(This blog post ended up being pretty long, so I decided to post it in two parts. Part Two will be up tomorrow.) 🙂
For as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to be a published author. I wrote stories all the time as a child, and I was a voracious reader. I would have crawled inside my favorite books and lived in each one for a time if it were possible. But even though I couldn’t physically put myself in these story worlds, I could still experience other lives, other cultures, other ways of thinking just by browsing the shelves of my local library. I fell in love with the unique magic of books. As I grew older, I wanted to find a way to craft that magic with my own hands, to give others the same beautiful escape I had found in my favorite books.
However, the older I got, the more I started to put authors on a very, very high pedestal, to the point where I felt like there was no way I could ever accomplish the amazing things these people had accomplished. Write an entire book?! That was surely an impossible task, one that only geniuses of mythological stature such as Stephen King or Nora Roberts could attempt.
It wasn’t until my last quarter at Ohio State, when I took a creative writing class at The Thurber House taught by YA author, Lisa Klein, that I started to think maybe books were not born of mythological genius, but instead of determination, a strong work ethic, and a passion for storytelling. For the first time, I realized the authors I had placed on a pedestal didn’t start out as international bestsellers with millions of books in print—they had started out just like me. A person who loved writing and wanted to attempt their very first novel. That realization gave me the courage to not only write an entire book, but to make writing my career.
I started writing what would become my first young adult novel (a post-apocalyptic urban fantasy) in May 2010. Although a part of me was still terrified I wouldn’t be able to pull it off, I reminded myself of two very crucial pieces of writing advice:
- All first drafts are crap.
- You can’t fix a blank page.
I wrote the first draft very quickly, afraid that if I let up, I would never reach the end. After a round of revisions, I began querying agents in September 2010. I now wish that I had saved the statistics from all of my querying adventures, but at the time it was a little too depressing to keep track of my rejections (how Stephen King kept track of all of his rejections, I have no idea, but I’m guessing it has something to do with his mythological genius status). Thinking back, I want to say I probably queried 30-40 agents. The numbers are a bit blurry, but I do remember researching a lot of agents and being very enthusiastic about sending out my cute but woefully inadequate little book. I also remember the number of requests I got (4!), two of which were from DREAM agents.
Naturally, I freaked out. I dreamed about working with these agents, making my book stronger, hitting the NYT Best Seller’s List—all things baby author me thought were possible, because baby author me didn’t realize just how much work her manuscript still needed. What I learned from the 4 rejections that followed was: I still had a lot to learn. I didn’t let it deter me though. I continued reading books and blog articles on the craft of writing and began honing my techniques, but, as with any skill you’re trying to nurture, it took time for certain writing elements to catch up to others. Some of my strong suits from the get-go were dialogue, pacing, and tension. Some of my not-so-strong suits included:
- Really understanding what it meant to show and not tell (also just how important this rule is, and the very rare circumstances where it’s okay, if not preferable, to break it).
- Keeping character motivations consistent (also making sure they were believable and not just changing to suit the plot)
- Avoiding giant plot holes (I dug those puppies all the way to China and back in my first books, and did it with a smile on my face).
My second manuscript was stronger than my first in a lot of ways, but when I queried 20 or so agents this time, I didn’t get a single request (suuuuuuper disappointing). I faced a big decision. I could continue querying my just-okay paranormal romance (at a time when paranormal romance was dying and needed to be something insanely special to even be considered), or I could take a step back and analyze what was wrong with it. I chose the latter.
I realized pretty quickly there was no saving manuscript #2. The entire plot was blah and confusing and just not good enough. It was around this time that I realized not all story ideas make good stories. So, I quickly got to work on manuscript #3, a young adult murder mystery set in the 1950s. Think Pretty Little Liars meets Peyton Place. I think I knew, even as I was writing it, that this manuscript wouldn’t go anywhere, but I also knew I needed to write it, because with every word I felt myself growing as a writer. I was learning by doing. I did put it through one round of revisions to sharpen my techniques, but that was it. I didn’t query it. I knew it wasn’t the manuscript that would land me an agent or get me published, but I was getting closer, and that was what mattered.
(Updated: You can now find Part Two here) 🙂