Friday, October 21, 2011

Why No One Wanted to Publish Me When I Was in High School

From first grade on, getting published was my Ultimate Dream. That and marrying Joey McIntyre from New Kids on the Block.

It seemed unrealistic to hope to get published in elementary school or junior high. But high school seemed reasonable. I was constantly writing stories; shouldn’t I be good enough by the time I was an upperclassman?

In past blog posts, I’ve given you the short answer to the above question – No, I wasn’t good enough. I left it at that, thinking the details weren’t really important. This was partially because I didn’t want to think about the details. I had no interest in pulling out old manuscripts and think about all their failings when I had no plans of reviving the story.
Books I "published" in first and second grade.

Then I thought about you guys.

One of the reasons I started Go Teen Writers was because as a teen writer, I had nobody in my life who could guide me to “the next step.” My journey involved a lot of fumbling and grasping and bloody knees. I thought a blog like Go Teen Writers might be helpful for someone out there. I’m not agent or an editor, so I can’t provide those kinds of next steps, but I can pass along what I’ve learned along the way.

And when I leafed through old stories of mine from high school, I realized I’ve learned a lot along the way.

One of the things I’ve learned is that there are things to learn. I thought because I was a talented writer, all I needed was to land on the right idea, and I’d be set for publication. When I got in the internet as a teen, I was searching for things like, “How Do I Get Published?” not, “How do I get better at writing?” To my 16 and 17 year old self, there was shame in admitting my writing needed work.

Here are some problems I detected in one of my manuscripts. You can also view this list as a preview of what I’ll be talking about in the coming weeks:

  • My ideas were not big enough. I had a hard time making it past the first couple chapters, but I didn’t know why.
  • Point of View characters. I was clueless about how to write scenes from one POV character.
  • I lacked confidence. I grew so needy of others opinions, I could barely write a chapter without soliciting advice.
  • I used flashbacks/backstory with distracting frequency.
  • I wanted the story to be perfect the first time. So instead of writing it to the best of my ability and trusting the editing process, I was constantly rewriting.
  • I had no respect for my reader's intelligence. I felt the need to explain everything, even if it meant halting the story.
  • Dialogue. Bad, bad dialogue. So, bad. 
  • My writing lacked freshness. There’s a hint of my voice in there, but you’ve got to dig through all the clich├ęs and tired phrasing to find it.
  • My characters lacked believability. When I read through my manuscript now, I think things like, “No one would ever say that. No one would think that. Why is she acting that way? That doesn’t make any sense.”

I didn’t marry the band member from New Kids on the Block (which worked out well because my husband is way better looking) but I did finally get that publishing contract. In the next couple weeks, I’ll walk you guys through everything I needed to discover, grasp, and apply before I could get here:

Signing my contract. What a stroke of luck that my nails were painted! That's not the norm these days.

Did any of the flaws mentioned on the above list sound familiar to you? Is there anything up there you regularly struggle with?


  1. Usually it's the lack of big ideas for me. Or then that I have a good idea, but I have no idea how to develop it.

  2. Great post! I'm looking forward to the one about believability... As I struggle with that.

    - Paige

  3. I'm super excited about this series, because I know that my stories need a lot of work before they're ready to be showcased in front of an audience.
    A problem that I struggle with most is pacing. Like, I don't want things to move too fast, but I don't want the scenes to drag on either. I want to make the character's feelings and perspective change and develop naturally, and I find myself struggling how to accomplish it.
    Any ideas?
    Thanks! :)

  4. POV, POV, and more POV. :)

    Echo Clare, too.

    I love reading your story to publication, Stephanie. Also, what a beautiful polish!

  5. I have trouble with ideas...I'll be really excited about an idea, get started writing and the next day wonder "what was so great about that idea?" and never make it past chapter 3. I hate planning out the story, which is my downfall

  6. Character development. That's my trouble. I can keep one or two characters going pretty well, but all the others seem to drop by the wayside, even when they shouldn't.

  7. That list sounds so like me a few years ago. Fortunately, I'm on the road to improvement. Each time I write something new I can see how much better it is.

  8. POV! In my last prompt I found not 1, not 2, but 3 POV changes in just that one hundred words.

  9. Oh goodness, the confidence thing. I have a perhaps-unhealthy craving for other peoples' feedback. I obsessively pour my ideas out to my sister - who probably would rather not hear them all the time. I grow really happy when people give me good reviews on
    Also,the characters/believability thing, I think. Reading through something I thought was my best writing ever only a little while ago, I see how much my characters sucked. This one character started getting all eloquent whenever I felt like he needed to. Which wasn't very true to his personality, he's supposed to be sort of awkward. I think I have a soft spot for eloquent characters.

    -Micah :)

  10. I noticed in the last picture that you write with two fingers and thumb?! That is how I write. =)

  11. Love how you kept your first published books,lol! Getting ready to move I found out my mom kept ALL of my brothers and my school papers and I found some of the things I wrote when I was little, we found this one piece about purple Martian mosquitos and pretty much died laughing!

    I'm having trouble with plot and POV right now. I know know how to have 1 POV a scene but I'm struggling to find the best POV and tense for my WIP

    Also, I missed the NKOTB craze but girl, 'NSYNC was it for me, I wanted to marry Justin Timberlake, haha, but now I'm glad I didn't because he's gotten kinda smarmy

  12. I don't know what's wrong with my current writing because I'm writing it. Thus, I think it's perfect. But in the past I'v had trouble with formatting and grammar.(I knew nothing about how to format dialogue and, quite frankly, my grammar sucked. It probably still does.)

