Not really, but close enough. It was last October when I decided to start being serious with myself and understand what I wanted with my life. It was then I realized that auditioning to American Idol for a third time wouldn’t be any better than the first or second (hah, no that’s a joke, seriously, I never auditioned for American Idol, no way), and I also understood that my love for video games had already begun to deteriorate — I would never be happy in a career of Game Programming (which I’m fairly good at). I tried to remember what I did when I was younger, what I had always been good at, other than being lazy. I pulled out my old notebooks and looked over my unedited drafts, and I realized — I was a decent writer. While I may not remember the exact date this revelation came to me, I do know it was in October, and that night I opened the Word document where I started writing my first novel. Realistically, I never expected to finish it, and even more realistically, I never expected I’d do anything more than that. Knowing who I am and the track record I carry, any bets for my success would have made any bookie smile. But I trudged through and actually found what I was meant to do with my life, and for the first time I was really happy. It was a better feeling than downing that hard raid boss after 500 or so attempts, and even a better feeling than eating a plateful of spaghetti. For the first time in my life, I had done something — that was not forced down my throat by school or anyone seemingly superior — that I could be proud of. I had done something that was my decision to do in the first place. And the best part? I want to keep doing it for the rest of my life.
But that’s obvious. The point of this post is to reflect, as a few readers here have told me that my posts have helped them get the courage to start writing; because honestly, as I’ve said a thousand times, all you have to do is start. But I’d like these readers to know what I’ve learned over a year, and the mistakes I wish I could have avoided and the pitfalls that I need to stop getting myself into.
I started being serious a year ago, collecting all the ideas I had always dreamed up and writing them down into a cohesive story. But does that mean I made all the right choices? Of course not. I made mistakes, and if I could go back one year and have five minutes to talk with my past-self, other than giving him the winning lottery numbers, these are a few things I would say.
Your first book will not publish. By ‘your’ I mean mine (or ours, since we’re the same person), and by ‘not publish’ I mean not right away. You want to write the epic fantasy story you’ve always loved. You’ve wanted to make a tamer, less incest and politics ASoIaF, more hope and good, with multiple perspectives, many different locations, and plots that intertwine at various points. And you will write this, and you will love it. Whether other people love it has yet to be seen, but you will love it. Not at first, of course, nor will you always love it. You’ll spend many days, weeks and months toiling over how horrible you are, but after some time you will realize that all writers feel that way about themselves, as you’ll email various published authors and ask for their advice.
But the undeniable truth, XJ, is that it takes too many words to write the story you wish to write. You’ll find yourself at a word count of 205k, and after several more months of editing every single night, you will bring it down to 170k. You will then begin to worry, because no agent or publisher would dare take on a 170k word book from a first-time author. Your worries are real, because the problem is real. There is no way that book will be published. At least, right now. I won’t tell you not to be depressed, because you will be; it’s who you are.
So what do you do? Do you log onto Amazon and self-publish? What other way could there be, right? You don’t want to give up on your book. But you realize… there must have been some way these other writers were allowed to write long books. You realize that you need previous work before you can show your golden egg. So what do you do? You will have to write several more books. Don’t be sad, that’s a good thing. By now, writing is no longer something you slave over every night. It still is, actually, but it’s easier now. You’re better now. You’re in the zone always, and your fingers know who you are and you know who your fingers are. You’ve developed a voice, and you love your voice. You’re the Hulk of writing — no longer do you wait for inspiration to come, no longer do you wait for that writing lightning to strike, because the truth? You’re always angry.
These books are for your credibility. These are the books that you will realistically have a chance to get published with, because these books will be ~90k, well within the word limit of agents and publishers. You will find it difficult at first, because these books never seem to match up with the first book you wrote — and you’re right, because you love the world-building and multiple perspectives of your first book. But these books? They’re good in their own way. They teach you how to write smaller, how to be more precise and how to build the world from the inside out. The first book taught you how to connect multiple stories, but these next books will teach you how to turn one story into multiple stories. You will begin to love them, and you will finish them. You will send query letters out, and you will… well, I don’t want to spoil you.
And third? This will be good for you. Your first book isn’t as amazing as you think. After you write your second book and after some happy news, you look back on your first book and you realize there are thousands of little things you can change. And you do change it. You change it and you edit it again, revising and revising, because this first book is your baby. This is who you are, and everything you imagine about this first book shows you clearer than the mirror does (for the mirror stops at your skin). But you don’t want to tarnish it with your inexperience, right? Of course not. Your first book will sit on the back-burner while you learn, and when the time is right and when your name is strong enough, you’ll finally take it off the trophy mantle and show it to the world.
So if there is anything I can convince you right now, anything at all, it is one thing — don’t let yourself get down so much. I know it sucks. I know, I’ve been there. But you’ll get through it. Just be happy you’re only 20 years old, because you’ve got a nice long time to become as successful as you’d like to be. What I can tell you right now is this — you’ve done more in one year of concentration than you’ve ever done in 19 years of slacking off. It’s in you, even though just one year ago you had nothing. Keep it up and maybe 21 year old XJ will have even better news. Be happier, please.