How to Turn a Creative Writing Class Assignment into a Novel

(Or how to succeed by not following directions)

I’ve never been good at following instructions. I often like to do my own thing and go with my gut a lot. Though my family can tell you, it doesn’t usually bode well when I attempt to cook. What recipe? Oh, I missed that part. Many people have asked me how I came up with the story of Hannah. So this it—and how one can turn a creative writing class assignment into a novel.

Summer 2014, I enrolled in an online creative writing class through Gotham Writers in New York City. Our esteemed teacher and talented author, Julie Chibbaro, gave us newbies an assignment with the writing prompt: I began to question the wisdom of this trip . . .

Sounds pretty straight forward, right?

Problem was that I didn’t feel like I had a good travel story in me. The topic also seemed very boring. So while most of my classmates ventured on to write highly-creative travel stories, I decided to compose a short piece about a teen drug trip. Much more interesting.

I didn’t know anything about taking LSD, nor anyone who experienced a drug trip. So I researched it and let my freaky imagination fly. Somewhere I read that these LSD “matchbooks” were often marketed to children and featured cartoon characters on the cover. So that’s where the snarky squirrel in the cape came to mind. I also figured that if someone were to experience a “bad trip,” it could be like having your worse nightmares and childhood angst strung together. So if a teen felt powerless, maybe she’d hallucinate being raped by her father while her mother sat on by, enabling him. Scary stuff. It scared me, too, but I felt compelled to keep going with this character’s story, no matter how twisted it seemed.

A novel is born.

October 2014, I revisited the piece, changing the character’s name from Chris to Hannah and began asking questions. Why is this girl alone in her basement taking LSD for the first time? Where are her friends? And why would she ever imagine that her parents could perform such a vile and incomprehensible act?

The framework of Hannah’s life slowly started to take shape, and in six months, I had the first draft of I Like You Like This. All because I didn’t want to write a travel story. And because that very same teacher encouraged me to keep writing.

When in doubt, break the rules and let your freaky imagination fly.

Thanks for reading. My new novel, I Like You Like This, is a poignant young adult read about addiction, sexuality, peer pressure, and first love. If you’d like a guest blog post from me, an excerpt from my new novel, or you’d like to interview me, feel free to email Heather@HeatherCumiskey.com and we’ll make it happen!

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