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I've Been Writing For Half My Life | Here's What I Would Tell My Past Self

This weekend, I turn 28.

We're keeping things pretty low-key as it's not what my grandfather would have called a "momentous occasion" in my mind.

But 28 is still something of a milestone year for me as a writer.

I've been writing since I was 14 years old. In other words, I can now officially say that I've been writing novels seriously for half of my lifetime.

Who would have ever guessed that something I started dabbling in to pass the time while having to sit out of PE class because of a pilonidal cyst would've led to all this? If you had said anything about me wanting to pursue writing as an eventual career back then, I don't know if I would have believed you. I wasn't thinking about majoring in English until Junior year even though I'd always loved reading and by then had been writing seriously-ish for a bit. Not to mention that I didn't expect to find myself situated so comfortably in the Regency Era until my senior year when my AP Language Arts class did a unit on Pride and Prejudice.

And didn't even think of starting this blog until after getting my BA years after that!

To be perfectly frank, there are hundreds of things I wish I could go back and tell my younger self but for today's post (and for the sake of brevity), I want to focus on some writing-related ones.

Publishing Doesn't Work Like That

Back in the day, I was convinced that my first novel was going to be an instant bestseller. It was bound to be the next phenomenon. Every agent I queried would want my book. Publishers would be locked in a vicious bidding war for the rights. A movie deal was basically guaranteed. I had a Pinterest board that was less about gathering ideas for Prom dresses and more or less what I would wear to the film's premiere or, better yet, the Academy Awards and the Golden Globes when the adaptation was nominated for Best Screenplay. Toby Regbo was not only going to play one of my protagonists on screen but be my date for my high school reunion so we could promote the film while simultaneously flaunting my success as an author.

I certainly had big dreams, and those dreams were admittedly a bit misguided.

When I was 14, I didn't have much of a grasp on the intricacies of publishing a novel. I didn't understand how querying worked and how probable rejections are or why a submission may not be a good fit for an agent for any reason beyond it simply not being in a genre they represented. I also didn't know that agents only look at your first few pages and might then ask for a few more to review before considering whether or not they want to read the whole thingat which point they might consider taking you on as a client.

There is so much that happens behind the scenes when you're publishing a book whether you're opting to take the traditional route or have decided to self-publish. So many more people are involved and so much more happens after you've submitted the final-really-I-swear-this-time-I-mean-it draft of your book.

Also, things in the publishing sphere take so much longer than I thought at 14. It can be a couple of years between signing with a publisher and your finished book hitting the shelves of your local Barnes & Noble. To give you a rough idea, I'm writing this post in late February 2024 and I'm already seeing deal announcements for books set to release in the fall of 2026.

I would definitely tell my younger self to really dig into the publication progress and get a good feel for how things work because having that knowledge will be so helpful in the long run.

Learn How To Market Your Book And Befriend The Algorithm

Along with publishing, I would also advise my 14-year-old self to do some serious, in-depth research into how to market your book, even as an unpublished writer nowhere near ready to query or begin the self-publishing process.

Early on in my writing life, one of the biggest reasons I intended to publish traditionally was because I was under the impression that a larger publisher handled the author's marketing. Like, all of it.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

Publishers do have a marketing department, but a lot of the book promotion falls on you as the author—especially if you're a debuting author.

To give a super-quick summary as I currently understand it, the marketing department at any given publisher will have limited funds to allocate for book promotion, and chances are they'll be putting a greater sum of those funds towards already-established authors than a debut because they want the assurance that they'll have a strong return on their investment. Publishing is a gamble, and they're more likely to bet on the industry's Colleen Hoovers and Sarah J. Maases who have a proven track record than a newcomer.

You do have rare cases of a debuting author hitting the algorithm the right way at the right time and skyrocketing as we saw with Lightlark by Alex Aster but, for the most part, a debut author will have a lot more on their plate than I assumed when I was starting on the very first draft of my very first attempt at writing a novel.

*Lightlark was Aster's YA debut; she previously published an MG series that didn't see nearly as much commercial success.

I took an Intro to Business class in college to appease my grandfather and in retrospect wish I'd taken more beyond it. I don't think I'd go as far as to tack a business minor onto majoring in English but I'd be up for taking additional classes as electives.

More specifically, I'd tell myself to research marketing in the digital landscape. Social media has become such a vital tool in recent years and to this day I'm still just starting to learn how to even kind of navigate it. Even if you're nowhere near ready to send your writing out into the world, building that foundation will be advantageous in the long run.

As we've seen with Aster's YA debut, knowing how to make a friend out of the ever-finicky algorithms of BookTok and Bookstagram could prove extremely beneficial for soon-to-debut authors.

Be Open To Critiques...

When I was first starting out as a writer, I was very secretive about it. I mean, I told basically everyone I knew that I was working on a book but I wouldn't say much about it. In the event I posted about my project on social media, I would only share character initials and abbreviate the title.

I, like a lot of us, heard all those horror stories about writers sharing bits of their work online only to have it stolen. Keeping things under wraps meant keeping things safe from prying eyes with ill intentions.

