November 11th, 2006

fae girl

My Life as a Writer, Pt. 2

So, I'd figured out I wanted to be a writer. Then what?

My first year of high school, I finished my first real novel. It took seven months, was about 70,000 words, and contained almost every fantasy cliche possible. Chapters started with the date by moon (not that I'd figured out any system for when each moon came and went--I just made it up as I went along). The world was made up of humans, elves, and half-breeds, and the half-breeds were all bitter because nobody liked them. There was an evil wizard who wanted to destroy the world. It was pretty bad. I was proud I'd finished it, but I think my English teacher was more impressed with it than I was. I didn't revise it, just moved on to the next.

In high school it was about a novel a year, with a lot of false starts in between each one. (I learned to outline my novels after writing one too many pieces that reached over a hundred pages, and then crashed to a halt because I had no idea where I was going with it.) They taught me how to write novel length fiction, how to judge how much story I'd need to make that 60,000 or so words, and how to pace myself. I'm a one project at a time, write every day kind of gal. If I leave a project too long, or start working on something else, my enthusiasm falters and I lose the connection with the story. So once I start writing, I write fast. My record was with one of the high school novels, which I wrote during the summer when I had no job. I finished the rough draft in three weeks.

(This approach to writing may explain why my rough drafts are so very, very rough. Sure, I can write a novel in a couple of months, but it takes several more to polish it up into anything I'd want to show anyone.)

I was also writing short stories during that time, and sending a few of them to magazines. Mostly to the Canadian short story magazine I could find in the bookstores (Storyteller) but also to the big spec fic mags like F&SF and Realms of Fantasy. They were only half-hearted attempts--I suspected I wasn't publishable yet, but I did want to check occasionally, just in case I'd underestimated myself. All of them resulted in form rejections. I had a few small successes--a couple of short stories published (at $25 a page) in a Canadian magazine which only accepted submissions from writers 24 and under, and a few poems in school board-sponsered publications. Those kept me going, letting me know that, at least, I was doing well for my age, so maybe when I was of age with the people getting published in the bigger magazines, I'd be good enough for them, too.

I queried one agent while I was in high school, only because an English teacher (the same one who'd read my first novel) gave me the name and address. It wasn't that I didn't know about agents, or didn't want one. I'd been reading Writer's Digest magazine and the Writer's Market books since I'd first started taking the writing seriously, so I knew that once I had a novel I wanted to get published, that was the route I'd go. The thing was, with the novels I wrote then, most of them never got past the first or second draft. I always started out feeling like I was writing something brilliant, but by the time I got to the end of that first or second draft, I'd already realized all the flaws, and felt I could do so much better. And I certainly wasn't going to send out something I didn't even like.

When I was in university, a lot of that started to change.

And I will finish up tomorrow. :)