Wednesday, March 3, 2010

A Guest Post by Amy Brecount White

Becoming a Writer

So many YA bloggers and book lovers whom I’ve met in real life and virtually want to be writers themselves. And that’s a wonderful thing. My one piece of advice is this: be patient with yourself and live a little. Okay, maybe that’s two.

As a member of the Tenners, I’ve seen examples of seemingly instant success at a very young age. Karen Kincy, Alexandra Bracken, and Kody Keplinger come to mind. But that is not the norm. A few months ago, the awesome and talented Jen Nadol, author of The Mark, did a survey that all aspiring writers should read: In it, she determined the following:

** Eighty-two percent of Tenners have at least one completed and unsold novel in a drawer or box somewhere. (I call mine my “apprentice” novel.) Wow, that’s a lot of time and energy and talent that didn’t sell. Was it wasted? No way. The writers learned a ton, including how badly they wanted to be a writer.

** Thirteen percent of the Tenner novels took five or more years to write and sell, including Forget-Her-Nots.

** Only 25 percent of the Tenners are under 30 years old. (Although most of us are over 30, the age of our spirits is another issue entirely. J)

So most of us had other lives before becoming a published and – we hope! – successful author. Those other lives are the norm, even for best-selling authors. I’m thinking of Melissa Marr, who was voted “most likely to end up in jail” in high school and waited tables at a biker bar while teaching and writing and then selling her wonderful books. If you asked Melissa, I’m sure she’d tell you that all of those life experiences helped her to be the writer she is and to create the fabulous books she has.

When Libba Bray, the winner of this year’s Printz award for Going Bovine, was 26 years old, she moved to NYC with $600 in her shoe. She, too, has had an array of odd and less-than-lucrative jobs. She was also in a car accident at age 18 and has an artificial left eye. [Strange and meaningless coincidence: I also have no central vision in my left eye, because my grandparents had chickens, and I used to visit them a lot. I’ll tell that story some day.] All of those experiences gave Libba the drive and resilience and sense of humor to persist and tell great stories.

After grad school – I got an M.A. in English from UVa -- I taught high school English for seven years. When I wanted a break from teaching to have kids, I freelanced for newspapers and magazines and began to contemplate a novel. I wrote my apprentice novel, one for adults, which is in a box somewhere in my house. Years of work are in that box. But I kept writing, figured out that YA was my home, and got better. It wasn’t easy; it wasn’t quick, but it was completely worth it to get to this day. I can’t tell you how thrilling it is to be able to say, “I’m a novelist.”

So, my point is this: if you really really want to be a writer, it might take awhile, and that’s okay. You probably won’t sell that first novel, and that’s okay. The hardest part, at least for me, was telling people that, yes, I’m still working to revise and sell that same flower novel I’ve been working on forever. Most people only remember the instant success stories they hear … other than the story of Madeleine L’Engle’s 26 rejections before winning the Newbery for A Wrinkle in Time. Every writer knows that one by heart.

Becoming a writer is a lifelong journey with lots of false turns and misleading signs. If you haven’t gotten that contract yet, what you want to be doing right now is soaking up your experiences. Get a job however menial, because you’ll meet fascinating people and learn all kinds of things you can use in future novels. Hang out with people you don’t like to observe their tics and figure out what’s driving you nuts. Take notes on your life, because you’ll never know when you need them. Keep working on your novels, but also consider writing for your local newspaper or local magazines and blogging. Connections are lovely to have.

If you know, deep in your heart, that you are a writer, if you’ve received that calling, then keep writing. And give yourself permission to take awhile.


Elie said...

Interesting facts about the tenners. It is good to know it is never too late to start.

jessica-shea said...

Fantastic post! It's fascinating to hear the roundabout paths authors' careers have taken.

Emily said...

Just stopping by to leave you an award!
Check it out!

Karen Kincy said...

I can't speak for the other young Tenners, but I know that my "seemingly instant success" was preceded by not one, not two, but three novels that will never see the light of day. It's taken me about 3 years to actually hold my debut in book form as an ARC. I collected hundreds of rejections while submitting these various novels. So I'm very much in the same camp as most of the Tenners. I just started sooner than many.

I wholeheartedly agree with this statement: "Get a job however menial, because you’ll meet fascinating people and learn all kinds of things you can use in future novels." This is, in fact, what I'm up to right now, since I graduate college in June.

Karen Kincy

P.S. "Erin Bracken" should be "Alexandra Bracken". :)

ZoeAlea said...

I fixed Alexandra's name! Thanks for letting me know.

Lynsey Newton said...

Fantastic Post from Amy! REALLY interesting reading and lots of little facts I didn't know! Like about Melissa and Libba. I'd like to be a published novelist one day (like so many) and I find all this writing advice invaluable! I read a lovely story yesterday about an 81 year old who has had her manuscript picked up! ( Basically, I think the universal message is to keep going!