But my reservations also stemmed in part from a fear of unsolicited critiques, and critiques in general. I dreaded the day someone popped into the comments and tore my writing apartsomething that extended into holding off on seeking critique partners or beta readers. Even the feedback I asked for made me anxious.

And genuinely speaking, there was probably a bit of youthful hubris in the mix. That assumption that I knew what I was doing and therefore didn't need to enlist any outside assistance.

Here's the thing: getting feedback on your stories is how you grow as a writer. It can be harsh and sting, but in the end it's beneficial. It's not a personal attack against you. CPs and Betas aren't out to get you or steal your work to claim as their own. They're there to help polish your WIP until it's a shiny manuscript.

It's better to get that criticism now from a trusted friend than in the form of a rejection from an agent or a bad review!

On that note, it's worth mentioning that getting feedbackrequested and unsolicited—is just part of being a writer. Once you've put your book out into the world, it's out of your hands. Some people will love it, others will give it one star or even DNF. Even a good review may highlight flaws. You can't fight that. What you can do is learn to not fear that criticism and instead focus on writing the best stories you can.

I've grown so much as a writer ever since I've let trusted CPs and Betas review my work. I've been able to identify my strengths and embrace them in my writing while also determining my weaknesses and issues so they won't be as big of an issue going forward, and that's all because I let other people in and opened myself up to critiques.

Which brings me to my next point...

...But Remember That You Don't Have To Take Every Bit Of Feedback That Comes Your Way

On the other side of the coin, the people pleaser in me was desperate to write a book that would appeal to every reader out there. How I expected to do that without receiving any feedback whatsoever is beyond me.

When I did start receiving critiques on my WIPs, I sought to take every last speck and implement it in my work somehow.

I thought this would improve my writing. After all, I was making the changes that my beta readers wanted to see.

But along the way, writing became less fun. I felt like I was back in a classroom, writing an essay so that it aligned more closely with the instructor's stance rather than my own interpretations of the work with supporting evidence just to preserve my GPA. Trying to please everyone took that sense of self out of my writing. It was less authentic. Not to mention it made the story a convoluted mess that no reader would find entertaining!

While there are definitely times you should make changes, especially if it's something that multiple readers have pointed out and said similarly of, you're the author. It's up to you in the end. Do what makes your story feel right. What makes it feel like it's yours.

Your First Book Won't Necessarily Be THE Book

This is something I touched on in the blog's five-year anniversary post last December as well as in a post titled Threadbare WIPs And Letting Go Of Stories You Cannot Salvage (For Now), and it's a biggie for me.

Before Bound to the Heart, Against His Vows, or A Tided Love or any of my other ongoing fiction projects, there was my first-ever stab at writing a novel: Guises to Keep.

Like the other novels I've written, this was a historical fiction work that was essentially a Regency Era Downton Abbey, following the servants of a country estate and members of the family residing there. There was romance, inheritance issues, an engagement of convenience, religious commentary, and just about as many love triangles as you could map out on a sticky note because this was being written during the 2010s and if you know, you know. Guises to Keep had it all—in part because I tried to cram everything I could think of into 600+ pages of Word doc.

There are still things I love about this project, but it's dense and riddled with technical flaws that make it obvious that I wrote it without much guidance or understanding as to what makes a novel work.

As I've discussed in the aforementioned posts, I ended up shelving Guises to Keep after ten years.

Ten years. Let that sink in.

My determination to make this work was unrelenting stubbornness and caused a great deal of headaches and frustration. I don't like to give up on a project no matter the context, and Guises to Keep was incredibly hard to set aside. In a way, it was becoming like the sunk cost fallacy. I had put so much time and effort into this thing that I had to stick with it, even though I had been editing in circles for so long. But the truth was that for every plot hole I filled, it caused another three to open up. Additionally, my feelings towards the project began to shift as I got older and my view of the world and my place within it changed.

It needed more help than I could give it.

If I could only tell my younger self one thing about writing, it would be this: it's okay, and even sometimes for the best, to move on to a different story. and try something new. You may feel defeated and even grieve it like you've lost a dear friend, but there's no shame to be had in putting it on the shelf.

Letting myself be so hung up on Guises to Keep for so many years ended up holding me back as a writer. Working on other projects like Bound to the Heart, A Tided Love, and Forged in the Salle, are where my new writerly self finally started to bloom and I love who she's becoming.

Like many writers out there, the list of things I would tell my younger self is extensive. What you see here is a highlight reel of sorts. The things I would prioritize if my time to chat with my fourteen-year-old self was limited to a few minutes.

Looking back on the past fourteen years, there's a lot of nostalgia. There are also things I would approach differently now as an adult with a better understanding of writing. Overall, though, I'm proud of how far I've come as a writer and I cannot wait to see what the next years hold.

Who knows? Maybe in a few years I'll be doing a follow-up to this post about things I wish I knew about publishing a book before my debut novel hit the shelves!

What would you tell your younger self about writing if you had the chance? Share your tips and thoughts in the comments!



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