How Can I get Published? Right Now! (Confessions of the Unkind)

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I’ve worked with a number of writers over the years, and all have been desperately eager to get into print, and the younger they were, the more desperate they were. The very youngest believed they were ready—“right now, right this minute”—to be published. Hearing that they were not ready, or that their writing needed a lot of work, or that they might be ready some day, if they took some classes and gained some life experience, was often devastating to them, no matter how kindly the delivery of the words. Some refused to believe it. Some got mad and stomped off. Some have told me I was, “…wrong, just wrong. You just don’t understand.” Which proved my point, though how could I say that? I couldn’t.

There was a comment / question this week, here at MW, from one such young writer. Recently, I got a private email from another. I’m going to paraphrase (okay, rewrite) the pertinent part of their questions and build upon my response, because I could have said so much more than I did. I could have taken the time to be kind, to delve into the mystery of writing, the joy of writing, and the desire to write that climbs like an orchid, blooming in the shadowed jungles of our souls. I could have written this post and sent it to them.

>>Can a 14 year old get published? Right now. Right this minute?

 Oh my. I can hear myself in that question. That urgent, intense need. That over-the-rainbow dream of the impossible vision (delusion? Please say it isn’t a delusion) that might, just maybe, be possible after all. That dream that I could write a book and sell it to a publisher. That I might see it in print, and hold that first book in my hands and breathe in the scent of the success of my dreams. I wanted to be published just badly, that urgently, that desperately.  The realistic answer to these young writers’ plea, just as the realistic answer to my own plea, is / was no. It likely won’t happen while you are a kid. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t understand. I was that teen a few years ago. When I was a teenager, I lived and breathed writing. I yearned to write, I yearned for publication, with such a passion that it was overwhelming to me; it consumed me like a fire burning in a mirrored room. It was all that there was for me; everywhere I looked inside me, that fiery raw desire was all that I saw. That flaming, blazing need ate at me just as a fire devours dry wood, in a shower of bright, burning sparks and a raging fury.

I prayed to be a successful writer. I meditated to be a successful writer. I took every writing course I could find in high school and in higher ed. I read everything I could find on how to be a professional writer. I studied the lifestyle, the work habits, the way those lucky, possibly-mythical, wonderful writers got paid. I bought every book on writing I could find, and the librarians located and held books on writing that they thought I would like to read. One even told me I could tear the order form for Writer’s Digest out of the library’s copy and take it home. SHE LET ME DEFACE A LIBRARY BOOK! (That was how I felt. That she was letting me do something illegal and therefore something that proved I deserved to be in print. J Not so of course. But that moment of kindness was like a pledge for my goal.)

I hung on to that subscription for weeks, babysitting until I had the yearly subscription fee for WD. My mom wrote a check and sent it in for me. My dad (bless his heart) laughed at me. It wasn’t a mean laugh. But it was a laugh that said, “You are a silly child to hope for something so impossible and so unlikely to support you.” Which is why I never told him I wrote until after I sold my first book. I needed to be published. I needed it with all my heart and soul and every desire within me. I needed that validation, that confirmation that my dream was not a false and whimsical thing, all smoke and mirrors filled with imaginary flame.

But I wasn’t ready to be published at age 15. Or 16. Or even 22. I thought I was. In fact, with all the youthful exuberance and determination I possessed, I knew I was ready to be published. But I wasn’t ready. I really wasn’t. I wasn’t ready to be told, “no,” over and over again. I wasn’t ready to deal with the business end of the industry, to write coherent letters and emails to agents and editors. I wasn’t ready to see a marked up copy of my work or to receive a 5 – 7 page rewrite letter, with only 12 lines of positive things on it  and all the rest of the single-spaced pages full of “suggestions” and plot weaknesses.

There are so many teens who want to be published today! Right now! I’ve never nurtured that dream, that flaming desire. I’ve offered practicalities, like the above paragraphs. And how do the yearing ones react? Often my comments are followed by something like, “Mom and dad can handle the letters! With my first big check I can hire someone to help me with that business stuff!”

