Dear Adolescent Unpublished Me,
You have just submitted your first manuscript to a real life publisher, and you’re high on possibility.
You spent your summer holidays in your bedroom, transcribing the hand-written first draft on an ancient Remington Steele typewriter, letter by agonising letter: bang, bang, bang, punctuated by the steely zing of the carriage return at the end of each line. Your fingers ached from punching the stiff keys, but you persevered, spurred by that sinewy current of hope that’s already twisting and growing throughout your body.
You will become addicted to that hope.
It consumes you, the idea that the publisher will soon send you a letter offering to publish your book, 32 Horse Street, about a girl who (spoiler alert) achieves her dream of becoming an Olympic equestrian rider.
The rejection, when it arrives, is kind, praising your imagination and encouraging you to keep writing (they know how young you are, because you told them in your cover letter, sure they would be impressed by your abundance of talent at such a tender age).
Of course you knew, deep down, that the story wasn’t good. Back then you didn’t have words for its flaws, but you knew they were there. You are disappointed, but you can’t stop now, not when you’ve already got another story in your head. You try again, write something better, spending your lunch hours in the school computer room, saving individual chapters on a stack of floppy disks until you’re done.
Another rejection, and the doubt starts to trickle in. The suspicion: maybe you’re not actually good at this. Maybe you don’t have what it takes.
I’m sorry to say that this feeling will always be there. It will live inside you, gnawing at your confidence, swallowing your inspiration and enthusiasm. For years, you won’t write anything.
But that won’t be the end, because that spark never really went away. You’ll go to uni, and you’ll discover that you’re both a better and worse writer than you’d believed. The creative writing courses will fan that spark into a flame, then into a bonfire. You will have short stories published in a uni anthology, and at the launch a creative writing professor will single you out in his speech: She’s a writer to look out for.
Even fourteen years after that speech, you will never forget how those words made you feel.
You will complete your first full-length manuscript. It will be commended in an unpublished manuscript award, and you will believe you are only a step away from publication.
You will win a place on the Hachette/Queensland Writers’ Centre Manuscript Development Program. The experience will be life-changing. You will come away from the retreat bitterly disappointed at the knowledge that the manuscript will never be published—and yet you will be more inspired than ever.
By now you will have another completed manuscript, and this one will earn you representation from a literary agent. Again, you are sure this will be your big break. You are so achingly close to achieving your dream, and yet it always seems to be hidden around a corner that you never quite reach.
You will learn that some steps are sideways rather than forwards, but at the time it will feel like you’re going backwards. You will learn to keep trying, to keep getting better.
One day, you will have a new idea, and this one will feel significant in a way none of your others have. It will come from a personal place. It will be painful to write, and just as you’re making some headway, you will lose your agent and be back to square one.
By now you will have a family, and finding time and energy to devote to writing seems impossible. Then one day, you receive the email.
The one that tells you that you’re going to be an author.
It won’t be for the book you were hinging all your hopes on. And it won’t be much of a success. But it will pave the way for that special book to be published, the one you poured your soul into.
You will learn that being published is nothing like what you expected it to be. You’ll learn to celebrate the good reviews, to live with the bad ones, and to allow the self-doubt to co-exist with the exhilaration.
You’ll learn that your best writing comes from a place of anger, and you’ll find ways to take that anger and turn your words into weapons. You will learn that, while you live for the highs of being published, it’s the writing that brings you the most joy.
You’ll learn, once and for all, that you are a writer.
And you will learn to never, ever put the word ‘final’ in a file name.
Rebecca Freeborn lives in the beautiful Adelaide Hills with a husband, three kids, a dog, a cat, a horse, more books than she can fit in her bookcase and an ever-diminishing wine collection. She works as a communications and content editor for the South Australian Government where she screams into the void against passive voice and unnecessary capitalisation. She writes before the sun comes up and spends her moments of spare time reading novels and feminist articles and compulsively checking Facebook.
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