From the Files of a Teenage Writer
Hello Swoon Readers,
A few weeks ago, a bunch of us Swoon Staffers were chatting after work (as we do periodically over cupcakes and cocoa) about our middle school and high school diaries. From there I confessed that not only did I used to keep a diary, but I also started writing fanfiction with my best friend. You can imagine, in this industry, there are a lot of writers among us – and I am the age where fanfiction on the internet was just becoming a thing when I was in high school. But the fanfiction I was writing wasn’t traditional fanfiction the way we think of it – because mine wasn’t based on previously established characters in books, movies, TV shows or even popular boy bands. Nope, my fanfiction was based on me – and my friends – and all the alternate reality adventures I imagined us having. Which, incidentally were way more exciting than the day-to-day high school life I was actually living (seriously, those are some pretty dry diary pages).
It all started when I started to get a little irked by the fact that I was reading Sweet Valley High, Nancy Drew and Baby-Sitter’s Club books and the characters weren’t getting any older. I thought it was so strange – considering how much everything changes on a daily basis, not to mention from grade to grade in Middle School and High School. Here were these characters that I loved and they were oddly stagnant. But I wanted to “revolutionalize” the genre, I wanted to write a series where the characters aged. So I sat down and started planning.
Now, as anyone who as ever met me will tell you, if there is one thing I’m good at, it’s planning. I came up with a timeline that followed my characters from the start of high school through the end of college. Over 54 books total, and for each one I had one sentence for the main plot, along with a planned point of view. From there I made a list of everyone in my life I would include in the stories, and gave them each a new name. And up until this point, it’s clear I had a very healthy imagination – but for whatever reason, I decided that all my characters would have the same initials as their real life counterpart. (At some point, for reasons I do not understand, I decided that in addition to the spreadsheets, I should keep all this info on notecards, so I had a small notecard file box that had color-coded notecards for every book and character– with notes about each one. My only guess here is that I had an extra ten bucks from baby-sitting and was at Walgreens and thought “Gosh, I really need this note card file box!”)
But not only did I plan this series, I sat down and actually wrote it (or at least started it). I was incredibly lucky that my dad was super into the whole computer thing early on, and in eighth grade he had “gifted” me his old desktop (which was so big it took up the better part of my entire room). So I would sit at my desk after school and write. Like a lot. I was turning out pages and pages. I wrote the entire first book (about 200 pages) and started the second one. I would sit in class, or study hall, and write scenes in my notebooks. I couldn’t be stopped. At some point, I came up with another idea for a different book and wrote that too. Now I look back and can’t believe how much writing I did.
So why am I telling you this story? Well, for one, it’s entertaining to think about 13-year-old me imagining that a plot summary of “Christy is accused of murder” made any kind of sense for a sophomore in college. But also, because I kept everything. I have a whole file box full of stuff I’ve written – most of it from before I went to college – that has lived in all my apartments with me. Some of it on dot-matrix print-offs of files that are long since lost, but others are pages I wrote in free space I found in my math notebook – or, no joke – when I wrote a whole short story on the back of a Wheaties box (full disclosure, I 100% remember doing that, and thinking “if I ever become famous, I’ll show them this Wheaties box because I get so many ideas, I just can’t be stopped”). And amazingly I still have a bunch of the files on my current laptop. It’s pretty amazing that word docs from 1997 can still be opened on a laptop now.
Going back through these items is an amazing gift because it reminds me how far I’ve come. I periodically find myself writing something, and then deleting it – and I think about drafts and scribbles and all those little moments of inspiration that are now lost because of that handy-dandy little “backspace” button on the keyboard. Sure, most of us will not be Shakespeare or Picasso and our sketches and doodles won’t be memorialized in a museum for future generations. In fact, I imagine that my children won’t think much of anything with this box of paper I’ve been carrying around for the last ten years. But as someone who still likes to write, going back and rereading is its own kind of inspiration. Sometimes because you find a hidden little gem that makes you think “wow, 15-year-old me wasn’t entirely crazy” and other times because it’s good to remind yourself that you are improving. There are those days when you feel like you’re back down at the bottom of the same mountain with the same darn rock, and it’s nice to have a friendly reminder that you are improving your craft, honing your skills and getting better. Writing is a constant struggle, even on the days when it feels easier, it’s work – fun, but tough. Vincent Van Gogh put it particularly well “I am seeking. I am striving. I am in it with all my heart.”
So Swoon Readers and Writers, I hope you are able to look back (a few weeks or ten years) and appreciate that you are doing it, and keep going.