I didn’t reply to the dream, but to the demand. Realistically, maybe I am correct. But I am not kind. In this business, you have to be able to learn and learn fast, how to deal with agents and editors. You have to be able to develop relationships with people you may not like very much, and would never choose as pals, because you have to work with them. You have to be able to handle contracts—you, not your lawyer or your parents or your teachers or even your older friends. Can you get others to look them over? Sure. Many writers do. But the ultimate decision on whether to sign a contract committing you, the writer, to deadlines and responsibilities is yours and your s alone.

Are some very young writers ready to be published? I don’t know. I’ve never met one who was really ready. No. Not once. Maybe he or she is out there. But I’ve never met a writer younger than 20 who was ready. When I say that up to a teen writer, they all point to the kid (now a man) Christopher Paolini, who wrote the Eragon series. “See! It happened to him!”

“Yes,” I inevitably say back. “It did. And his parents believed in him so much that they self published his work and quit their jobs and then they traveled around the country for years selling his books at cons and renaissance fairs until they sold 100,000 and got the attention of New York. Are your parents going to do that? Otherwise, that book would never have been published because it is not well written. He got better as a writer when he got older. But that first book, was…simply not.

Stubborn angry faces. That is what I get in reply, every single time. But then the voice of reason was not what I wanted at that age either. I wanted to be shown the way to achieve my dreams, not given a pin to bust the bubble of my hopes. My dad busted my bubble. My mom nurtured it. Guess which parent I listened to? So I know how it feels.

That is why I got Misty’s permission to use her reply to the young writer here at MW. It was more kind and more upbeat and more nurturing than anything I would ever say. Misty always writes toward the potential, the possible, the never-give-up hope of the writer-to-be. And she is utterly correct.

My letter was full of the above stuff… And did not speak to the dream. My reply was less positive—a lot more like what my dad might have said. We are the product of our upbringing and the warping of our souls by life and living and disappointment. That isn’t an excuse. It isn’t. And for that, and for my reply, I am sorry.

(paraphrased)>>Can a 14 year old get published? Right now. Right this minute?

Misty Massey said:

Absolutely.  Anyone who writes a compelling story has a chance of being published.  A middle schooler would probably have a few more legal steps to deal with, since a minor cannot enter into a binding contract, but that’s the least of your concerns at this point.

 The most important thing you can do is write a good story, with characters who come alive off the page.  Let an adult you trust read it, and then take her advice to heart. (Not your mom or dad – you can share it with them of course, but they love you, and they’ll be looking for ways to build you up.  Choose a teacher or a librarian, someone who will tell you what needs fixing.)  Let a peer you trust read it, and listen to what he says, too.  Make sure your copy is as grammatically correct and free of spelling errors as you can make it before you ever send it anywhere.  When you finish writing and revising the story, do your research on agents, so you don’t waste your time sending your story to the wrong people.
Misty 

She spoke to the dream. If you read between the lines her answer did not promise the writer anything or say, “Yes, you are ready!” But she did say, “Keep on working, keep on writing. The dream is possible, someday, even if not now. You can do it! 

Thank you Misty, for feeding dry tender to the flame that burns in the mirrored room, that consuming, fiery, desperate dream to be published. The young writer I was, the writer who still stands in front of the flame in my soul, needed it. A lot.

I’m asking our readers to do something special today, one of two things, or even both, if you have the time and the desire:

Do you have an image for the dream in your soul? Can you give it words?
Or,
Do you have kind words for the young writers here? Something nourishing and uplifting? Share it with them, with the dreamer and the young writer inside us all, please.

Faith
FaithHunter.Net
GwenHunter.Com

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26 comments to How Can I get Published? Right Now! (Confessions of the Unkind)

  • Young_Writer

    Thank you so much for this article! I was expecting that….

  • For inspiration, I often recall the words of John Cougar Mellencamp. When asked how he had succeeded in the music business and how he had written so many great hits, he answered, “Tenacity.” He went on to say that for every hit song he ever wrote, there were around thirty that nobody but his dog ever heard. Writing is the same. For every hit story (short or long) that you write, for every great character or turn of phrase, you’ve got to be prepared to write a lot of crud. A true writer must have the tenacity to just keep plugging away.

