If you haven’t been on the writerly twitter cycle recently Alyssa Wong talked a bit about youth success stories in writing. Then some other writers talked about it, so now I’m going to have some 20s something unpublished writer feelings about it…
I was eleven years old when Eragon was republished in a pivotal moment in my development as a young writer. Here was this kid not much older than me that had a book series already published. I read it in astonishment. Then I picked it apart finding the barely veiled references to The Belgariad, Lord of the Rings, Dragonlance, and Star Wars. I read it disgruntled and annoyed. After the movie came out, every time I went into another bookstore covered in Eragon merchandise, my soul died a little. I scribbled what would be baby’s first book– a laughably terrible story I’ve written about before.
I would like to say that I ran Eragon out of my mind, but for years it was there, a tiny blue dragon nibbling away at my conscious. I wrote and wrote and wrote chased by a sapphire dragon. I gave friends bits and pieces of stories to read. Stories about princesses transforming into fairies. Stories about death and family. Stories about women wizards and warriors. However, no matter what I wrote, a winged shadow ran after me.
Someone gave me a copy of Eldest when it came out, I flipped through it, reading past the Elven world and into what I thought it said about the world of publishing. Now the dragon hounding me flared red. Scarlet. Jaws open ready to snap me up if I dropped from my breakneck sprint. I kept hearing about the writing success stories of young people.
Looking back now, I had an unhealthy obsession with it publishing young. Take a breath.
Brisingr arrived as Eragon fever subsided, the movie had come and gone. Bookstores, no longer swathed in blue and red, returned to their old ways. It was a moment of relief to watch it subside. For a moment I slowed down. I didn’t have to be an overnight success as a teenager. Even still, whispers still echoed around me. Publish at 13. 14. 15. Publish now. Publish. Publish. Publish.
If it doesn’t happen now, it never will.
Dragon’s fire curled around my feet.
Dragon’s fire twined around my legs.
Fiery branches ensnaring me.
Creeping up, up, up.
If it doesn’t happen now, it never will.
In high school, I garnered up enough courage to give friends a whole finished manuscript– 300 pages of elemental magic, loneliness, and shadows. I still get inquiries about the main character. What happened to Ana? Last thing they read she blew up atop a tower– the end of the book a blaze of magic and anger. I don’t know, I wanted to say, but instead I give them a mischievous smile, Maybe one day you’ll find out. *
I discovered Robin McKinley’s The Hero and the Crown around this time. I found it in a bookstore that only existed in my hometown for about a month before disappearing. As I never remember seeing anyone else in the bookstore, I imagine it appeared in my time of need, spat out the books I needed, and disappeared into the wind– A fairy godmother made of dust and paperbacks. Aerin became my unwitting guide during my teenage years. I read it when I needed solace, lady knights, and above all dragon slaying.
Meanwhile, Inheritance came out the year I graduated high school. I never bothered reading it. For a moment the dragons pursuing me dropped below the horizon unseen.
Years passed as they do. With whispers still swirling: If it doesn’t happen now, it never will. Publish. Publish. Publish.
So…One of my first acts after graduating from college? Querying a fantasy novel .
I was a recent unemployed grad with a degree I ended up not wanting to go into and a book I thought was not atrocious. What else is a girl supposed to do? I didn’t know what else to do. (I mean I still don’t know what I’m doing, but now at least I’m employed.)
Within hours of sending out my first query, I received a partial manuscript request. I am not exaggerating about this here. It might even have been less than an hour. I tell people this bit of my life and they look at me in shock. Trust me, I was too. I expected silence. Instead of automatically replying, I went to the grocery store and ate too many cheese samples. I returned to my email and became even more amazed to see I was not hallucinating. It was still in my inbox.
I didn’t get that agent and I don’t have an agent. Nothing went past that initial partial request save a polite no thanks little buddy, good luck. Getting what amounted to a form rejection on a manuscript hurt, but I deserved it. This isn’t my self-hatred and self-deprecation speaking. I really did.
I put that manuscript in a metaphorical dusty drawer for a while. Go think about what you have done, I told it. A few years later and I am typing this blog post up, so thankful for that rejection (and the few others that didn’t ask for any bit of my manuscript). It shouldn’t have gone anywhere. Impatience forced my hand. That dragon had not dropped below the horizon, it was right on my tail, only invisible. Stealth +100. My pursuer still whispered in arcane tones: If it doesn’t happen now, it never will.
In that time when my manuscript was in detention? I wrote and wrote and wrote. Don’t get me wrong I sometimes wondered if I should ignore my gut and query again. But, in those years, with that manuscript hiding from me, no, I will be honest… me hiding from it, I found a voice that was mine. My writing changed. Evolved. Perhaps even improved.
I’ve pulled out that manuscript again, because I think there is something there. Something in the bones of the story even if the writing needs work. Working through it, chapter by chapter, pulling out the pieces that work and the pieces of nonsense, I’m making something better. I am making something that I could not have made years ago.
Take that, dragons.
* It’s been a decade in the making, but I know what happens to Ana. So I repeat: Maybe one day you’ll find out.