Welcome aboard as we chug on this writing journey of our guest writer and friend, Katja H. Labonté!
I always was fascinated by words. I loved books all my life. Learning to read was hard for me, though, but after I learned how to read in French I taught myself some in English, and then my mother taught me how to read and spell—a disheartening and difficult process! I started making up stories as a child, thinking up and narrating the happenings and backstory of my dolls. It wasn’t long before I graduated to making up stories in my head and telling them to myself. It was a lot longer before I actually wrote my stories down, though. Believe it or not, I was an atrocious speller and it frustrated me that I couldn’t spell the words in my head. So for the longest time, I simply copied down, word for word, lengthy passages from other books and strung them together into a story, with my own misspelled words tucked in between to lead from one to another. I kept up that habit until I was all of sixteen years or so.
My first story written all out of my head was a little story entitled Louis, or, the King’s Great Favour which I wrote for a short story contest in a magazine. I then wrote a second story strongly based off the first called The Sowing, which was essentially the same characters and setting, just a different storyline. The second story I ever wrote out of my head was an attempt at a novel named Mary Lacey. I got through three chapters and abandoned it at chapter four because I couldn’t figure out what kind of wallpaper my character would have on her wall. I still have all or most of that story left, as well as some story notes. It wasn’t all bad; I still have a very soft spot for two of the characters. ;P
I was about 12 at this point, and here was where I met a girl who was four years older than me and writing actively—real novels as well as short stories. I made this girl my model and determined I would be just like her. So I started writing. My first project was a short story collection of about 20 stories set during the Scottish War for Independence against England (I was obsessed with Sir William Wallace and Scotland at the time—not that much has changed, haha). I then started a 5-book series set in France during the First World War. My model had started a blog where she posted all sorts of writing advice and tips, and I did everything she said that I could do. I experimented with character questionnaires and outlines and all sorts of writerly tricks. I had a lot of ideas. But unfortunately, I could never get my stories much further than 5,000 words. 14,000 was a real miracle when it happened once. 12,000 was my highest goal.
And this was a problem, because my model was involved in National Novel Writing Month and churning out 50,000 words in a month. I really wanted to do NaNo. I was really obsessed with that. I also really wanted to write 50k in a month. And I really wanted to self-publish a novel, because my model self-published two.
By then I was following quite a few authors and writers and still learning a lot and picking up a lot of information. That hateful, alluring NaNo was everywhere, as were the 50k, 60k, and even 70k word counts. And here I was with my puny 500-12,000 word stories, which the authors dismissed as “short stories” or “flash fiction.” Not even “novellas.”
Writing became an obsession.
I neglected my chores, neglected my family, neglected everything except writing. I was very touchy about my writing, bursting into tears and bitterness whenever anyone questioned it or threatened my writing time. My attitude was pretty stinky. I was very bitter because my life wasn’t as good as all those other lucky authors. I was just plain envious and sulky and depressed. Especially during November—NaNoWriMo time. I was a solitary writer, too. My family and friends sometimes knew a little about my writing, and sometimes they read it and praised it, but overall, I was alone. But I kept writing, because it did make me happy. I kept participating in writing challenges and got so excited when people commented about my stories. At one point I had an email thread where I sent monthly updates of my writing to various family and friends, and sometimes they answered. Once I even won a writing contest. I got one unfinished novella of over 15,000 words. Another finished one of over 14,000. My short stories did get onto the internet at one point when a blogger posted them on her blog, and people liked them. I kept meeting new writers online.
I’m not sure when exactly, but at one point I began to follow Amanda Tero. The first post from her blog that I ever read was this one. Ow. That hit hard. I knew it was exactly what I needed, though I didn’t like it—at all. Being the people-loving person I am, I went and read all her blog archives… and fell upon this post. That one hit even harder. In my heart, I knew that was me and I knew I should also give my writing up and stop making it such a god to me. But I did not want to give up my writing. So I kept on, in spite of the hurt and anger.
Again, I don’t know when. But finally, I began to let go of my writing, slowly. I began to admit that it was okay if my story wasn’t like other writers’. I began to see that I didn’t have to be like my model. I was I, and she was she, and we both had our own lives and God had put me where I was for a reason. I began to allow that there was more to life than writing. In short,
I finally gave my writing back to God.
November was still very hard for me. But overall, I was happier and healthier. I kept learning all I could. I kept writing. But I had finally learned that it was okay that I was different.
Around this time I participated in the Young Writers’ NaNoWriMo and wrote an 18k novella, which made me really happy. Adding to that a ton of short stories, I ended up with over 40k written in a month. Which made me very happy. The next spring, a writer I knew invited me to her Camp NaNo virtual cabin. That April, I wrote 40,682 words in 30 days, and it was all on the same story, Chords, which was not even finished. The odd thing with Chords was that it was the first time I really tackled a tough, real topic—hanging on to hope when there seemed no hope left.
After all my silly little stories, God laid a real message on my heart and I shared it. And it felt so good to finally write for Him instead of for me and just kind of toss Him in as an afterthought.