  • YW — you are pretty good inspiration.

    Stuart, that is so true. I created a great character for the next JY book. The editor hated him. Sigh… He is now a blip on the plot line of Jane’s life rather than a mountain.

  • Actually, yeah, let me get back to this in a few…after I’ve eaten. Waited too long to eat and now can’t focus brain…

  • This touches several chords in me, Faith, the brutal but essential honesty (you) the impulse to be kind and supportive (Misty) and the desperate young write. That last one because I still feel that way, and whenever things look rough I feel that same desperation I did when I wrote my first book as a nineteen year old. And as Stuart suggests, the key component that no one wants to hear about is persistence. It took me a LONG time to get published and I confess a flicker of irritation with young writers who want to get published NOW because, in the words of another song (this time, The Smiths) You just haven’t earned it yet, baby. For all your hard truths, you could be a lot tougher, and I sometimes find I have to swallow back the impulse to say to a young writer “what makes you so special? Why do you think you should jump to the head of the line when the rest of us had to slog through it for years? Learn your craft, pay your dues, get a little humility, and come back to me in five years (or 10 or 20).” But there’s enough of that fervent young writer’s yearning in me still to stop me. Writers need to hear all of this stuff, the encouragement, the frank depiction of the publishing world and the writer’s own ability. Thanks for saying something of all of it.

  • This young writer had more intestinal fortitude than I did at such a tender age to even ask the question out loud. I just KNEW no-one wanted to read what I wrote (a product of my family environment too, unfortunately). That didn’t stop me from writing though.

    Something I read back then (probably in a SF novel) was a variation of, “99 times fall down, 100 times get back up”.
    I’m currently working on my 87th ‘get back up’.

    I WILL reach 100, and when I do, what a party that’ll be!

  • Faith,

    That could have been my story.

    I have had that dream in my own soul since I was twelve. You’ve just described my teen years. And of course, I had to learn the hard way, too.

    I even finished a novel at 14. One too many rejections later, I mostly stopped submitting and just decided to learn. Rewriting that same novel at 16, 18, 20, 22, and 24 taught me quite a bit, and then there was the Internet and a writer’s conference to teach me more. Eventually I got the message and put the blasted thing in a drawer, but it will always be one of my heartsongs. One day I’ll try to rewrite it again. (Though I’ll have you know that when I was 17 I placed sixteenth in the Writer’s Digest short story contest! Wow was I ever proud of that for way too long. *laughs*)

    I’m now 28. I’m still not published, but I’m okay with that. I think having that mad passion was useful, because of what I’ve learned and how it drove me to attend that writer’s conference at an earlier age than I might have. I’ve learned how to be professional among professionals (er, mostly). I can have conversations with bestselling authors and not get nervous and skittish. I’ve got another novel that actually *feels* like a novel, one I can hopefully get published eventually. But even finishing the first draft last November and getting feedback from some decent betas gave me several wake-up calls.

    If I get published before I’m 30, that will be an achievement. At this point, I’m okay if I have more to learn, a level to obtain, if I’m not published before I’m 40 or even 50. But hey, I’m only 28.

    Learning that I had so much more to learn was hard, and at times it hurt. Badly. These days, I don’t regret it one bit.

  • This post really struck a chord with me, and I had to think about it for quite awhile before I could even begin to write this comment. I’ve been a voracious reader since I was really little – basically since I learned to read. My Mom had to take my books away from me in order to get me to do my chores. But writing wasn’t really something that I was particularly interested in when I was younger. My first *real* attempt at writing creatively was in high school. We were given an assignment to write a short story in my sophomore English class. The senior creative writing students would then read and critique our work. I think that process was somewhat traumatizing for me.

    I wrote a fantasy story about an elf (I think). I couldn’t get the word count under control. I think we were only supposed to write something like 5,000 words, or maybe it was 5 pages, but I had at least twice that, and it wasn’t really finished. I remember there was an atrocious fight scene that made almost no sense. In any case, the senior that did my critiquing basically told me that the story was crap. I already knew that, but it stopped me from writing creatively for a long time, even though I’d enjoyed writing it.

