Updated: Mar 29, 2020
I vividly remember 2014.
I believe of all my life, it was the year things most vaguely started looking up. I was in tenth grade at the time. All my friends and classmates up to that point knew I was a writer. Even more kids knew I was an incredible artist for my age. The question I was most frequently asked--because most also knew I had life-long book projects--was if I would illustrate my books.
My answer was always no.
And I think as an artist, and if you are also a fellow artist, we can agree that we don't look fondly on our own work.
In 2014, I was encouraged to take Advanced Writing. Come to think about it again, I actually opted out of it for an AP Biology class instead. I think all my life I tried to refuse my calling in a sense. It lasted all of a week. I strolled into Advanced Writing the next Monday, head down, the class already half through an assignment, and reluctantly admitted to everyone that I should have been there from the start.
The teacher, Mrs. S (who had also taught me in fourth, fifth, seventh, and eight grades if I recall right) watched me grow my abilities from the start. I'd attended her writing clubs as often as I could.
She only laughed when I walked in. She'd known it wouldn't be long.
In fact, I have an email she sent me in 2011 pinned to the wall behind my desk with her small encouragement she gave me on a very poorly written novella I wrote and completed back then. She told me three things in that email--that I had a God-given talent for creating characters, writing strong dialogue, and taking risks that gave my work a poetic quality at times.
She later in our Advanced Writing class told us to always know three things about our work--three things that we knew for a fact.
These are three things I know for a fact:
1.) I create incredible characters. It has always, always been my strong suit.
2.) My dialogue is phenomenal.
3.) The world I create in my writing, though fantasy, can captivate any reader.
I learned many things from Mrs. S's class. The first one was confidence in my ability.
The next things I learned from her class define the driven, ambitious person I am today.
For our second semester final, we had a mock Writers' Conference. This was the most nerve wracking, stressful, wonderfully fun final I had ever taken.
I remember going numb when Mrs. S explained what we'd do. We'd studied how to pursue publishing up to that point so our assignment consisted of brainstorming the premise of a book. We wrote the first sample chapter, created a one-sheet, a business card, and had an elevator pitch ready to go. We had to show up early to class. We knew the mock "literary agents." I tried to aim for Mrs. S's sister--my English teacher at the time--who I did not end up making the list for. Instead, I signed up for Mrs. S's husband. (Mrs. S's list was full by then and I had no other option.)
Understand that when you search for a literary agent in the publishing world, it's best to go after the ones who like your genre. Her husband's list of work he was interested in was not at all like my brainstormed book.
My nerves skyrocketed.
I was almost sure I'd fail the final.
There were about nine students and three "literary agents." We all did this simultaneously, one-on-one with the agents we'd signed up for. It was noisy, cluttered, and frantic. I couldn't hear myself think. I shook like a leaf the whole time. I kept thinking to myself, "How do I get this guy to like my stuff? Fantasy was what he stated he didn't like."
The one takeaway I learned from him was worldbuilding. The questions he asked me then are questions I still ask myself to this day to make sure I'm on the right track.
We all passed with flying colors. Though, if it had been the real thing, it would have ruined me I think.
Well, the next most important thing I learned in life came from my best friend.
"You're charming. Just go in there and kill it," she told me once.
And even on the days I don't believe it, this became my go-to.
So this was the class I learned everything from. I learned joy and pain from Mrs. S and her sister. I learned the craft; I learned the strategy; I grew a thick skin. I learned how to be ruthless in my own work and that if I write a shitty first draft--rest assured I've written countless--I can go back, work harder, and be confident of the finished product.
Many of the other things, I learned from my best friend mentioned above. Together we wrote endless works. I finished a lot of them, and I think she often got too annoyed at my over-the-top motivation to become an author. Growing up with her, I learned how to pour my heart and soul into something, and I think that alone is the single most important thing an artist can do.
How does that all affect me now, you ask?
Now, I've become confident in my art, for starters. I will illustrate my book series.
I'm taking on my first Writers' Conference this year in Orlando, Florida.
I've set my goals. I'm following them through, even on the bad days. I'm still failing. I'm still learning. I'm still growing.
In 2018, I set my goal to be published by 2020.
So that's my goal.