Staring at the edge of the water

Thought I might update my current progress with the writing journey. Maybe if I get published, people will look back and see these pre-agent posts and become filled with hope for their own writing careers? Or maybe some of my current Wattpad readers will find this post? (If you’re reading this and you’ve come from Wattpad, hello! I love you all! Your comments brighten my day!)

So I got a full manuscript request from an agent a couple of months ago. I can’t even begin to describe the agony of waiting for the reply, or how crushed I was when the agent told me she’d enjoyed the book… but it wasn’t her thing. It all comes down to personal taste, and she wasn’t after a book like mine.

I’ve had a couple of really nice rejections recently, from agents telling me they think I’m a strong, polished writer for my age, and that I’ll go from strength to strength in the future. And I feel torn between wanting to go curl up and cry, and being… happy.

I’ve realised that for the first time since I started querying my (old, bad, unpublishable) novels, I feel hopeful. I’ve dragged myself out of my pit of fear and despair and hopelessness. The one I’ve been inhabiting since the age of 14. Because now, I’ve learned how to query, how to write a synopsis, and how to hook someone – the hard way. I’ve learned by failing, by picking myself up again, and although achieving my dream and becoming published seems very impossible most of the time…

I’m making progress.

And I feel hopeful for the first time because after years of trial-and-error, I know that my current book is good enough. My current query letter and synopsis is good – I’ve spent hours polishing them and discarding old drafts. And as these agents (real people in the industry who have read the full manuscript!!!) have told me, I just need to find someone who likes this kind of story.

Someone who will fall in love with it like I did. When a girl with messy blonde hair called Ciara walked into my head, holding a crossbow, wearing a snow leopard fur coat. A fiery, brash, reckless, loyal girl who isn’t afraid to speak out, to challenge, to make a mark on the world.

A girl who demanded I write her story; whose loud voice and personality refused to leave.

Thinking about how close I could be fills me with hope and also terrifies me. A lot. Because I’ve dreamed so fiercely for an agent to say ‘yes’, for someone else to believe in Soul Seeker as much as I do – someone in the book industry, no less. It is scary to keep putting yourself out there when it’s all you’ve ever wanted and you only ever get rejected.

I let my mum take over querying a few agents back in January, and she emailed a couple, but I’ve taken the reins again now. I feel like it’s time for me to query again, to feel that rush of sickening terror and adrenalin when I press ‘send’ on the email. I have to take every step of this journey – writing is purely independent (until you get an editor, I suppose) – and I need a backbone of steel if I actually want to become published.

I can feel some of that steel already.

And I don’t think it’s come from me being good at taking rejections/critiques (I’m not and it always hurts), it’s the simple fact that my dream won’t let me stop. If I ever stop writing or querying, I’ll have failed myself. I’ll have failed 12-year-old Sam, the Sam that spent hours after school writing a wolf story. I’ll have failed 15-year-old Sam, the Sam that wrote her very first full-length novel and sent her very first query out (stupidly optimistic about all the requests she thought were going to come her way). Even if there’s the slightest chance an agent will like my story, I’ll send that email.

So I’m on a mission to send queries out regularly, maybe a couple a day for the next few days or weeks. Since reading is very subjective, I have to do as much as I can to get Soul Seeker to as many people as possible. Some agents’ websites are so formal I read their bios and still have no idea what sort of story they like. Every email is a leap of faith.

But surely, surely I’ll find That Person. Surely he/she is out there. (Why does it sound like I’m talking about romance? If I had to choose between the agent of my dreams, and the guy of my dreams – the agent would win, hands down. Sorry, imaginary-guy. You’re not important enough. 12-year-old Sam and 15-year-old Sam want the agent, and I have to listen to them.)

So, if you haven’t already gathered from this post, I tend to be naturally optimistic, which also usually ends in my dreams being crushed time and time again.

