Wednesday, July 13, 2016

The Trouble With Writing Young: An Encouragement to Growing Writers

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I've been making up stories for as long as I can remember.  My old school notebooks are filled with little half-finished "novels" in which each chapter is only a page long.  Sometimes I must have gotten tired of actually writing and just drew pictures to represent what happened instead.

And before that, my parents tell me that as a toddler (I was speaking in full sentences at age one) I would say in my tiny voice, "Time, time..."  (once upon a time).

When I was ten years old I had the idea to write about a female knight who wielded a sword of pure white: an idea which would later develop into Quest for the Ivory Sword, my first published work.
From the moment I first conceived the idea, I was determined to finish it and publish it, so I started as soon as I could.  I was twelve by the time I began the first draft, and I was sixteen before it was finished and on the shelves.  There had been times when I almost despaired, wondering if it would ever be good enough, or if I'd ever have enough funds to go through with it, but with God's help and the wonderful resources He provided, we finally got it out there exactly when He wanted us to.

I was thrilled to have finally finished something worthwhile.  It was everything I had ever dreamed of as a child, realized through my parents, my diligence, and most of all, through God's generous gifts.  
As soon as QIS was finished, I was already writing its prequel, The Rise of Ralienah.   It even says so in the introduction to the book.

But you see, here is where we run into a problem.  

The trouble with writing young is that you grow up.  And when you grow up, you tend to be your own worst critic.

As much fun as I had writing QIS, I was also a growing and changing person.  And as I matured, I found that my story ideas matured as well.  Quest for the Ivory Sword is a good book, don't get me wrong.  But it is a young book.  It was written by a teen, meant for children, and though I have heard from several adults who enjoyed it thoroughly, I know that if I were to re-write it today, there are many, many things I would do differently.  That's not a bad thing!  In fact, I'm thankful I wrote it when I did, because otherwise the book that will always be closest to my heart might never have been.  

I had originally intended to publish Rise of Ralienah only a few years after QIS, but I quickly saw that that would not be the case.  In the short span between QIS  and Rise, the story and tone had already changed.  I continued to write for a long time, and was making good progress, until I had to bring it all to a grinding halt- I needed to reevaluate my work and decide where I really wanted to go with it.

During the time I was writing Rise, I had learned so much about literature, composition, word usage, and plot devices.  Story and scene structure, character archs, foreshadowing, you name it.  I now had a decent understanding of what I'd always wanted to do.   But the stories I'd been writing before..... just didn't have it.  They were good stories, but their construction was juvenile and unconnected.  Yet they had potential, and the more I thought about it, the more I realized that if I could just take the time, I could instill them with the classical elements that make up stories at their best.

The only problem was, that would require a complete overhaul for most of my books.  

Which meant a lot of work.  

The Warriors of Talminia Series is and always has been the story of a family, even in its earliest days.  QIS details Nayrame's journey as she finds her place in her family's tradition as the defenders of Talminia.  There are many other subplots and character arcs, but at the core, it was about family and finding one's place in it.

In Rise of Ralienah, however, I went back five generations to explore the life of Nayrame's ancestor and founder of the family line, Ralienah herself.  The theme was still family, but at the time I started writing it, I had no idea what about family I wanted to say.

The most basic plot elements have always remained the same.  Ralienah, a young woman who has lost her parents and has only her twin sister Sapphire left, travels from her home country to Talminia,  whose people are held in slavery by cruel nobles who govern the land with an iron fist.  Ralienah and Sapphire enter a rebellion/revolution together and Ralienah becomes the hero of the people, which eventually leads to the freedom of the Talminians and the institution of Ralienah as the Warrior of Talminia, the official defender of the land.  

That much was stated in Quest for the Ivory Sword.  But as far as the details, it was all up in the air.  I toyed with many alternate ideas for how the conflict might play out before finally deciding on an order of events, but even that wasn't good enough.  I had to find a central theme, something to tie it all together.  I needed a stronger villain, fewer unimportant minor characters, and better continuity.
At last, with my mother's help, I found it.  It all had to do with the motivation behind Ralienah's actions, the emotions that drove her to do what she did, and the peculiar circumstances that made her a legendary hero...

But that's all I'm going to say because I really don't want to spoil my own novel before I have a chance to release it!

But the bottom line is, despite the fact that my steadily maturing mind sometimes can't seem to make up its mind on how I should write, it isn't too late.  Do I regret writing young?  Not one little bit!  In fact, I'm grateful that I did.  Looking back at my old writing may show me fantasy stories about warrior maidens or lost dogs, but it also shows me a journey that I took.  Perspective always shows through when you write, even if you don't mean it to.  In many ways, my perspective has changed.  But in the most important ones, it hasn't.

