but something interesting happened.

The early drafts provided background that was necessary for me to understand my characters.  To know where they came from, secrets they held, quirks that made them unique.  It allowed me time to put to paper things I needed to know.  Often times the telling was slow and dull and even rambling.  And the rambling parts? Road trips that will be used in later novels.

I know my process was not efficient. Beginning with a story arc, character profiles, plot construction and story outlines might have cut my writing time in half.  And nine years is a long time.  But I learned so much in this writing process, in the slogging through, rewriting, dumping, and I am finding that my second novel is the recipient of all that hard work. It is coming along at a faster pace and with greater clarity.

This process has given me insight into myself as a writer.  It has given me confidence in my ability to grow, to learn, to change course.  I trust in the inspiration I get through meditation, intuition, and in the hard work of just plodding through and getting words on paper however they sound at first.  I found a supportive writing group that helped me focus on the story I wanted to tell, and I learned to trust my own voice while staying open to constructive criticism.
And so, yes, have a map.  But do not be afraid to meander off the path. Who knows where it will take you?


BG Cook lives the life of a nomad as she divides her time between London, California, and Minnesota - always on the lookout for new adventures and new inspiration.  She loves family, travel, yoga, all things spiritual, and curious minds. As a public-school educator for many years, her first love may always be teaching, but… she has fallen in love again! Follow her on Instagram @entradanotebooks and check out the first novel in The Entrada Notebooks series, Just Eve.



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Karen Cioffi said...

Bonnie, thank your for contributing to Writers on the move and sharing your nine-year writing journey with us. The writing process is different for all of us, but learning. growing, and gaining writing confidence from the experience is always a good thing.

Terry Whalin said...


What a fascinating journey you have had in the publishing world. Thank you for sharing it here. It's different for each of us (as Karen mentions) but determination and perserverance are key traits for each of us.


Carolyn Howard-Johnson said...

This is an arresting title right off the bat!thanks, Bonnie!
Carolyn Howard-Johnson

Karen Cioffi said...

Carolyn, the title does grab you. It makes you want to read the article!

lastpg said...

Bonnie, your article hit home because your journey is so much like my own. My first novel took eight years to finish because I had so much to learn. My second novel went a lot smoother and faster. Your article has helped me take a step back and appreciate all that I've learned and all the wonderful people I've met along the way. Thank you for your terrific contribution to WOTM.

Unknown said...

Bonnie Cook
Thanks everyone! Happy to join this writing community. As a newbie I am learning more everyday and am excited to be joining you all on this new adventure.

Carolyn Howard-Johnson said...

First of all, I don't know how that comment for an earlier guest poster got on your stream, Karen. Weird. Maybe I can be removed. It is sorta odd.

Now, about this one. I bet this is novel turns out to be very successful. You opened with a voice you heard. My first reaction was "where would that come from?" I thought it before you explained a couple paragraphs down. But, I thought how this seems to be the way many great classic authors explain their process. We have gotten kind of mechanized. Sort of expecting a one size fits all approach to novel writing. I like to think that what you describe (and lots of similar things) is the road to great stuff. Hold that thought. You are working on a literary classic.

Carolyn Howard-Johnson

Unknown said...

Thank you Carolyn!

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