Stephanie writes young adult contemporary novels and is the creator of GoTeenWriters.com. Her novels include The Reinvention of Skylar Hoyt series (Revell) and the newly released The Revised Life of Ellie Sweet (Playlist). You can connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and check out samples of her work on her author website.
Last week, I had the joy of holding mentoring sessions with teen writers. I sat in an office, and they came in for fifteen minutes to talk about publishing, writing, their story, or anything on their mind.
One of the writers asked me, "This book I wrote is really special to me, but I'm worried about trying to get it [traditionally] published. I know I'll keep getting better as a writer - should I wait to pursue publication in case I want to make changes when I'm a better writer?"
I resonated with that question because as a teen writer, I improved so rapidly with every book I wrote, that I was constantly thinking, "That last book I wrote was horrible! How could I have ever thought it was good?"
I feared I would always feel that way. I even confessed to a friend that I was worried I would never be able to write two books in a row that I actually liked. Her answer was, "But don't you think you'll always be getting better as a writer?"
Yes. But that's not what I wanted. I wanted to someday be perfect and to never again think, "That last story was terrible."
But once we accept that our writing will never be perfect, that we'll always be improving, we have to wrestle with when we're an acceptable level of imperfect to pursue publishing our books. Here are some thoughts I have about that process:
Publishers won't take a risk on a bad book.
We've all read bad books. But let's forget about them for a minute.
It's very hard to get a book published, particularly a first book. One of the reasons is because a LOT of people have to say, "Hey, this is a great book!" before the publisher makes an offer. (For more on how that works, see Jill's wonderful article The Publishing Process or check out the book we wrote on getting a book published.)
So while you're on the journey of getting your special book published, you'll have lots of people looking for ways to strengthen it. You won't be alone.
You'll always be growing as a writer (ideally) but it doesn't mean you'll always think your old stuff sucks.
I'm the type of writer who tweaks every time she reads through her manuscript. This is why I never read my published novels. (Some writers do - I honestly don't know how they stand it, but maybe they think the same thing about me.)
Recently I realized that in my debut novel, Me, Just Different, I have my main character, Skylar, giving Abbie rides to her boyfriend's house in exchange for gas money. That seemed like very logical motivation to me, like, 9 years ago when I wrote the first draft. I never gave it a second thought until a few days ago when it struck me, "She's such a princess that her parents totally would have paid for her gas! Why did I not realize that?"
All that to say there are things I would probably change about my published books, but I still think they're good books. I continue to improve as a writer, but I don't feel the way I did as a young writer.
Life's too short to write anything but the book of your heart.
In an issue of one of my writing magazines, James Scott Bell had a writing exercise that I loved and have continued to mull over even two years later. It went something like:
1. If you could only write one more book in your life, what would you write? Describe below.
2. Write that book.Maybe the book you wrote is special ... but why would you ever spend time writing anything else? Why bother with a book that isn't special to you?
The obvious answer is because you might be able to write a book that sells easier/better. This is true, and it's a question most working writers have to ask themselves at some point. I imagine I could sell better in a different genre, but so far I don't have the passion for writing for adults that I do for teens. And I don't have the energy to write a story I don't feel passionate about.
Even so ... maybe you should wait.
I heard two wonderful quotes from fellow writers at the conference last week. One was when Jill and I were teaching our, "How to Revise Your Novel" class, and Jill said that sometimes "our ideas are greater than our skill level."
And a couple days later, Daniel Schwabauer (who writes middle grade books for AMG, and who created the One Year Adventure Novel curriculum) said, "Some ideas are plucked too green." He shared how about twenty years ago he had an idea for a book that he just loved, but he couldn't make it work, and he's only recently gone back to it.
So if you've written the book, but it doesn't feel quite right to you, then maybe you're not ready to write the final version yet. There's nothing wrong with that.
What about you? Do you have additional advice you would have given to that young writer? Have you experienced the same fear as her?