Never Too Young to Follow Dreams

Written for VOYA Magazine, Dec. 2015

I grew up in a home where reading was encouraged and storytelling was common. While I don’t believe this was the only inspiration for my writing, it was definitely the perfect environment for my love of stories to develop and grow.

Ever since I was very young, I loved to make up stories, and I loved to read. Most of my free time at school and at home was spent reading. I loved to browse the library at my elementary school, and I frequently borrowed my older brother’s chapter books. My love for reading never wavered, but as I began learning to write at school, I quickly grew to enjoy writing just as much.

I became excited about my enjoyment for writing, and I began to write more and more stories outside of school. The first story I wrote that I considered a “book” was a thirty-page story about a forbidden friendship between a fairy and a leprechaun. I specifically remember sitting down with the MacBook laptop I shared with my siblings, feeling motivated to write it from beginning to end.

In seventh grade, I began writing Tess Embers, named after the main character in the story. The story is about a group of kids and teenagers training to become spies, and it was more exciting than anything I’d written before. At that time, my stories were rarely longer than thirty to fifty pages, but Tess Embers got longer and longer, until it was more than just a story. When I finally finished it, a little over a year later, I was happy with how it had turned out, and I wanted to share it. First, I let my family members read it, and then I printed out manuscripts for a few friends. People were enjoying my story, and I got excited, albeit nervous, about the idea of sharing it with more people.

At age thirteen, I looked at the possibility of self-publishing. I researched a lot of options before choosing CreateSpace, which is an online self-publishing company owned by Amazon.com. It guides users through a step-by-step process of the creation, setup, review, distribution, and marketing of a novel.

I picked the avenue of self-publishing because I enjoy the flexibility and control it provides. While being traditionally published would be an incredible and exciting opportunity, self-publishing works well for my current purposes.

I remember being moved to tears when I first held a hardcopy of Tess Embers in my hands as a seventh grader. The story no longer existed solely in my mind and on a file on my laptop. It was strange to think that so many hours of thinking and writing and editing could be condensed into such a small object, but it also seemed quite magical. Since Tess Embers, I have self-published two more novels using CreateSpace.

The summer between eighth and ninth grade, I released When Winters Cross. This book is a bit shorter and more of a contemporary story about a friendship between two unique teenagers, Sam and Lexi, who were brought together by their younger siblings.

My most recent novel, The Bug Zapper, came out on July 8th of this year. I wrote The Bug Zapper in just one month, which is the fastest I’ve ever finished a first draft of a novel. I wrote it in November when I was participating in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). It follows a girl named Adeline, and it focuses on her friendships from elementary through high school. It's fairly fast-paced and explores the theme of friendship, as well as family dynamics, the development of a child's mind and perspective, and Addie's struggle with anxiety.

Writing a novel in one month is not an easy task, and it’s not always the best approach to take. Participating in NaNoWriMo was stressful, but it was also a very fun and valuable experience. I couldn’t believe how much inspiration I had or how many words I was writing every day.

There's not one right way to write a novel; the process of novel-writing varies significantly from writer to writer, and even from story to story. Sometimes I get motivated to plan out every detail before jumping into a project, but most of the time I’m too excited about my ideas to take the time to make an outline.

When inspiration strikes, I often jot down ideas or scenes into a notebook, or I’ll type them in a note on my cell phone. As soon as I become more excited or start to think the idea could turn into something worth my time and effort, I’ll move the notes to a document on my laptop and begin writing there.

Usually I write my stories chronologically from beginning to end, but sometimes I’ll end up with documents filled with scenes, dialogue, and paragraphs in no particular order. Even when I have a plan for the ending of a story, I tend not to think ahead from one page or chapter to the next, which allows my characters and plot lines to surprise me fairly often.

I’m typically working on more than one project at a time, and it’s not uncommon for me to give up on a project due to “writer’s block” or lack of inspiration. Deciding whether to scrap a story can be very difficult, because it can be hard to tell the difference between giving up and letting go. However, I never delete my old stories, because sometimes I reference or recycle quotes, characters, or scenes. I also sometimes get new ideas or renewed inspiration if I take a break from a story for a while.

When I don't have any ideas for a story or I don't like the direction in which it's going, I feel very discouraged. I’m a very determined person, and I don’t like to give up, but I also don’t like to force myself to work on a story if it doesn’t feel right. I try to be open-minded about deleting a few chapters, rewriting or changing something, or starting over completely or from a certain point, but those are difficult decisions to make. Something I often do when I'm stuck is go back to edit, rewrite, or revise what I've written so far, and I usually get new ideas along the way.

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I also find it helpful to have at least one place designated for writing, preferably a place where the only thing I do is write. I often write in my room or outside, but there is one particularly special place. A few summers ago, my parents let me clear out a storage closet in our basement. I decorated the walls with posters, filled the shelves with books, and fit a desk in the corner. Although I deemed the space a “book nook,” I primarily use it for writing, and I find it incredibly helpful to have a quiet, cozy place to focus and get inspired.

Writing doesn’t always come naturally to me, but I have noticed the more I write, the more my writing improves. Reading is also a great way to improve your writing, because it exposes you to a huge variety of stories, characters, vocabulary, and styles of writing. It’s also how I learned to break up paragraphs and format dialogue, and it’s part of what inspires me to keep writing: reading makes me want to go write my own stories. To me, writing a book feels just like reading, except it takes more time and energy, and I have a say in what happens, although sometimes it feels like my characters are writing the stories and all I’m doing is typing the words for them.

During NaNoWriMo last November, I complained on Twitter about how being a perfectionist was preventing my ability to meet my word count goal each day. I received a lot of helpful tips in response, and the one that stuck with me most was the method of making your text white or very small, to prevent the urge to go back and edit. I found this tip very useful during NaNoWriMo, and I still use it quite often, because it enables me to get words down on the page without immediately judging or changing them.

Being an author as a teen has been very rewarding for me, and it’s led me to many opportunities and experiences I wouldn’t have otherwise had. I’ve been interviewed on television, on the radio, and in my local newspaper. I’ve also done book signings, given presentations at local libraries and elementary schools, spoken on a live panel, and more.

About a year ago, I created a YouTube channel, where I talked about my writing process and self-publishing, filmed Q&As, and read excerpts from my novels. Although I upload a wider variety of videos now, I still upload at least once every week. I’m very happy that my love for writing prompted me to start making videos, because video blogging is a passion I may not have otherwise discovered.

I am a fairly reserved and introspective person, so putting myself and my books out there can be very nerve-racking. However, it has helped me grow a lot as a person and as a writer. One of the most rewarding things about sharing my novels has been hearing from kids or peers who have enjoyed reading what I’ve written.

At a book signing, I once had a young boy tell me he didn’t know kids could be authors. I love being able to use my passion for writing as a way to inspire other kids and spread the message that kids are never too young to follow their dreams.

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