So even though writing a book during your formative years can be frustrating because every time you look back you feel like you should do a rewrite, take heart!  Have patience.   Get  advice.  Grow and learn, and most importantly, trust in God.  If it's His will that you succeed, He'll get you there.  

There will be setbacks, and writer's block.  There will be days when you seriously wonder if you've wasted your time.  But don't be afraid or ashamed of those wacko first drafts, or of the typos, or of the Mary Sues that are likely to be abundant.  It's all part of the process.  And if you hang in there and give it your best, then by God's grace it will be finished someday.  Who can say what your results will be?   Maybe it will be for the printers, and maybe not...

 All I know is, a story blessed by God- even a youthful story- is always worth a read.  

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-Emmarayn Redding

(DISCLAIMER:  I do not own the image used in this post. Images taken from the public domain.)


  1. Excellent post, and you make some great points! I know I have a few stories which I can't stand to look at because they're so bad . . . but at the same time, I'm proud of them because of where they led.

    1. Thanks! I'm really glad you like it. I didn't expect to write it today, it just sort of came out, so I was really hoping the message and points were clear. :)

      Ah yes... those old drafts and first-timers. There's one in particular I can remember from my journals that was littered with nonsensical inacuracies: Jabe of the Mexican Dessert (yes, that's how it was spelled.) Silly, but cute too. :)

  2. Wow, this is just great. I've always found it inspiring that you became a published author so young! It's one of my goals to become a published author, but I have a hard time because I think of one idea which I usually think is dynamite, start writing a bit, and then lose interest or come up with a different idea. It's really hard for me to get all the way through a story without getting bored or distracted...

    Also I'm worried that my goal of being a published author at a young age will cause me to work too fast and produce something I'm not totally behind. I mean, Tolkien spent *years* developing his languages and ideas just so they would be consistent and the names would sound similar and have actual meanings.

    Plus as for actually publishing something, I have no idea how to get in touch with an editor, what the out of pocket cost might be to me, let alone if I actually have the writing skills to be able to pull it off.

    What would your advice be? Should I just keep writing and let all the thoughts (even, perhaps the ones I don't think are the BEST) spill out and judge them later? Or should I wait until I have a really stellar idea and go from there?

  3. I struggle with the same problem: wanting to abandon one story to work on another.
    The way I found to deal with that is I limit myself to working on 3 or 4 novels at once, and no more. I can do short stories in between if I want, but no new novels. As soon as I get an idea an flesh it out, I write down the plot Wikipedia-style and let it sit until I'm ready to write it. That way the details are saved and I don't have to get it all written down before I loose interest.
    After a while, I'll come back to a story idea and see if it's worth turning into a fully fledged novel. Time and distance helps me evaluate it honestly. Right now I've pretty much decided to abandon at least 3 novels that I had planned a few years ago. While they may have been good stories, there are better ones I can do. I'll just harvest the best elements from the abandoned concepts and use them for my "masterpieces".

    As far as becoming published young- there's nothing wrong with aspiring to that, but just remember that you shouldn't rush yourself. My goal was to have QIS published by the time I was 12, and look how that turned out! When I expressed frustration with this, my mom made a very good point: "That's pride talking", she said. Which, at least for me, was true. Age shouldn't matter when you're publishing a story, quality should. If you finish a book and you're pleased and satisfied with the results, that would be the time to start looking at publishing in one way or another. But if you look at it honestly and see that it needs work, then by all means, take the time to improve it. You don't have to be the next Tolkien or Lewis, but if you want to publish, do take the time to create a good work. If that happens when you're young, good for you!

    Now, getting in touch with an editor is a little trickier. It's tough to get the companies to take you. They're very selective. But there's no harm in trying! Don't be discouraged if no one takes it either. Just because a company won't take your work, or if they want to change it and clip it until it's barely recognizable, doesn't mean you don't have something good already.
    Here's some links with information on how to get in touch with an editor or publishing company:


    And here's one that's actually for finding publishers. (Note: I've never worked with these guys, so I can't vouch for their services. I found these on a google search just now.)
    There's also self-publishing, and the best one I've found for that so far is Createspace with Amazon.
    For now, definitely keep on writing! And have fun! In time, you will figure out which stories are destined for greatness and which ones are more for personal enjoyment. :)