Everyone remembers the first time they wrote a book. I’m not talking about writing you publish, I’m talking about the first time you put words to paper and dared to call it a “book.” My first book was written when I was in third grade.
The assignment was, quite simply, to write a book. If I remember correctly, the entire school was taking part, and it was some kind of a contest, with each grade having a winner. I used to regularly get sick back in those days; I was a shy, nervous kid who would later be diagnosed with an ulcer at age eleven. So for some reason, I missed like a week of school right around the time the books were being finished and judged, and by the time I got back, it was over. But the teacher wanted me to complete the assignment because it was also being graded. So I set about to write my “book.”
Now here’s where I should explain how dodgy I could be as a child. I was one of those “what’s the easiest way to do this and get it over with” kind of kids. And I already knew that the winner in our grade, a red-headed boy with freckles named Patrick who I had a crush on, had written a book about a horse. So that settled it. My first book was titled, “I Want a Horse.” Pretty much to the point. The whole thing was maybe five pages long, and the “plot” was about how I wanted a horse. Period. I don’t even remember if I got the horse in the end. We had to illustrate it too, so I drew some pretty horrible pictures of what was supposed to be a horse on every page.
I didn’t win, and I can’t remember what grade I got, but it was probably my usual C-.
The book obviously sucked and wasn’t my best effort (because I put no effort into it after all), and worse, I basically plagiarized the idea from another writer. I didn’t attempt another “book” until I was eleven, which is when my “career” truly began. The book I wrote at eleven was actually my own idea, and I was excited to write it, and my friends read it and loved it. I was hooked.
I think too many times we feel like we have to write what everyone else is writing. Because those people are getting reads. But when we do that, we forget to listen to the most important person – ourselves! Trust me, if YOU are not happy with what you are writing, if you are not super passionate about the idea and especially the characters, you will end up like everyone else. And where’s the fun in that?? I don’t want to write like Danielle Steele or Jackie Collins (as if I could!) Or write that romance about that perfect girl who meets this hunky guy and does whatever they do in nearly every other book I’ve read. Or write that horror story where in the end it all works out and everyone’s happy and safe. No, I want to write the book that sounds good to ME, with an idea that speaks to me and wasn’t taken from anyone else. I want to write the story differently, show the character’s flaws, and make them HUMAN.
Don’t be afraid to take chances with your writing. Don’t just copy that boring horse story or idea from another writer because it’s been DONE a zillion times. Make your main character a bitch who likes to swear and sleep around. Make her love interest a complete jerk with a lovable side that he only shows to her. Give your married couple’s relationship FLAWS – have one of them sleep around and then be forgiven. Write about sex – yes, it does happen after all. Let your characters feel lust and anger and jealousy and sometimes let them be great big douches. It’s OKAY!
I failed big time with that first story in third grade. I didn’t try, I just wanted to get it over with, and I stole another kid’s idea. It wasn’t fun for me. The fun came later when I discovered you could write and have fun while doing it, so long as you let yourself be YOU. It’s probably one of the most valuable lessons I’ve ever learned.