    Also, I always want my novel to be perfect the first time through. I'm getting a bit better at it, but I still struggle. And tenses. Verb tenses. I couldn't keep them straight. It was past tense, then present tense, the past, then present. Reading through it drives me insane!

  13. My biggest flaw in high school writing (other than thinking I *had* no flaws--ahem) was telling. Well, and POV, which rules I had no clue about. =) But I tended to just say THAT something happened rather than showing HOW.

  14. So many great comments, it's hard to decide where to start responding.

    I went through and tallied everyone's thoughts on their big issues:

    Big Ideas - 2 people
    Characters/Believability - 3 people
    POV - 3 people
    Confidence - 1 person

    Clarebear added on "Pacing," which is a great one. I'll add that to the list, because that's a tricky one.

    And "ktlemonhead" mentioned formatting/grammar and tenses. YES. I've had manuscripts where my tenses jump around, and sometimes it's because I'm trying to figure out what works best for the story.

  15. Carrie, yay, I'm not alone!

    My husband was trying to teach me how to hold chopsticks, and he said, "Hold it like you hold a pencil." I did, and he was like, "That's how you hold your pencil? Okay, never mind. Hold it like this..."

  16. Sananora, YAY! I'm so glad you're seeing progress. Congratulations!

  17. Tonya, PURPLE MARTIAN MOSQUITOES?!?! Maybe you're supposed to be a sci-fi writer :)

    I've been amazed by how Justin has gone from boy band guy to respected musician/actor. That must be a tough transition, because none of the others have been able to.

  18. Roseanna, I'm hearin' ya on the "no flaws" thing. And telling/showing is a great addition to the list. Same here.

  19. Justin is very talented!

    Sci-fi, ha idk, it was so funny because it was so out of character for me! I've thought it'd be funny to use part of it as a prompt, just for kicks. Oh I have to write my prompt, forgot about it!

  20. I have definitely gotten better, but one of the problems on that list remains. I still doubt my readers intelligence. Which is kind of funny, because whoever reads it is probably more intelligent than me! :-)

  21. Oh, Stephanie, that is HILARIOUS about the chop sticks! For some reason this conjures the image of my dad's face whenever he tries to teach me something about my truck.

    {It's kind of a "okay, how can I dumb this down for my blond daughter?" look, which I'm sure your husband didn't give you, but that's what entered my mind!}

  22. I am a teen writer, and this is exactly what I needed. It feels great to know I'm not alone. I can't wait to read what you have to say. I love your blog. :)

  23. My biggest problem is seeing too many flaws in my writing. I have a lot of trouble accepting that I can't make everything right at once. Also, my confidence is so low that I don't like to show my writing to anyone at all!

  24. Big enough ideas -- definitely.

  25. You mentioned recently that you pulled out your high school manuscripts, Stephanie, which made me do the same. And I even wrote about it, too:

  26. my biggest problem is finding big enough ideas..I have ideas, but sometimes I'll just jump right in. I also think I need more life experience, that might help. So far I haven't made it to the middle of a book I've tried to write

  27. To me it feels like i need to get my plot together and start outlining chapters. And sometimes I don't feel like me characters are "real". I might have a voice or style for them but I haven't brought them to life yet.This was certainly interesting post and informative(don't you just love big words like that?). Sierra
    Keep Growing Beautiful♥ (Cause You Are!)

  28. Tessa, that was definitely a big one for me - I didn't have much experience with life yet. It's great to recognize that!

  29. I lack major confidence.
    To be honest I think I need a lot of work in writing, but I'm hoping I might be able to start sending off things in my late 11th grade year of High school and/or 12th grade.
    I'm always trying to improve my writing, and I'm still shocked at the things I find in writing I did a few days ago. I'm all like; "Wait WHAT? She would NOT say that, or do that..."
    Anyway, I don't think I'm really even worthy. :P Or that anyone would even want to look at my cruddy writing pieces lol.
    Someday I'll get there though. :)
    But gosh, I think every writer no matter how old could use improvement.

    Though I really wish I could be published as a High school student, I'm not sure if anyone would read my work (if I did publish) or if I would be taken seriously.
    At one point I was determined to be published as a kid, and prove the world that kids could be amazing authors. Kinda falling apart though... I'm in 10th grade and no where near that sort of thing!

  30. Jazmine, you described perfectly how I feel too! It's a real struggle. Especially since I just finished "there you'll fine me" by jenny b jones. It was a such a great book!! And yet the MC struggles with confidence just like us :)
    Jenny b Jones is really blessed with talent

  31. I just have to tell you...I adore and admire you for having this blog!! Every time I visit I'm thankful for you! :) (We still need to do coffee!! haha)

  32. Nicole, I completely agree. And I would have even if you hadn't just said a bunch of really nice things about me :)

  33. I guess one thing about my story that bugs me is that I can write about all the characters easily, like I know exactly how they would act, EXCEPT my main character. All the others have a definite destiny, a definite style that I know like the back of my hand. But my protagonist . . . it's like she's almost based off of me, half me and half something totally different. Eventually I think I will figure out exactly who she is . . . it just bugs me!