    Now I’m 27 and feel like I’m late to the game. Like I said yesterday, for me, writing is now like an itch that I have to scratch. It started bothering me a few years ago, and now I just can’t help it. I’m scratching every day, or at least thinking about it. But I don’t think I’ve ever in my life felt like I had to be published *right now*. Maybe because I got started so late, I’m more practical and realistic about my goals and the milestones needed to achieve them. I have a plan. It’s going to take awhile. Or maybe I’m just deluding myself. I’m good at that too.

  • Such a great post! I wish I’d been Young Writer (who I think is the one who commented on my blog the other day. If it is, thanks for the positive feedback! That always makes me feel good!)

    I wasn’t. In hs I dabbled in writing, but I just didn’t think I could do it. I was a good student, good at some other stuff (not sports, never sports; nerdy stuff like debate), but I just never believed in my own abilities (potential or real) to write.

    So I dated artists. No, I’m not kidding. And I say this, because I wonder how many other women (and girls, esp. girls) do this. “Me? No, I’m not meant to be the author/doctor/whatever, so I’ll date one.” I shudder to think about it now, but it was a kind of sexism that I didn’t realize existed in me for a long time.

    I didn’t write in college, and not in grad school until I was well into my PhD work. Then, I had that “aha!” moment, very late one night, trying to memorize all the Aeneid that could possibly be on the test so I could just write it and not translate it, and the friend I was studying with (Sarah) and I broke down laughing at an idea of a nymph. A character was born, and we figured that maybe we could write as well as anyone else out there–or at least as well as some of the bad writers–and so we gave it a shot. And gee whiz it was atrocious. Fun, but atrocious. (You need something other than dialogue? Really? No kidding!)

    Until that point, I was just sure that wanting to write was just a pipe dream. Something changed, literally changed in me, that day.

    Now, whether I get any of the novels I’ve written or co-written published, I write, and I’m a writer. Period. I’m not the “supports another person in their dream” girl. I’m the “thanks, I’ve got my own dream” girl. (I’m happy to support my friends and stuff, but it was a big step for me to get my own dreams.)

    I’m a prof now, and so when I see aspiring writers, I support them. I tell them it’s hard, but that it’s possible. I tell them to work on it, take classes on it, and all that fun stuff. I also tell the girls (young women) that they can do it. And sometimes I tell the ones that need to hear it about my own struggles with sexism and thinking that I couldn’t be the writer–just the writer’s girlfriend.

  • As Faith said, a lot of us started out the same way. I was 15 when I got gnawed on viciously by the writer’s bug like a bone with a little meat and gristle left on that’s been thrown to a starving dog. I wanted to tell stories like my favorite authors and get paid to do it. I heard the stories of authors like Piers Anthony and Stephen King being able to pretty much get major contracts with oodles of money and I wanted to be like that. And I thought, like many young would-be authors, that the things flowing from my mind through my arm to the end of a pencil were purest gold. However, I also had a pessimistic side, a side that was, and still is, a perfectionist.

    I actually thank that side for realizing what my young and inexperienced side didn’t see. Even though I thought my writing was killer and amazing and the stories were top notch (they weren’t…I know, I still have them), the pessimistic side knew it was nowhere near as good as the authors I was reading at the time. I didn’t have the experience or the vision to write something really great. I needed practice. I needed experience. I needed more than just a high school English grammar class under my belt and a story idea. And so I continued to write.

    And write…

    And write…

    And as I wrote, my prose strengthened. The stories were becoming tighter in plot and writing, as well as style. They had evolved over time into something I could actually see sending out. And still I wrote. Because I wasn’t ready. I still wasn’t ready mentally. I wasn’t ready for rejection. I wasn’t ready for revision requests. I wasn’t ready for someone to tell me that I wasn’t ready. And evidently I wasn’t ready to actually finish what I’d started. There’s a reason I say I’ve had a LOT of practice writing novel beginnings… So, I kept practicing. I kept reading. I kept writing. I kept learning.

