Madeline W, 15-year-old Narwhal, has written a book. A novel, in fact. I sat down with the author to discuss her book and process.
Tess: How did this begin?
Madeline: I started writing-writing in 2020, when I was introduced to the world of fan fiction and I got into writing Wings of Fire fan fiction. I wrote two Harry Potter things and like 50 Wings of Fire things. I always enjoyed stories but I wasn’t into writing or reading by myself early. When I was young I wrote a little story I was so proud of that I slipped it into a shelf at the public library. It was not very good.
There wasn’t much preparation beyond that; I said, “Hey wouldn’t it be fun if I wrote a book?” I did, and it was.
I sat down one day and wrote out a summary of what I wanted the story to be about - I knew I wanted it to be about a 14-year-old boy who turns into a bear when he’s upset, and all the consequences of that. I wrote a short summary in a google doc. I came up with the first line, “Normal, what a funny word…” and then the whole first chapter flowed out of me.
TL: What was the writing process like?
MW: I’m not even sure if it was a process! I wrote what I felt like writing about. Within the first chapter, I was able to understand and introduce myself to Ben as a character. Writing the rest of it was easy because I knew who he was. From the beginning, I knew he was going to meet and what those people would mean to him. Definitely there were times when it was really difficult because I thought something was stupid, it didn’t work, was I messing it up? Then I would take several week-long breaks between certain chapters. I always came back to writing it because I had made a promise to the characters - unconsciously, I knew these characters were parts of myself and I love them very deeply and I want to finish this for them.
I started it on February 21, 2022 and I ended it on October 2, 2022 while watching the Great British Bake-off. I worked on it whenever I had ideas - sometimes not much because I was at NC, or I would work on it late into the night when I had ideas and inspiration to do it.
TL: What did you like about the writing process?
MW: It’s hard to describe because I enjoyed writing it so much because I got to spend more time with them and explore them was a treat. It was really exciting when I finally finished it and stared at the document. I turned to my mom and said, “I think I just finished the book!” She said, “While we’re watching the GBBO?” I ran screaming through the house.
TL: What did you learn about writing a novel from writing a novel?
MW: It’s a lot of work! When you get to the editing process, you have to be committed to it and like the story enough to keep writing. You can like the characters and the story, but you need to have the will to keep going back to it and trying. Sometimes that can be hard. I would write something and don’t know what to write next, and take a break. You have to tell yourself that you want to keep working on it so you go back and figure it out. I had more patience than I thought I did.
When I got to the last chapter I stopped myself because I didn’t want to finish it! Once I finish it I won’t be able to write it anymore. I don’t want their stories to be done. I knew it would be a standalone book.
TL: What was your favorite scene to write?
MW: I liked them all! I don't want to give spoilers…I liked writing whenever Ben, the main character, was in his head. A lot of the characters think and say everything I think and say in the moment of writing the scene. The characters are all parts of me. When Ben is overwhelmed and going in spirals, that’s something I do all the time! Well, I do it a lot less now than I used to, but I enjoyed writing any scene in which there was a lot of dialogue back and forth or I could describe a lot of stuff and where Ben was in his head.
TL: What happened after you finished writing the book?
MW: After I finished it, I had already recruited an editor for the job. I asked Tess to edit it but I didn’t even know what it meant. I knew editing was something you do with books…I shared the google doc to her (you) and we worked on it for a few months. I was in there every day to see what you had done. You read the story, gave me feedback. I didn’t change much of the story but I changed one scene and then I added some other things. The big meat of the story stayed the same. There were a lot of little grammar mistakes to fix.
TL: What’s the title and how did you pick it?
MW: It’s called A Normal Beast. I had a number of ideas for titles and put them on sticky notes around my room to see which one I kept coming back to. Then one day I was at NC telling my friends about the titles and they liked one of them and I did too.
TL: Will you get it published?
MW: The word ‘published’ It’s quite daunting - it means sharing my children with the world. In the beginning i told my parents that I’m writing a book. They said that if I actually finish it, they would make printed copies of it to have and give out. I didn’t really take them seriously because it seems silly because I probably won’t finish it. But then i did! I don’t really know what that process will be like, kind of like editing. I know it’s a part of the process.
TL: What will you do for the cover?
One day on vacation, I realized my book needs a cover. I opened up my procreate app and scribbled some covers. I wanted it to be like a green pleather journal cover, with scratches on it, but I’m still deciding.
TL: What’s next for you?
MW: I don’t know!
Editor’s note: After much Microsoft Word formatting magic, Madeline ordered a copy of her book from a self-publishing website. After pressing “complete order,” she got so excited that she ran around her room, yelling so much she broke a rubber band on her braces. On April 10, 2023, she received the first copy of her book and promptly freaked out again.
Programs used in this project: Microsoft Word, Google docs, Procreate, Canva, Lulu book editor, Zoom, Natural Creativity facilitation, Madeline’s natural creativity