The following year, after my Dad read my first manuscript, I followed his advice and started writing character sketches and chapter plans in preparation for a rewrite. I was serious. If this was how it was done, I was sure as heck going to do it. The ironic thing is that I never write character sketches or chapter plans anymore. I have tried and tried to plan my books, to no avail. My characters always mess up the story. Again, I have tried and tried to plan them. That doesn't work either. I normally always have a decent description of the characters that I reference back to. I look at how they talk and walk and what they wear in the initial scene in which I introduce them. And then I ask myself: okay, what would this person honestly do in this situation? And this one? And that one? And that's why they mess up my books: because they try acting like they're real. Presumptuous little people. However, the most important thing, I've discovered, is to get out of the way of my own story. This is something I still struggle with. So while I don't follow the exact method Dad prescribed back then, I carry the principles with me.
After I did my character sketches and chapter plans at age eleven-going-on-twelve, I started rewriting the book. I followed the plan meticulously. I remember feeling like the story was going to be very long. This was because I tried to put everything cool I possibly could into it. The result? At the end of the year, I had written a complete 98,000 word manuscript. My friends tried valiantly to plough their way through it. Unfortunately, very few eleven and twelve-year-olds read books that length for fun, let alone as a favour to a friend. And that's fine, because that draft was junk too. I just didn't know it at the time.
My Dad didn't read it this time. We were in the throes of moving back to New Zealand from Australia. However, I had ambitions of publishing this draft. When we moved to Pukekoe for my Dad's year as a vicar in the church there, he told me there was an author in the congregation. Sure enough, there was a lady who had written for years - novel-length manuscripts, wonderful articles, and all kinds of other things.
My Mum said: "You won't bother her, will you?"
The people who have the misfortune of knowing me too well know that I'm pretty good at bothering people. Sure enough, I went and bothered her. And we became great friends. She would invite me over to her place for writing afternoons, and together, we went slowly through the important parts of my 98,000 word draft. She encouraged me to write concisely, and I still use many of the tricks and tools she gave me today. By the end of that year, by which time I was thirteen, I had discovered that I could either do this the hard way, and edit six extra words out of every sentence - or I could just rewrite the whole novel. Halfway through the year, my writing friend had to move to Australia. Once again, I was left to my own devices. I remember yearning for more input at this stage. But I was young and had loads of time. I just didn't feel that way.
I chose to rewrite the whole novel. By age fourteen, I had written a much more concise (and edited) version of Rafen, which was, in those days, called He Who Is Radadazh. I sent out my first query to a literary agent at the end of that year, without telling anyone. The reply was that while my story looked promising, the writing needed work. I was given a list of manuscript assessors. I begged Mum and Dad to let me shell out five hundred dollars for a manuscript assessor, but they were unwilling to let me spend so much money on something that was, to all intensive purposes, a hobby at that particular time. My writing wasn't mature enough to benefit from a full manuscript assessment anyway. At fifteen, sixteen, and seventeen, I wrote several more novels and rewrote Rafen a couple more times. I penned a small trilogy and the next three books in my Rafen series, which I hadn't named yet. I thought they were all brilliant. By age seventeen, I had written ten full-length books. My Dad read through Rafen several more times and gave me advice. I often felt like I would revise and revise and revise and nothing ever got better. At sixteen, I was accepted as a winner in the New Zealand Re-Draft competition. My story was published in their book Fishing For Birds. The experience of seeing my name in print was absolute magic. I couldn't stop looking at those pages.
However, I was nearing the end of my school years, and the reality was I was no closer to getting a novel published, and I had to decide on my future - on what I was going to study at university. The thought of studying for three to four years while a seven book series was swimming around in my head just about put me under. Maybe people will say that was pathetic of me. I don't know. But the idea of being forced to lay aside that project for so long was torturous.
My parents talked lots to me about studying and getting a good job. Writing would never earn me my living. I didn't want to listen. They were right, and I knew it. But all I could think of was the pain of leaving this behind. One day, my Dad told me that I needed to try something different. Very depressed, I vowed to myself that I would give up writing.
And for three months, I managed it. Yet something had sunk its claws into my brain and just wouldn't stop holding on. Rafen came knocking again, and this time, I just couldn't ignore him.