    And now I’m ready. After twenty-four years of honing, practicing, learning, and experiencing, I’m ready. I’ve been rejected in other facets of my life, I’ve been told to do better, I’ve been given suggestions on how to make things better without me falling into a blubbering, quivering mass or exploding into an ego-fueled rage. In essence, I’ve grown in both ability and mental state.

    Now, I’m not saying a person has to have 20+ years of growing and experiencing before they’re ready. Some people may need only several years, some just a few. I needed to learn and evolve not only in writing, but in being able to squash those fears that would inevitably force me to quit at the first sign of trouble. I needed to learn to take things in stride, not be harmed or angered by them, but let them flow over me and learn from them. And unless a person has been writing and experiencing and growing in the craft–not to mention reading within the chosen genre(s)–since they were eight, I don’t honestly think they’re ready, emotionally, stylistically, or even grammatically at fifteen. Even the most experienced writer still has plenty to learn and when you’re first starting out you’re just beginning to learn. You’re at the tip of the iceberg. There’s still a huge chunk of ice still below you that you haven’t even seen yet. Rules to learn, and learn how to break effectively.

    And Faith has the right of it with Paolini. I was a little irritated over the success of Eregon–that this kid got published right out of the gate and I’m still unpublished. But when I thought about it, I understood that it was for the most part my own fault that I didn’t try sooner, like maybe in my 20s. Then, once I heard the circumstances behind the eventual publishing of the book I felt another minor wash of irritation, but really, it was just a lucky break. A one in a million shot. Right place, right time. To have parents that would sink mass amounts of money into it and quit their jobs to spread it as far as they could until someone took notice is something that just doesn’t happen. To have just the right kid pick up the book and like it enough to show it to his parent who just happens to be a successful novelist with NY publishing house connections. Then again, one must wonder how much better the book could have been if it had gone through the normal process. And I am mollified further by the fact that I can read the book and pick out every one of the fantasy books he’d read before writing it (that’s that need for experience creeping in there). 😉 Still, I must give credit. He actually finished the thing. More than I could do at that age.

    Anyhoo, so to prove that I’m not all blustery, hot and fetid air, I’ll show to you a tiny portion of that thing that I thought was the most amazing thing since the wheel (uncut and unchanged). The story I wrote when I was fifteen (just as it was when I wrote it). The tale that was penned—or penciled, as the case may be—after one of the most poignant RPG sessions I’d ever played in was over (in all its glory). The epic story (of approximately 12 pages) that I thought was proof that I was going to be the greatest writer of all time! Yeah, you may laugh if you want. It’s okay. I can take it now. I know it stinks. And I did it all in one draft! 😉

    ***
    BASH
    The horrifying excerpt

    He awoke, the sounds of morning were not there. He had been praying to god that he would not die, when he fell asleep. He pushed the mattresses off of his body. He was still laying on the remains of his bed, only thing different was, he was in the basement. He looked up through the hole and saw the remains of his charred bedroom, two stories up. Danaro was a man of about eighteen years of age and very smart. Also, he was part owl (sorry, I have to break in here…so, evidently I was into furries back then…carry on). He slowly got up, rubbing his neck, and walked up the basement stairs.

    Upstairs was a shambles, and the second floor was hardly even there. He now knew it was the morning of D-Day. He could see pinkish-yellow light filtering through parts of the roof. Then he remembered his family. A wave of mourn washed over him and tears started to fall from his eyes.
    ***

    Err, yeah, and it doesn’t get better, so I’ll stop torturing you further. I’m sure I don’t have to tell you everything that was wrong with this small bit. It’s all like this. Kinda like a train wreck really. But back then I’d get mad if anyone talked bad about it. Obviously they just didn’t get it or they didn’t know what they were talking about. Yeah… *chuckle* obviously…

    Point is, I get these early pieces out to show myself how far I’ve actually come. They’re still dear to me, but more because they were the beginning of my foray into writing. Along with those who could see the potential in the mess that was my first attempts at story-telling and gave me encouragement to keep trying (and they’ll be in my acknowledgements), from my Mom to my 9th grade English teacher, Dr Macioci, these early pieces keep me plugging away as proof that I kept at it to become as good as the authors I read.

