This great post below, “How to be a Teen Writer Without me Wanting to Punch you in the Face” reminded me of one of my own experiences as a teen writer: when I tried to make my writer status legitimate.
I began to get into writing when I was in sixth grade, during which I wrote my first “book,” which was 57 typed pages in length. Looking back, of course, the cheesiness of my petty adolescent writing style at the time is laughable but I was pretty pleased with myself at the time and the few close friends who read it reported that it was funny. In the years that followed I started some projects, finished others, and was always proud of myself for my growth as a writer. I hoped that someday people would buy and enjoy my work but since I didn’t know anything about the publishing process and doubted that anyone would even consider the work of a teenager. In the meantime I continued to collect positive feedback from my few friends who supported me and shrug off my younger sister’s insistence that I’m “not an author because I’ve never been published.”
I mark my eighth grade year as when I made the commitment to try my luck at the publication game. That year we read S.E. Hinton‘s The Outsiders. While most of my classmates were understandably shocked that the book was written by a sixteen year old girl, I thought, “If she could do it, I can too! I’m not that good yet, but I have two years, so maybe I could be!” That year I spent the free time that my involved middle school self had either writing or researching the publication process. I learned all about literary agents, query letters, unsolicited submission piles (and how badly I did NOT want to end up in one), and how to get noticed by publishers. Between eighth grade and my first year of high school I wrote two novellas of which I was extremely proud but for one reason or another did not think that I could publish.
The summer between my freshman and sophomore year, however, I had an idea that I was sure could be the big one. Like many works of art, my inspiration came from heartbreak. Specifically an older boy with whom I had fallen naïvely, stupidly in love despite my knowledge that my feelings weren’t returned. Silly as it all sounds when I say it like that, he had this strange power that could make an innocent child like I was at the time feel either absolutely elated or hopelessly broken with one glance. Trust me, I described it better in my work. I threw myself into that story in a way that strengthened my belief that I would reach my goal of publication the next year.
I was at a place where I considered it finished enough to seek feedback that fall. After talking about it to many of my friends and the new guy I had a crush on, many of my peers were eager to see for themselves what I had made such a big fuss about. Since I didn’t exactly tell anyone NOT to do this, though, they liked it so much that they sent it to their friends who sent it to their friends who…yeah I think you get the point. Soon, it seemed that everyone I knew had somehow gotten their hands on it. And most said good things. I, of course, was too thrilled about my positive publicity to see how this could POSSIBLY be a problem until someone complained about how badly I covered my tracks when it came to the real events that inspired my artwork. In the months that followed I did a re-write that I thought did a much better job.
Once I finished that, I asked for a guide to literary agents and publishers for Christmas and dove into the process. When I sent out my first query letter I was already elated at my own accomplishment. I told my friends and family with pride that I was trying to get my debut novel published at the age of sixteen. For the most part they were proud of me for taking this step toward such an unlikely goal. Sure it was true that anyone COULD try what I attempted, but having the guts was no small feat for an adolescent. This elation barely faded when I tried again until all five agents that I had marked were contacted.
If my attempts were successful, this blog would be of a very different nature. But none of the agents I contacted even gave me the time of day for a rejection letter. Quickly enough I got excited about another work of fiction that I had started. This one with few enough references to my own life that maybe it could have worked, but as I focused more on my studies I couldn’t make the time that I needed and wanted to make it happen.
Of all the new people I have met so far, I have told very few about this experience. Even then it was a much more generalized account. I used to talk about it more often, but I hadn’t for a while because, as you can see, it was a failure that doesn’t represent that much of who I am anymore. Also, reflecting on why it didn’t get published often led to reflecting on the few regrets that I have: the events that inspired the work and my motivation for drawing attention to it. Though I didn’t know it at the time, the reason why this book HAD to get published before my seventeenth birthday was because I wanted pity about what happened. I wanted the world to know that I was the victim of this boy’s manipulation. With that in mind, it was for the best that a work with such immature motivations never hit the shelves. However, now that I’m not that girl anymore and at least I hope that he’s not that guy, I have started to find closure.