Happy 69th birthday to Pete Townshend, and happy 57th birthday to my sweet character Fiona (née Baby) Ryan!
Carrie Butler, in celebration of her upcoming third blogoversary, is compiling a free e-book for writers just starting the journey to publication. It’s going to consist of letters from writers to their younger selves, featuring advice, lessons learnt, writing resources, decisions they’re glad to have made, etc. PK Hrezo will be the book’s co-compiler.
Dear 1980s Self,
It’s great that you’re always making new characters and stories, and you’re so lucky your family has a computer. Don’t ask what’s going to happen to all these picture books, stories, and novelettes you’re making during these formative writing years. Just know that the only character from these picture books and early stories who’s going to stick around is Henry Unicorn-Mitchell.
One day you’re going to shelve your 18th and 19th century characters, but over 20 years later, you’re going to be inspired to resurrect them and breathe new life into them. You might’ve been very young when you created them, but the fact that you never forget these people and their stories all these years shows what staying power a good idea can have. They were meant to be.
Dear Early 1990s Self,
These 1940s Atlantic City preteens you just created? They’ve got staying power. You’re going to grow up with them, and feel like you were born to write them. But you’re going to shelve your first series with them. It’s just not written very well. You need a lot more time with these people before they can develop into distinctive characters, with original storylines.
Your precious Samantha Smart also needs a serious character makeover. Right now she’s an annoying goody-goody and passive victim, and her mother is even more annoying. You’re going to discover that Sam just wants to be a normal kid deep down, but is scared to go against her fanatic, evil mother Urma. Urma meanwhile is destined to become the town psychopath and one of the villains you’re proudest of writing.
Also, you really need to work on creating a better 20th century historical voice. Your characters talk, think, act, and even dress like early 1990s American teens, NOT young people growing up in the 1940s. You’ve also got a bunch of other anachronisms, and need to show the historical setting beyond sporadic mentions of the War, rationing, and Frank Sinatra.
Dear 1993 Self,
Amy is not a Russian name. The Russian form of Amy is Lyubov, Lyuba for short. By the end of the year, you’re going to start realising she’s really in love with Ivan. It’s not just a matter of her starting to fall for him and realising she loves him more than Boris. She’s been in love with him since they met as children, and only pretended to prefer Boris for reasons too complex to get into here. This radical revision to your juvenile storyline is going to save this book’s ass and turn it into one of the things you’re proudest of having written.
You still need to work on a believable historical setting and voice. Your Russian characters in their late teens, in the late 1910s, talk and act like early 1990s American teens. It’s really embarrassing. They would’ve been considered adults by the standard of their era.
You’re not going to be published by the time you’re 15. Not even close.
Dear 2001 Self,
You were right to give up querying so quickly. Your Russian novel and your chronological first Atlantic City book are nowhere near ready for publication. They need quite a bit of edits and revisions. Only with more time, experience, and maturity will you come to discover how to fix them up. Your Russian novel most needs fixed in the original sections of the first six or seven chapters. It’ll need less radical revisions and deletions as it goes on. The Very First needs a more radical revision and restructuring. Seriously, there’s very little actual narrative right now. The way you’ve set it up is an awful gimmick that doesn’t work.
Dear 2011 Self,
Congratulations on finishing Little Ragdoll. It took a lot of hard work, and guts, to finally go back after 16.5 years and start all over again from scratch and memory. In a few months, you’re going to get one of the shocks of your life when you finally manage to open the first of the two files containing the original, discontinued first draft. It’s so awful, it needed to be started over. There was no way you could’ve salvaged the original by just writing around it.
I know you think you’re supposed to want to get an agent and go through querying, but that’s not really the best path for you. You only think you need an agent because you’re not yet seeing any other types of messages from the writing community. It’ll be a valuable learning experience, even if you won’t immediately discover you’re better-off going indie.
Good job on sticking with all these characters and stories, instead of feeling compelled to “move on” from what you created in youth. You write them so well as an adult because you’ve been with them through so much, and you matured together through the writing journey.
P.S. Sergey doesn’t deserve you. Dump the anti-kissing, walking DSM and his dysfunctional family, and find someone better. Maybe you’ll nab one of those much-younger guys you’ve always wanted.
Historical fiction author
*I give full permission for this post to be used in the ebook compilation without royalties and/or separate compensation.