    So, never quit writing and honing, whatever you do. Keep looking to the day when you can sell your first piece and be proud of the work you put into it. And as you get older, compare your work to those earlier pieces to show you how far you’ve grown in your skill. Don’t let rejection and criticism take you out of the game, but learn from it and use that knowledge to evolve in your writing. And if you do ultimately feel you’re ready to jump in at fifteen, go for it. Who knows, you may indeed be another Paolini. But if you aren’t, don’t let a rejection or criticism get in the way of your dreams. Dust off, practice some more, and try again.

    D

  • Thank you all. The young writer in me (who still hides her head in a cocoon or under a pillow, or in someone else’s book/world to keep from hearing the negatives) thanks you too. What a wonderful journey it has been.

  • Sarah

    I was one of those timid kids who needed a lot of encouragement to think that anything I did was valuable. I was also one of those perfectionist kids who thought that “real” writers sat down and poured out gold words because they were geniuses. The result was that I thought writing for “real” writers was easy, so I waffled between daydreams of being famous and despair over not being a real writer. And I wrote very little and finished even less.

    One of my aha moments was reading and rereading Dorothy Sayers’ Gaudy Night. Harriet, her MC, has a crucial conversation with an old professor about the need to know what one’s life work is and then do it. Period. The gist of the conversation is that the thing you’re supposed to do is the thing you’re willing, even eager to work at and work hard at for the rest of your life. In other words a calling is a call to work. And even if someone else does the same job better or with more public success, your calling is still your calling and you should just put your head down and get to work.

    That helped me realize that if I wanted to write, not just be called a writer and go to literary cocktail parties, I had to work at it. And when I started to really work, I realized that the work was, to me, worth the effort. There’s still a shocking lack of literary cocktail parties in my life, but now I’m actually writing, and I’m loving it.

  • Young_Writer

    Sorry forthe shortcomment, I was pressed for time. I’ve heard a lot harsher answeres to this question, and I think it’s interesting that heself-published. I didn’t know that. Thank you for this article.

  • Deb S

    Then there’s 18 year-old Kody Keplinger. She signed with an agent at 17 and her novel is coming out in September. Pretty amazing.

  • Amelia Atwater-Rhodes sold her first book at 14, and has sold a book a year since.

  • The flip side of the argument is the Stig Larson one. There’s been a lot of talk about how remarkable it is that a dead guy has dominated the summer reading lists, the amazement being about how he’s not around to promote the book. The truth is, of course, that his being dead is actually a story by itself, and it’s gotten him a lot of press coverage (which is not to say the books aren’t good). The same is true of the very rare teenage author. Once in a blue moon this can happen whether the book is really good or not, because the idea of a teen author is a news-worthy story itself. There can be good material coming from very young authors (as there can be good music etc. [think Fiona Apple’s first album]) but the media hype is always the same: isn’t it great DESPITE his/her youth. That’s the story. It will therefore keep happening, but it is the exception that proves the rule. It’s nto enough to be a story. You also have to be able to tell them.

  • According to the survey Jim C Hines conducted recently (http://www.jimchines.com/2010/03/survey-results/) the average age of a debut novelist is 36.2. I believe this figure is based on when the books sells, not when it’s released, so based on the standard 1 year to 18 months model for a first time novelist’s book to go from sold to in print, most authors are nearly 38 before they hold their first book in their hands. Of course there are always extremes on either side of that margin (the handful of teens who publish early and the retirees who decide they finally have time to write) but it appears the mid-thirties when the majority of authors have gained enough experience and skills to reach that golden goal of publication. (or, at least, according to this one survey. I’d love to see an even larger survey of debut authors’ ages.)

    So, Moria, your comment that “If I get published before I’m 30, that will be an achievement.” was dead on. And, Megan, you are totally not too late for the game at 27!

