My Top Writing Experiences 4 – The Impossible

Here we go, the fourth of my five installments detailing my most memorable writing experiences that were also significant moments in my writing growth. It’s my hope these will inspire and motivate others, especially if you’re considering NaNoWriMo this November. Thus far:

My September Motivation Series (The Introduction)

#1 – Short Story Explosion (2015)

#2 – Character Connection (2017)

#3 – The Sequel Opening (2018)

My first thought looking back at this week’s moment was, it shouldn’t be that easy. A smile followed and I thanked the writing gods for their gift.

Closer inspection, though, revealed Protecting the Pneuma Key wasn’t a happy accident or a divine gift. Instead, when I drafted it for NaNoWriMo in 2019 it was the result of years of hard work—and a hard slap from my subconscious.

Cover: CA Hawthorne ©October 2016
NaNo Cover: CA Hawthorne

I think my misconceptions come from 2018 having been amazing. My lung condition finally under control, I’d returned to working (part-time). I’d drafted Torment Surfacing in the spring and So Others Might Remember, Riparia’s Bk3, in November. Too, there were Pannulus short stories and a map. Sure, Stealing Light, my first attempt at a novella, had gone kinda wrong, but the six novelettes linked to it went exceptionally well.

Then, 2019 happened. Physically, I endured a heart examine, excessive swelling in my legs, was rushed to the ER after passing out at work, and had cancer removed. Meanwhile, the job was sucking the creative life out of me.

Oh, and I was feeling sorry for myself. Did you notice?

Meanwhile, certain that Stealing Light was an amazing story, I promptly stumbled when trying to turn it into a novel (I was right, but not in 2019). I went through Riparia’s Bk3, added the missing bits, and ended up with a behemoth. Bk4? I had NO ideas for it. I was miserable and losing my way.

Actually, I was blind. So much was going right, but I couldn’t see it and by July my journal was full of entries about what am I doing and why am I even writing at all?

My subconscious, though, knew I needed a change of writing scenery.

There were hints. I dearly love Riparia’s series, but they’re BIG stories leaning towards epic. Sometimes a girl needs to escape to a country cottage in the hills. Gee, Riparia had been saying the same since Bk1.

On the side, and, I thought, for fun, I’d been writing Pannulus short stories and worldbuilding modern Pannulus (what Carrdia would be if things hadn’t gone wrong). In early 2019 I’d enhanced the Pannulus map. I’d joined WFWA (Women’s Fiction Writers Association). The idea of attempting Women’s Fiction in a fantasy setting was a reflection of Riparia’s laments and longings in Bk3.

Republic of Pannulus. Map: CA Hawthorne

In August 2019, I made the decision that changed everything for all my writing. I created a two-page spread in my journal titled, Stories: What’s Important to Me, to include BOTH what I like to read and find most enjoyable to write. Every hour I was adding a new entry until there were 23 bullet points, some with multiple elements. Seeing them all together grabbed my attention, especially because my subconscious had made some surprising entries.

And now, only now, have we reached the point where I fondly remember the end of 2019 as it shouldn’t be that easy. In September, I edited the novelettes, doing so from the perspective of my new vision for present-day Pannulus as less Victorian-like and more Roaring Twenties (from an Ontyre fantasy perspective).

The result, in October, was a tidal wave of ideas. The story’s opening came to me fully formed and that had never happened before. With it came the adorable rylls, and with them the cottage on the knoll, pneumass scepter, magic-suppressing shackle, and all the rest. I couldn’t write the preliminary narrative outline fast enough.

In another fateful decision, I decided to forgo a landscape NaNo cover in favor of an image of Zephtasha. Days later I found it, but there was a problem. She was holding a key. A BIG key. Could I make it work?


Cover: CA Hawthorne

Instead, the key became the novel’s last critical element. In a story that was so much about emotional representation (five rylls, five distinct personalities), the key became crucial to outcast Zepha’s arc. All at once, Pneumass Scepter became Protecting the Pneuma Key, the easiest novel I’ve ever drafted.

How easy? When I revised, I made only two major changes. One was at the midpoint where I added what lazy me had purposely left out of the draft. The other was not killing off a certain minor character.

Zepha’s growth and her expanding life are pure Women’s Fiction. The novel’s mystery is a treasure. The cast of supporting characters, especially Haughly Nillerwell, are memorable. At the novel’s core, is the list I made, including a number of social issues. Zephtasha is also notable because she suffers from mental health issues that only serve to make her more endearing, her gains more commendable.

My bonus was that the novel immediately yielded a novella AND introduced a minor character named Talma Loyal (more about her next week).

In the end, not only did the novel all but write itself, but all my other novels have benefited from what I learned writing Pneuma Key. It was also a cautionary experience. I’d become too rigid in my creativity (Bk4 or nothing!), my process flowing too much from my head and not my heart. Pneuma, after all, means spirit, soul, and creative force.

Zephtasha taught acceptance of mental health issues and overcoming them, passing along a phrase that has stuck with me. “Be everwell.” It was a phrase important to the plot that has become important to me, too. So, dear reader, be everwell.


About Christina Anne Hawthorne

Alive and well in the Rocky Mountains. I'm a fantasy writer who also dabbles in poetry, short stories, and map making. My Ontyre tales are an alternative fantasy experience, the stories rich in mystery, adventure, and romance. Alternative fantasy? Not quite steampunk. Not quite gothic. In truth, the real magic is in those who discover what's within.
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