Hey, guess what? I’m a massive fail, and didn’t realise Monday was my time to post my contribution to the Teens Can Write Too! blog chain until Friday, and then I’d already posted, so it’s going up now. My apologies. I’m a useless human being. I know.
“What’s one thing you wish you knew when you started writing?”
Oh man. There are so many things I wish I’d known. Can I just write myself, like, a list? No, I’m always doing lists. How about a letter?
Dear 13-year-old Miriam,
You’ve been writing your whole life, but you’re just about to write your first novel, and honestly, there are a few things we need to talk through. Don’t worry, I’ve got your back. I am so glad you’re going to write that book, because it’s the reason this version of eighteen-year-old me actually exists, you know? Writing is going to shape you.
But there are a few things I need to tell you.
First off, you’re gonna suck. Everybody sucks when they start. But you’re not going to suck as much as everybody thinks you are. I know people tend to dismiss your writing because you’re thirteen, and when you’re my age, you’re going to look back with shame upon the stuff you’ve written. Remember this, though: I’ve seen writers five years older than you who can’t write like you did.
You were a brave writer. You were researching agents before you’d even finished your first novel, and you spent so much time researching an industry that changed completely by the time you had anything ready to submit to it. I know. I’m really proud of you, little Miriam. That doesn’t mean you were a good writer, though. A lot of your early work is going to be cliched, and your characters will be terrible, and it’ll all rip off Maggie Stiefvater because she’s the last author you read before you wrote your first book. (Have you read Lament yet? Maybe you’ll be reading it in a couple of weeks’ time.)
But that’s okay. Bad writing is totally necessary as a stage on the way to good writing, so don’t worry about it. No writing is wasted writing, even when it’s essentially Lord of the Dance fan fic … wow, you were a weird kid, but let’s not go there. In fact, your first novel is going to turn into a completely different novel that’s going to make Charley hate you forever.
You’ve only just met Charley. That’s a weird idea. Keep hold of that one; she’ll be important later. No, I’m not going to explain. It’ll make sense when you’re seventeen.
Okay, next you need to know that straight white cis people aren’t actually the most interesting characters. Come to think of it, you don’t even know what the word ‘cis’ means, and you’re pretty hazy on anything except straight or gay. Wow, that’s going to change. But even leaving aside your complete ignorance of LGBTQ issues, you’re sitting in a class at school where less than 50% of the students are white, and you’re writing books without any ethnic diversity at all? Man, something’s messed up there.
Your originality, Miriam, is going to be in the ridiculous diversity of your books. I just wish you’d realised earlier that you could write about disabled characters, and they didn’t just have to be about their disability, and they don’t have to magically get better either. Or that you can, and prefer to, write about queer characters. Or that ethnic diversity makes for more interesting stories. So remember that, when you’re writing.
I kind of want to advise you to stay away from writing romantic relationships. You’re not good at them, and always end up portraying unhealthy stories as romantic, and that opens you up to manipulation. But you need to write those terrible ones and learn from your mistakes, and then in the future you’re going to write a couple of really adorable couples and a plethora of absolutely heartbreaking ones, and you’re also going to write some characters who don’t want relationships. Because not everybody does! You won’t, in a few years time!
You don’t know that yet, though. There’s so much you don’t know.
Maybe I should give you some advice about pen names. Don’t use your real name, because you’ve never liked your surname anyway. I already know you’re going to use your first name and middle name, Miriam Joy, but I wish I could tell you not to. It’s a very gentle name for the kind of books you’re going to write. It sounds like it belongs to someone who writes inspirational Christian fiction, and you actually write really creepy books about death and fairies: you should choose something with more bite to it.
But I can’t change what you’re going to do.
I could tell you a thousand things: the Death and Fairies series is actually eight books, not a trilogy, and it starts in 1633, not 2012! That’s a crucial one, and you’re not going to figure it out for ages. Or how about the simple truth that queer characters will hugely improve The Quiet Ones? Baby Miriam, I’ve learned a lot about writing in five years, and I’ve learned a lot about myself.
I’m not going to tell you to go out there and live. People are always telling you that, and even though life experience is the single most important factor in my improvement as a writer, you don’t have a choice to grow up any faster. I’m going to tell you to sit in your room and write the way I know you’re going to. Write terrible books. Write stories that you abandon after three chapters. Write a lot of really awful poetry. Blog about things nobody cares to read.
Because the one thing I wish I knew when I started writing was that every mistake will make you better. It’s not worth it, trying to write a perfect novel. Just write crappy book after crappy book until one day it clicks and you work out how to make them not-crappy, and then you’ll know you’re on your way.
I’m not sure if you’ve got it yet, but your sister is going to pass a badge onto you, and you’ll have it on your school blazer for a while. It says, “I’ve learned so much from my mistakes, I’m thinking of making a few more.“
You’re going to learn so hard from those mistakes, both in the shape of terrible books and also terrible life decisions. Your writing is going to lead you to befriend people you shouldn’t befriend, and it’s also going to leave you with long-term wrist problems, but it is going to change your life. The people you’ll meet from it will be your best friends, and you will love them until it feels like you’re falling apart, and then you’ll stick yourself back together and keep writing.
Miriam, I’ve given you a lot of advice, but really what you need to know is: screw it up. Go out there and screw it up so much that you look back and cringe to see your first novels. They’re going to be the rock bottom, and you’re going to make that rock the foundation for the rest of your writing life.
Miriam (July 2014)
5th – http://unikkelyfe.wordpress.com/
6th – http://thelittleenginethatcouldnt.wordpress.com/
7th – http://nasrielsfanfics.wordpress.com/
8th – http://finnlongman.com/ <- I’m a huge fail. Sorry.
9th – http://lillianmwoodall.wordpress.com/
10th – http://www.brookeharrison.com/
11th – http://musingsfromnevillesnavel.wordpress.com/
12th – http://erinkenobi2893.wordpress.com/
13th – http://theweirdystation.blogspot.com/
14th – http://taratherese.wordpress.com/
15th – http://sammitalk.wordpress.com/
16th – http://eighthundredninety.blogspot.com/
17th – http://insideliamsbrain.wordpress.com/
18th – http://novelexemplar.wordpress.com/
19th – http://thelonglifeofalifelongfangirl.wordpress.com/
20th – https://butterfliesoftheimagination.wordpress.com/
21st – http://theloonyteenwriter.wordpress.com/
22nd – http://roomble.wordpress.com/
23rd – http://thependanttrilogy.wordpress.com/
24th – http://teenscanwritetoo.wordpress.com/ – The topic for August’s blog chain will be announced.