HOW I WROTE MY SECOND NOVEL
Writing, for me, is like breathing air. I always wrote little stories and poems as a child.
We had lots of books in our home. My mom was a college professor, so during the summers
she'd bring home boxes of books (literally) for us to read and have our fill.
So in junior high and high school I read numerous books—especially in the summertime--as I wrote in
my diaries. This, not surprisingly, turned out to be extremely beneficial for me as a writer. For that way,
I practiced and fine-tuned my writing. Then, when I was about 19 years old, I wrote my first 'novel'.
I got as far as ten or so typed pages. The problem, I discovered, was that I did not know the direction of
the story. The ‘novel’ opened with a young girl visiting an elderly woman. The old lady reflected my
drawing of an old woman--with lots of dialogue between the crone and the girl.
I also had a grand theme. But after ten or so pages, where was the story going? I had no idea.
A decade later, instead of a diary, I kept a journal. (Girls write diaries; women keep journals.)
By writing my stories and poems and daily existence, I was doing as Virginia Woolf,
Anais Nin, and Doris Lessing had done. I wrote down story ideas, novel ideas, synopses,
chapters, essays, poems, and parts-of-novels.
Now I think what a remarkable child and teen I was--to be writing so consistently with no
visible reward (except that I wrote great, impressive essays for my classes, papers and
book reports). But at the time, writing was the norm for me. My air. It was my
After I wrote my first novel, Porridge & Cucu: My Childhood, I began thinking of a larger
more ambitious story.
At the time I'd just finished reading Doris Lessing's The Golden Notebook and, trying to emulate her,
I had in mind a mixture of stories and folklore and family history. I also wanted to include Panamanian
history, as Isabel Allende—a writer I had read and admired--had embodied the history of Chile in some
of her novels.
At the same time, I wanted to tell the story of a woman betrayed by her first love. I knew infidelity was a
main theme, but I wanted her to survive and get stronger. Her name was Eulalia.
I had innumerable notes--written haphazardly when ideas came to me, and so I created a ten-page synopsis.
I divided the synopsis into chapters. I tweaked the outline with a few changes. Then I began. I took a long time
writing Chapter 1--since I felt I had to cram so much into it. Theme. Foreshadowing the plot. Main characters.
Also I wanted to use gorgeous language. So I went over the first page countless times, and the entire chapter at
least a dozen times (probably more), tinkering with each word. That phase took about six weeks or more—
after which I decided to split the chapter I'd been working on into two chapters.
I also decided to go forward.
Chapters 3, 4, and 5 basically flowed effortlessly: I was astonished that the characters took over their own fate.
I had done some research into Panamanian and US history—while writing the outline and synopsis, and
beforehand. But, since I love doing research, I had to stop myself and just begin writing (and do the
research intermittently, as needed).
In a sense, I’d been preparing to write The Honeyeater all of my life.
Surprisingly, I never felt overwhelmed as I wrote The Honeyeater. Instead, I felt
empowered. I was, I felt, 'in the zone'. Certain sections--to this day--make me misty-eyed.
Part of the reason could be that I was crying as I wrote them.
So The Honeyeater is very heartfelt. I loved writing it. I also love reading The Honeyeater.
And hope other readers will agree.
--Yolanda A. Reid
Listen to the audio version of this essay: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N8wHC-fGsqU
Yolanda A. Reid is the author of The Honeyeater, a contemporary women’s novel, and of
Porridge & Cucu: My Childhood, a YA novel. To read a synopsis of The Honeyeater, visit www.thehoneyeaternovel.com.
This essay first appeared at http://www.latinabookclub.com/2013/04/writers-wednesday-how-i-wrote-my-second.html .
Copyright © 2013 by Y. A. Reid