During this querying spree, my other go-to hobby after I come home from being bamboozled by Chemistry (more like CheMYSTERY) and Biology is writing a new novel. (Wow, she’s a writer and look – she’s writing! Surprise, surprise.) Seriously, I read an article a while ago and saved a screenshot onto my phone – I wish I remembered what it was from – that basically said something like “be proud of being a writer. Be proud of where you’re at no matter how many rejections you get. Loads of people say they’re going to write a novel, but few actually do. You’ve done something really unusual, so keep telling stories. Enjoy telling them. Enjoy being a writer.”

Something like that. I found it really empowering, and I know that even if every agent in the country rejects me, I’ll keep telling the stories I have burning inside me. For myself. Because above all else, I write because I love it – I love creating characters, writing banter and epic action scenes I can see playing out in my head like a film, cackling like a Disney villain when I throw in unexpected plot twists, tossing my characters into hell and dragging them back out again…

Is this blog post getting too passionate? I planned on the first one being the most passionate, and the others being more chill. I hope I’m not repeating myself too much, and I hope no-one’s sat reading this like “yeah, yeah, we get it. You like to write. Whatever.”

Anyway, back to the point. I’ve started another new book, and I love it almost as much as Soul Seeker! This one was vaguely inspired by some of the amazing fanart I’ve seen for Tolkein’s The Simarillion (never actually read it, just seen the art) and Avatar: The Last Airbender. It’s set in a classic high fantasy world (with my own unique touches, of course) but the twist is that the villains are the main characters. And it’s not like Maleficent, or the Grinch – these characters are purely evil. Not misunderstood. Evil. *cackling in the distance* *lightning flashes*

And I love it! They’re so morally ambiguous, and it’s so refreshing to write. Throughout the plot (it’s gonna be huge, I can tell already) I’ll be exploring my villains’ human sides and how they’re really conflicted about what they want. As well as their bloody histories and motives. An interesting fact: so far, I’ve got the whole plot outlined… by accident?

I hate outlines. Hate, hate, hate them. I love plunging in and writing blind until I get stuck – it’s way more fun! As long as your idea is solid enough, why not? But this story… I’ve been getting random scenes and characters and inspirational moments popping up in my brain as if this story exists already, in my subconscious. Seriously, the plot has taken zero effort. I haven’t even tried. I’m actually a little disappointed, because I like making some things up along the way (I’m kidding, there will be loads of room for that as well), but there we go: an outline from start to finish has somehow surfaced in my mind.

I’m not in a rush to get this one published, as it’s nowhere near as dear to me as Soul Seeker (for now), but I’m going to enjoy uploading it chapter-by-chapter to Wattpad to see the response it gets. It might just kill me to take a break when my final A Level exams roll round in June (so close *shivers*) but the story is making me enjoy being a writer again, and it’ll hopefully stop me constantly checking my emails, and honestly, it’s been a lifeline for me already.

It’s been the only thing keeping me going through a gruelling week packed with mock exams. I’ll think about Delilah and Dante, their snarky comments to each other and their vicious passion for what they believe in, and I’ll feel better.

I’m at my happiest while writing. I know that for sure.

This post is reaaally long! Sorry! I’ll end it here! Does anyone want me to talk about a specific part of the writing process next time? I can give advice, if anyone wants to hear it?

First Blog Post: My Writing Journey

Hello! I’m Sam, and I’ve decided to start a blog about writing. I want to record my thoughts and feelings about my mission to become an author.

So, first things first: I’m 18 and I live in South Yorkshire, England. I’m currently studying three A-Levels and plan on taking a Biomedical Science degree at university (because everyone tells me I need a back-up plan if this writing thing doesn’t work out). Science interests me, but it’s far from being my passion in life.

I’m a writer. I’ve known it my whole life. Ever since I learnt to read I would read constantly, and around the same time I started creating stories. I’d get lost in those little worlds. When I first started to write… I’d discovered a part of myself. I don’t remember a time before writing.