My dazzling goal of 50k in one month was suddenly much closer. I had a story which I thought was good enough to publish, as well as real fangirls and a writing club. I kept writing until I was at 45,000+, and then I hit a wall. I couldn’t figure out how to end it. Two of my friends offered to alpha-read it. When I got their responses, I was crushed. My beautiful baby wasn’t good enough to be published yet and was crammed full of flaws. I was angry, bitter, and discouraged. Instantly I dropped the story and quit writing. I kept half-heartedly saying that I needed to finish it, but never did until in May or June of that year (2019) a sweet friend offered to read my book and give me some encouragement. I woke up the following morning to a ton of compliments and fangirly comments. I was so happy—but still didn’t have the courage to fight through my disappointment and pick the book back up.
For Camp NaNo July, I went back to the same cabin and started a random short story. Inspiration left as suddenly as it came. I slogged on for a while, and then suddenly decided to finish Chords. My goal was to reach 45,000 and my dream was fulfilled—Chords ended up 46,526 words.
At this time, too, I posted a short story to a blog, and a well-known indie author liked it so much she requested me to publish it so she could review it that December. Of course, I complied and unofficially published it by making the PDF available on my website. In December, true to her promise, she reviewed it on her blog. I was thrilled. The story even ended up on Goodreads!!
I was supremely happy. My old dreams were coming true. I had a (sort of) published book, I had a fan club, I had almost reached my dream of a 50,000 word book. And that’s when God decided to bless me even more.
I randomly began a flash fiction one night. From a 1k goal it snowballed to over 19,000 words. By then November was near, and NaNo was looming up. I decided to finish Broken for NaNo.
And Broken did it. We passed 30k—40k—50k—60k—and raced on to almost 90k. My dreams were realized. I wrote over 50,000 words in less than 30 days, and I wrote a complete novel that had passed my higher goal: 70,000 words.
Oh, God was so good. With this story, He hit one of the biggest of my problems: bitterness. I was an intensely bitter person. My MC was as well. And as I wrote my MC’s story to forgiveness and letting things go, I realized I also had to do the same.
And God helping me, I began to let go of my bitterness.
I kept puttering around with stories. Chords had some sequels lined up and I was working on that. Then June rolled around and NaNoWriMo began to push unbiblical lifestyles and opinions so hard that I deleted my account and wrote a post in protest. As a result, many Christian authors banded around me and my friends on this issue and we ended up creating a virtual writing camp for Christian girls/ladies.
And then suddenly (are you noticing a pattern yet?) I had an idea for a story. My friends pushed me to write it, so I wrote out the outline and a couple scenes. Then I went back to the beginning and started to write out the story.
This story, The Colour Red, was my hardest yet. It kept driving me back to the Bible to study things. It tackled a message that God had been laying on my heart for a long time: stop judging people based on their job, or their nationality, or their looks. It made me cry with pain and grief and happiness.
It had lots of fangirls but it also created some issues/conflict when some friends disagreed with major parts of the book (driving me back to the Bible). But with this story and its sequels, God made the puzzle pieces snap in place for Chords and its sequels, which for a long time had had an issue that had been troubling me.
The story ended up at 65,000+ words. But by then, size didn’t matter as much as the message. My stories weren’t about me anymore. They were about my God.
As a young writer, I read a lot of posts about “advice to young writers” and “advice to my younger self.” This is my advice to my younger self and to young writers:
Let go and let God.
When you surrender your writing into God’s hands, He takes you further than your wildest dreams. He fulfills your unexpressed desires. He teaches you more than you ever bargained for. He blesses so much when we just trust and obey.
So quit fighting Him. Surrender your writing into His hands. It hurts, I know. But it’s so worth it. I don’t know where He’ll take you. But I know that when you follow the Lord, He leads your to the exactly best place for you.
Because our God is good.
So trust Him with your writing journey just as much as you trust Him with your life journey.
Katja H. Labonté is a child of God with a deep love for words, an extreme bibliophile who devours over 365 books in a year, and an exuberant writer with a talent for starting short stories that explode into book series. She is a bilingual French-Canadian, which she finds both a challenge and a blessing, but her name is Scandinavian and causes some interesting difficulties… while francophones are always thinking it’s misspelled, anglophones can’t pronounce it at all. But she loves how it looks when it is hand-written, so she doesn’t complain too often.
She was homeschooled all her life the Charlotte Mason way and is currently studying copyediting at an online university, which gives her both heart-eyes happiness and hair-pulling frustration. She’s a history nerd with strong British attachments and old-fashioned leanings, and she has many favourite things and loves to talk about them to anyone who’s long-suffering enough to listen. Among these darling things are milk chocolate, heirlooms, calligraphy, grammar & punctuation, laughter, tearjerking books, lists, organized bookshelves, roses, flowing skirts, hymns, and pretty much anything old-fashioned, beautiful, and classy. (Also ampersands.) She also has about a dozen topics she’s excessively passionate about and she longs to tell more people about (hint: that’s why she writes books and blog posts).
She lives in Canada & spends her days enjoying little things, growing in faith, learning life, & loving people.