Apparently I didn’t impress anyone in my Graduate School applications with my memory of my first foray into fiction. But it’s my blog and I love this story, so here goes.
In third grade English we had an in-class assignment to write a story. Mine was about a girl named Christie (which I thought was the most beautiful and exotic name I’d ever heard) and a haunted house. That’s pretty much all I remember about the story, except overuse of the word “eerie.” What is significant is that when the time for English was over, and we had to move onto social studies or some other such nonsense, I told my teacher I wasn’t done with my story. She said, “Keep writing,” and let me be for the rest of the day until the story was out of my system. The edge of my hand was fully of ink smears from my blue Bic erasable pen (remember those?).
Years later, I realized “keep writing” is pretty much the best and most basic advice you can give a writer. Yes, there is a lot to learn beyond that. But no one is going to publish your blank page with that sad little blinking cursor.
When I started writing seriously as a grown-up who had discipline (I took two creative writing courses as an undergrad and wish I appreciated them more at the time), I started with the short story. I must have a copy of it somewhere, although that was three computers ago. I don’t need to pull it up to remember that it was awful. Just awful. Critique partners (I started with Writers Online Workshops, cheap and helpful and great way to start, totally recommend it) said they couldn’t picture things in the story. Heck, I couldn’t picture things in the story. But, like Mrs. Nagratski said, I kept writing.
In those days, I didn’t stay with a story very long. I would edit and proofread my heart out before I turned anything in for critique (please, for the sake of your critique partner’s time don’t skip this step – and you’ll get more impactful feedback if people aren’t editing sloppy punctuation), and then revise a little based on feedback. I churned out a couple bad drafts and moved on.
Then, as I started spending more time on individual stories, they got better. They were not fabulous, but I eventually moved out of awful. I had characterization. I even dropped in some similes. Setting, I am sorry to say, is really still a struggle for me.
And one day, a short story turned into a novel. The story was bigger than what a shorty could handle, and my first novel evolved from there. And three years later, it ended up getting rejected several times over. But at least I had a book to submit, which was a big, scary, impossible world I never thought I would become a part of when I first started. And, bottom line, I only got there because I just kept writing.