I first tried to get published when I was 12 years old. I’d just finished my first ‘proper book’ (or what I thought was a proper book at the time) and begged my mum to ring up Bloomsbury. Being Harry Potter’s publisher, in my eyes they were the only publishers that mattered – and they had to publish Thunder Wolf. Thunder Wolf was an 80-page Word document, my pride and joy, the thing I’d work on every day after school. I stood anxiously next to my mum when she rang Bloomsbury up, and listened carefully when they politely rejected my story, telling my mum I’d need to get an agent first.

So that was my first book rejection. I doubt many people start getting them as young as 12.

I eventually realised Thunder Wolf was unpublishable, and put it aside in favour of new ideas. For a good few years, I cycled through idea after idea, starting a thousand different stories but never getting past the first few chapters. I was consumed by self-doubt, by the idea that my current story would never be as good as the ones I was reading. For a long time I searched desperately for the idea that would be The One, and never found it. I had a setting in mind (England, but in the future, during an Ice Age) but never a strong plot that fit.

When I was 15 (in 2014), inspired by Marvel movies, Norse mythology, and lots of different books, I wrote my first full-length novel: Shifter. I queried it to a few agents, got a few rejections, and put it aside, feeling absolutely crushed.

A few months later. It was the beginning of 2015, and I’d had a new idea. This story was about souls, and I wanted to call it The Soul Syndicate. I’d carried along a couple of Shifter’s characters (I couldn’t let go of them, I was already too attached) and the future Ice Age setting. I wrote my book feverishly – as with Shifter, it took me a month to complete. Four weeks of creativity poured out of me and onto the page.

For about a year, I went through a cycle. I’d query The Soul Syndicate to agents. They rejected it. I tried not to lose hope. I wrote a new version of TSS, renaming it Soul Seeker. Occasionally I’d break away and write something new, only for it to also be rejected. I’d figured out my own writing process and I knew what worked for me, so I wrote a few more books, experimenting with characters and new ideas and tweaking my beloved idea. It was hard – I’d become too attached to the original.

But last summer – 2016 – I decided to completely rewrite Soul Seeker. I’d give it a mega revamp. I’d change characters, settings, plot lines. I discarded what I eventually realised was bad material but kept the precious gems that were what I’d originally fallen in love with: a few key scenes and ideas. I realised the pacing of the book had been too slow. The conflict had come into play too late. So I created extra villains, a new government system, a new battle.

This book, too, I wrote in a month. And the plot kept pouring out of me – half-way through I’d realise something important would happen towards the end and literally jump out of my seat to bounce around my bedroom in excitement. I wrote plot points down with shaking hands. I could already see the sequel taking shape, the events in the aftermath of Those Big Scenes.

It was The One. I’d torn apart the original book, the idea I’d once thought as perfect. But in its place now is – I’m sure of it – the best thing I’ve ever written. Ever.

I posted it, along with another new novel of mine, on Wattpad (as sambalazs) and felt overwhelmed and excited when positive readers’ comments started building up. People do seem to like my writing – maybe I’m doing something right after all!

As at this point I was a nervous wreck from all my rejections (I ended up Googling ‘agents’ and feeling sick just looking at the word), so my mum took over emailing and querying for about a day or so (until she got bored/became too busy to keep doing it). My parents helped me write a better synopsis.

So the emails have been sent out, and now I wait. Terrified. Because surely I can’t write anything better than what I have already? Rejection hurts; I’ve been taking blow after blow for almost three years now. The self-doubt is sometimes overwhelming.

But I could never, ever stop writing. I do it simply because I love it – along with a million other reasons – and even if everyone in the world told me they hated my book, I’d write it anyway. For myself.

If I end up getting an agent and a book deal, I’ll definitely keep posting here! It might be an interesting journey, and I hope it will eventually help other aspiring writers – I used to obsessively read my favourite authors’ blog posts, trying to pick up tips.

When you write, you’re kind of on your own. There’s no set way to do anything – no guidelines. It’s very uncertain. But I guess that’s one reason why I love it so much.