My first book (LOVE AND OTHER ALIEN EXPERIENCES, in case you somehow missed me talking about it constantly?) is coming out in less than two months. Or I guess you could call it my first published book…or, even more accurately, the first book I’ve completely finished.
Like most writers, I have other books. In my case, they’re unfinished books, but they still exist in their partial, imperfect, unpretty forms. Books that once represented “maybe someday,” books that are ideas I once believed in, books that I once spent my nights and weekends on.
Back in 2011, when I was writing a weekly column for HelloGiggles about YA, I was also trying to write a book. In retrospect, it’s kind of shocking that someone at HelloGiggles allowed me to write such long, rambly pieces every week that were mostly about YA but sometimes just about my own personal feelings. 2011 Kerry had things to say and she finally had an outlet and the world was gonna hear about it!
The world remained mostly uninterested, but at one point an agent emailed me to ask if I was working on any YA of my own. An agent. Like, a real live human agent emailed ME, this girl who worked a ridiculous office job that occasionally involved putting on safety goggles/heatproof jackets and touring steel mills, to ask if I was working on a book.
WELL. I just so happened to be working on something, so I polished it up and sent it off and waited, all the while thinking, “Is this it? Will I have an agent? Is this book going to be published?”
It was not it, and I did not get an agent, and that book did not get published. Make no mistake, the agent was extremely nice to me, but she told me she couldn’t represent that book. I was disappointed, of course, and I stopped working on that book…but I didn’t stop writing. I wrote lots of beginnings to books that never got finished, scenes of things I never fleshed out, and eventually I wrote an entire first draft of a book about band camp (I still think there need to be more books about band camp, btw; it’s a transformative experience).
Anyway, back to my point. A couple of nights ago I decided to take a look at those pages I sent that agent, because I hadn’t read them since. I expected to cringe, and I did. But what I really found out was that those pages weren’t bad. Like, I could string together sentences. I made jokes.
BUT THERE WAS NO PLOT. Like, I’m not sure where I actually intended to go with that book, since it was only the beginning, but there was no big conflict. No drama. Just a bunch of angst and people making jokes. And also, surprisingly, my humor was kind of mean. I think of my books (okay, so I’ve only FINISHED one book but I’m working on my second now!) as primarily funny, but I don’t like to be mean. I like my jokes about people to be rooted in warmth, like we’re celebrating their endearing qualities even as we’re poking fun at them. But the stuff in this book was just kind of mean-spirited. Like, thank God that didn’t get published! I wouldn’t want it out there.
And then there’s the band camp book, which REALLY had no plot, despite the fact that I wrote an entire draft. There’s a cute boy, SURE, but you can’t just read 250 pages of cute boys being cute, no matter how much I wish that was true.
So here’s my point, I guess: at the time I wrote both of those books, I thought they were The Ones. You know, the ones that would get published eventually. At the time, I felt like I’d been trying to write a book for so long, but now it’s 2017 and my first book is coming out in July (well, for the second time…it’s kind of confusing). If you’d told me then I would wait six years, I would’ve been like, “UH, EXCUSE ME?” It would’ve seemed like forever.
But here’s the thing: I wasn’t just waiting during those six years. I was living. I was reading. I was writing, A TON. I was doing all the stuff I needed to do to become a better writer, to write something I would actually be proud of publishing.
As I wrote my weekly column about my favorite YA books, I dreamed that someday I’d have my own YA book that someone would read and love and write about. And now my first book is coming out, and I hope someone does love it.
So I guess what I’m saying is if it feels like you’ve been working on something forever and it’s not going anywhere…just keep going. Keep living, keep reading, keep writing. You’ll get there.
Just, like, write something that has a plot. Trust me on that one.