All Shapes, Sizes And Ages.
October 5, 2010

I was a child writer, once.

At eleven, after saving up money from odd jobs done for neighbors, I paid for and attended a children’s writing workshop. I’d thought it was a workshop for child writers; to my surprise, it was a workshop for writers of children’s literature!

The adult writers thought it was so cute that I was there, but the mistake didn’t faze me — I considered myself a “serious writer”, and I learned so much that day. There were agents in attendance who were extra kind and encouraging, who praised my iniative and advised me to keep writing — that, one day, I’d get there.  

I was there to learn, not to pitch my manuscript, although I had a finished one at that point in time. While it’s different for everyone, I wasn’t close to (emotionally) ready for the harsh realities of Query Road.

Which brings me to my point: lately I’ve noticed, while frequenting writers’ blogs and groups, some extremely young writers pushing for publication, or for publication before *insert very young magic age here*.

While there are some amazing younger writers, statistically there are few writing prodigies for a reason: it often takes emotional seasoning and years of life experience to write a novel that resonates with a broad audience.

Most readers won’t think a book is special because the writer is under eighteen; most of us don’t consider a writer’s age when we read a novel. A book is special when the writing is special, when it touches something inside us or opens our hearts and minds to new worlds, or new ways of thinking and being.

There’s no magic age when it comes to publishing, and no shortcuts; being young doesn’t earn a writer special treatment, nor with a ready manuscript should it bar a young writer from representation. Talent develops at different paces — for example, S.E. Hinton was fifteen when she began writing The Outsiders, and eighteen when the novel was published. Frank McCourt published his debut novel, Angela’s Ashes, at the age of sixty-six.

I happen to believe that’s the best part of being a writer — how, no matter ones age, race, gender, height, weight, appearance, we all have a shot — when the writing is ready — and that’s the trick: that there are no tricks, only solid writing, belief in the dream, and practice, practice, practice.

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A King’s Ransom.
April 23, 2009

It’s been a good, hard few months. These moments, below, are the defining ones:

1) I’ve toiled over my quirky YA novel, The Girl Next Door, seven days a week since November 2008. Time not spent on life’s basics (or tending to dogs and horses) was spent in a sort of mental pilates, making TGND tight and lean.

I’m tired, but happily so. I’m very pleased with the end results, too. It ‘s amazing how abilities and skills solidify from one novel to the next — it’s what a writer always hears about, but to experience the process as it’s happening is pure magic.

Writing skills can morph into writing gifts if a writer is willing to put in the work. And even if you already have a knack for writing, still, it takes work.

2) We lost a bunch of photographs a few years ago when an old computer crashed. We certainly learned the hard way. At the time, I was devastated. I’ve often thought wistfully about those photographs.

I lost photos of old friends, photos of a friend who passed too young, some wedding photos, pet photos (some of the pets having since crossed the Rainbow Bridge) and photos from the apartment where we used to live, including our first Christmas lights together and a 9/11 memorial I’d started on the apartment lawn in the dead of night. (Originally being an East Coast girl, 9/11 hit hard. I’d also worked on the 79th floor of the World Trade Center after college.) The memorial was against the apartment rules, but they bent the rules for a whole week.

Just a few weeks ago, I came in from flaking the horses to see my husband bent over some strange device on the kitchen counter with a hard drive laying next to it. I still don’t know what it was, but it was miraculous; it accessed ALL the photographs we thought were irretrievable.

Wow.

I’ve spent the last few weeks going through the pictures a little at a time, surprised by the emotions that shadow these images, on the verge of tears (both happy and sad) — to see old friends, former lives, former selves — and to see my animal babies, their likenesses captured so clearly it feels like, in a small way, they’ve come back to me.

The photos have even seeped into my dreams, and in my dreams, whether they be about horse, dog or cat, I remember scents, mannerisms, barks and meows I’ve been unable to hold onto in my waking life.

It’s both salty and sweet

how the heart remembers in dreams

what the waking mind can’t keep.

I kept a hank of Takoda’s tail (my first horse) who died of colic in July of 2007, although it broke my heart to cut it even after he was gone. I vacuum-sealed the hair in a plastic bag to keep his scent close, but even so, the scent disappeared.

Gone is really gone.

3) Querying is tough. Chasing the dream is tough. You toil and research and pray. You put in the work and hope for good results, but even then, you can’t be sure. For writers, that’s part of the journey; it builds character and characters. It’ll prove you to yourself in one way or another, holding up a mirror to both your writing and your fortitude (or lack thereof).

The query process is curiously endowed with more than its original, intended aim. I understand why it drives some writers crazy. I understand the intensity and the despair. Nothing of great importance comes easily, and perhaps it shouldn’t. But perspective and a bird’s eye view remain a querying writer’s best friends.

No doubt about it — staring your dreams in the face is heady stuff. You roar, you soar, you crash, but you still burn. You rise up from the ashes humbled but determined and even more sure that you’re the real deal: you’re a writer. You need no ones permission. You are who you are. Now, you REALLY know.

Sure, you could quit. Go ahead — quit. Seriously. Most likely you’ll find you can’t quit for long. You’re a writer, you know. Pens and paper, keyboards and fingers, words and thoughts, they go together like up and down, on and off, light and dark.

Rejection is tough, dream-chasing is tough, remaining steadfast is tough. And yet, there’s no other choice. We want to master our craft. We want to share new worlds. We want to be published, yet not sell our souls nor sell out.

All these things and more rear their subterranean heads; important things withheld in the past and those who withheld them. Feelings of not being good enough. Voices from long ago, critical or incredulous or condescending. Self-doubt, heavy as an avalanche, along with the dizzying flight of believing in yourself and your abilities during those crystal-clear, this-is-why-I’m-here moments.

The query process is literally haunted by one thousand ghosts.

If you’re a querying writer, validation can be hard to come by. Please feel free to plug yourself into the letter below:

Dear My Querying Self,

You ROCK for hanging your lily-white a** in the wind and sailing your work out there. Sure, it can feel like TORTURE at times, but you have to keep putting your work out there — it’s the only way to get to HERE.

I admire your courage and cajones, by the way. They’re just what’s needed to make magic happen, on or off the page.

The world can always use more magic, more understanding, more connection, more alternate worlds that teach us what’s important in this one. Do what you need to do, amigo, but whatever you do, don’t give up.

I know it can look bleak down there in the query trenches, but we got where we are now because of those rejections — they paved the way to that one YES that changed everything — EVERYTHING. The process made you tougher. It made the writing better. It was sooooooo worth it.

You want proof? See this book I’m holding in my hands? That’s YOUR first novel! So keep querying, keep dreaming, keep hoping and keep working — but most importantly, KEEP WRITING.

With gratitude and admiration,

Your Published Self From The Future — I owe it all to you!

P.S. I’m really sorry about the a** in the wind thing, though.