    Great post, Faith–I probably needed someone to tell me that when I was 16. Of course, there is something to say for the belief in invulnerability that teens possess. If properly channeled, that same drive to ‘need to be published’ can lead to ‘learn absolutely everything you possibly can’. It’s just when you skip that last bit and try to jump straight to the first that one becomes completely obnoxious. ^_^

  • J. Roeser

    Interesting post… I never had that youthful fire to be published. I wrote when I was young, but it was mostly to get the stories out of my head than anything else. I never let anyone read any of them. They were for me only. I took writing classes in high school and college, but still never thought about publishing (except when my creative writing teacher forced us to submit pieces to magazines – I was mortified!) Later, after college, I wrote a fantasy/romance story for a friend. It’s shoved away in a drawer somewhere. My friend tried to convince me to eventually publish it; I just shook my head at the absurdity of the idea.
    Then a few years ago I wrote a fanfiction piece. I realized that there was enough there to make an interesting original fantasy story. That was when thoughts of actually becoming a published author started. Then last year a coworker made me promise to do NaNoWriMo…
    So, you asked for an image for the dream of our souls. I have to say I loved your description: “…the desire to write that climbs like an orchid, blooming in the shadowed jungles of our souls.” That is exactly what it’s been like… a slow, secretive growth that only recently has budded out… and I hope that soon something truly beautiful will emerge.
    -J

  • Fantastic post. It seems my path to writing is very similar to several other commentors:

    1. Didn’t catch the W bug ’til highschool, though I did invent (coherent) stories in my head as early as fifth grade.
    2. It was kicked off by a writing assignment, though mine was a screenplay for my Intro Theater class.
    3. Wrote the first full novel draft in sophomore year. Of course, I sacked my calc grade junior year to make more time for my habit. 😉

    The one difference is that I had much more modest expectations. I still thought I would become the Goddess’ gift to readers, but I already knew how far I had to go.

    Personally, I advocate the school of hard knocks approach. I think I would tend more towards your tone, Faith, than toward Misty’s, were I in the same situation. Of course, that reflects my experiences as a young writer. When I first started associating with other writers online, that’s the treatment I got. Since I’m still here and reasonably humble, I think it worked, but of course every individual is different.

  • It seems that a lot of us got started in school, when a teacher pushed us to write. I tracked down my 10th grade teacher when I was first published and told her thank you. She remade my life from whatever it might have been (not much, I fear) into a life of writing and books, and of meeting fantastic people and readers and fellow writer souls like I get to do here.
    I haven’t said it lately, but y’all rock!

  • James Thurber said than no one should write until they were at least 32 years old. He felt that people simply lacked the necessary life experience to do it well before then. Kids (sadly) are growing up a lot faster than they used to, so I think that age could be moved up some, but in general I think the notion still applies.

  • I didn’t want to be a writer when I was in school. In elementary school I wanted to be an astronaut, and in high school I wanted to be a cosmologist. (In middle school I just wanted to survive, but that’s another story…) I was always a reader, and I wrote my own stories, but I couldn’t imagine anyone else wanting to read them. In my mind, a writer was a shining, otherworldly being who lived on a mountaintop, not an ordinary person like me.

    Unlike many of you guys, I never had a teacher who encouraged my writing. No matter what I tried, I was told over and over and over that my writing, while technically proficient, lacked any believability. The story about Civil War ghosts I wrote in 11th grade wasn’t good because I hadn’t lived then. In 10th grade, I wrote about space explorers who’d crashlanded on a planet, but it was implausible, because the main character was a feline-humanoid, and everyone knew those didn’t exist. In 12th grade, I wrote a poem that began “my body is your playground”, and the poet-in-residence told me that I should have said “mind” instead of “body”, as if they were somehow interchangeable. I was constantly being told that I didn’t know what I was doing, that I should just give up, a lesson that sticks hard and stays forever. It’s already so easy to give up. Even now, with a book in print and others on the way, I struggle every day to believe in my own creativity. I want to tell hopefuls how hard it is, but when they ask me, with that light of hope shining all around them, I can’t help but try to be encouraging. After all, who knows what the next big thing might be? 😀

  • >>It’s already so easy to give up. Even now, with a book in print and others on the way, I struggle every day to believe in my own creativity. I want to tell hopefuls how hard it is, but when they ask me, with that light of hope shining all around them, I can’t help but try to be encouraging.

    Misty, this is why it is so great to have a variety of writers on one site. We balance each other out for our readers. You *are* hopeful, perhaps *because of* the discouragement you received. Our lives move forward from our pasts, shaped by them, molded by them, and we either fight through that shaping, explode out of that molding, or become what we were told to be.

    I was an exploder, violently breaking out of expectations, and not really caring (at the time) who I took out with me. You are far more gentle than I, but you are still one who fights free of the form you were expected to take and finds new and higher ground. Maybe our motto here could be:
    Be bold. Go where you have never gone before.

  • One of the reasons it took me as long to start *really* writing was all the encouragement I got when I was young.

    Say what?

    I was writing Man from UNCLE fan fic in fifth and sixth grade, and even for fan fic it was bloody awful stuff, at least it terms of plot and character. For a sixth grader, I wrote well in terms of putting words together. I had a good ear for the language, and I knew how to use words for description and to create atmosphere. But I couldn’t tell a story that was solid enough to break through a wet paper bag; I didn’t even know the difference between a story and an event.

    I was too young to recognize that failing, and the teachers who passed my “stories” around amongst themselves only told me how well I wrote. Not a one of them told me how execrable the stories themselves were. If they had, I might have learnt something a lot earlier than I did. Maybe they were afraid to quash my creative spirit – but maybe they should have. If you can convince someone they are not a writer, then they probably aren’t; a true writer has to have armor for epidermis and will continue to exercise the craft despite or even in spite of their detractors.

  • It seems I’m both exception and rule. I caught the writing bug as early as eight years of age – possibly earlier (it’s hard to recall with specificity). I tell the story in a series of posts on my blog, but it boils down to basically: I was already a prolific “writer” as compared to my elementary school peers. And then I read Lloyd Alexander’s Prydain Chronicles. Something in them excited in me a sense of feeling, of wonder, of passion, of I-don’t-know-what. And I wanted to do that for other people.

    That’s when I started writing the novel-I’ve-been-working-on-since-forever (which is currently shelved while I focus on other things). Honest-to-god, I started writing a novel before my age was in the double-digits. Of course it wasn’t any good – a fact which I learned for myself several years in as I was nearing the end of writing the novel, and I went back to reread what I had written – and discovered that it was awful! In a few years my style and skill had evolved a lot. So I started over. But my style and skill continued to evolve and improve faster than I could write the thing.

    Now, here I am, more than 20 years later, and I’m still unpublished. Throughout that time I’ve continued to write – whether short stories or new drafts of the same old novel. I even submitted a couple short stories a few times (once in high school, though I don’t have the story anymore, I imagine it was truly awful, and once either toward the end of college or shortly after – that second one was based in the same world as the always-being-rewritten fantasy novel and got a polite, positive, personal and encouraging rejection from Black Gate – that was at least five years or more ago, now). I finally suspect that I am now almost ready – at least for the short story markets… I’ve got one with a fairly fresh rejection in hand that I’m about ready to send out again (having a full-time day-job while pursuing a master’s degree doesn’t leave a heckuva lotta time for things like writing and submitting stories, but I make do with what little time I have).

    I tried, about a year or so ago, to read Eragon. It was not especially spectacular (nowhere near the level of a Harry Potter, for instance, to compare to other recent YA fantasy). I couldn’t finish it after two consecutive library check-outs, almost as much for lack of will as for lack of time. It’s very heavy on the cliche and light on the original plot and engaging characters. What I think is really the secret to Eragon’s success is the story of the book moreso than the story in the book. The fact that he was a teenager was, as pointed out above, newsworthy. His luck came in being from a family of sufficient means to fund his dream. Most of us are not from such families. And I agree with the general assessment: his work would’ve benefited from some gentle aging.

  • How could this post not touch the heart chords of every writer? The young writers who still feel this burn, this need; the older writers, as yet unpublished, still struggling, hoping, counting their years before and behind, as much as the words they put on paper; and even the wizened, published authors, who remember their dream and how it felt to have it both denied, and realized.

    This is a wonderful post, Faith, thank you (and Misty), for offering both sides of this reply.