Is it good enough? Would it be perfect?: Thirteen Rules of Writing- by Amanda Beres

Whenever I think of writing, I think of teenagers or middle schoolers. Perhaps this is because that is around the time I fell in love with writing. Perhaps it’s because most protagonists I’ve seen in books are teenagers. I was ten years old, in fifth grade, and writing poems in my notebook where notes should have been. The same thing continued to happen until eighth grade when I was introduced to short story writing. Mr. Helm, my eighth-grade English teacher,assigned a short story. I wrote a short story called the Power of the Wings. The class was told to write mythology and the only rules were there had to be a hero and a villain. The rest could be constructed however you desired, and I desired fairies that could travel between realms. There were only two realms in my story, Earth, where humans lived, and June Empire, where fairies lived. June Empire was very similar to Earth except it had the added element of magic which was present in everything. Of course, the main protagonist was a teenager just entering high school, as most of my main characters today are as well, though I couldn’t tell you why. I’ve just always been drawn to characters of self-discovery and journey.

Rule #1- Find a story in your head, and write it down.

Writing the story I became worried, wondering if it was good enough. I had built my characters using the character sheet, I had built my plot outline, and I had built each scene into my story how I saw fit. My villain and heroine (I’ve always been drawn to strong, independent, female characters as well, most of my stories have women at the center) were crafted to perfection after weeks of planning everything out. But was it good enough for Mr. Helm? Would it be perfect? Looking back, it was almost as if waiting to hear back from a publisher about whether or not they will publish your book. Will the publishing company accept it? Is my book good enough? Is it well-written? Is it done to the best of my abilities? Is it good enough for Mr. Helm? Would it be perfect? According to the grade I got back, 98, it was good enough. That story and that grade showed me that not only do I love writing (remember the notebooks filled with poems not class notes?) but that I could write and write well. `I still wasn’t sold on the whole author idea yet, that wouldn’t happen for another year, but it was a start.

Rule #2- The number one enemy of writing is ‘What if…?’

My mom introduced me to the magazine Teen Ink, a magazine that published only teenagers’ poetry, short stories, and photography. I started reading some of it and became interested. I had so many poems in my notebooks and so many short story ideas that I thought maybe I should submit something. But I was too nervous for a while. What if no one likes my poem? What if my no like what I have to say? What if…What if…What if?

Rule #3- Put your work out there.

My mom finally convinced me and I started submitting to the magazine. I started with one poem, then another, then another, then another until had about five submitted in one day! I became anxious. Once again those thoughts. Is it good enough for Teen Ink? Would it be perfect? I know it was just a teen magazine, mostly online, and that getting my poems on the website really would never impact my future but I still wondered. Will my poems be published? Will my work be seen by my peers? Did I write well enough to make it here on this platform? Can I do this? Is it good enough for Teen Ink? Would it be perfect? Once again, my poems were good enough. All the poems I submitted from fourteen to seventeen were put up online and one even into their print magazine. This proved to me I could get published. But it also got me thinking, what is being published?

Rule # 4-  To be a writer you must learn how to be everything.

In ninth grade, once again Mr. Helm was my English teacher, and once again he assigned us a short story. I honestly forgot what that one was about, but I know I did well on it. But knowing I did well on the short story the previous year did nothing to calm my nerves. Once again my story had a young woman at the center and was set in a fantasy realm. I remember just having watched the movie The NeverEnding Story and being inspired by it. I seem to be inspired by odd things, that maybe aren’t so odd, weird pieces of art, any type of fantasy novel or poetry filled with
humor with no depth to it you can overtly see. I began writing a story inspired by The Never Ending Story, hating, scraping the whole idea, and restarting. I knew it was going to be harder than eighth grades short story to write this one. I didn’t want to do fairies again, but I still wanted fantasy. I couldn’t copy another, that wouldn’t have been original. I was determined to find the right story and wait until it came. So I waited and waited for what felt like days on end, but in reality was probably one whole day, maybe less, for inspiration to strike. And then it did! Once it
did my fingers started itching to type or to hold a pen and notebook and just write. I had to get the story out! And finally, I did. But the same questions plagued me, the same what-ifs, the same doubts. I had built my characters using the character sheet, I had built my plot outline, and I had built each scene into my story how I saw fit. My villain and heroine were crafted to perfection after weeks of planning everything out. But was it good enough for Mr. Helm? Would it be perfect? Once again, my story was good enough. I don’t remember the grade, only that it was good. By now I had been published in the online magazine Teen Ink and had written two of what I thought were good stories and had been prophesied over that I would write books that would help people. It’s safe to say that by now, I wanted to be an author of fantasy novels. I wanted to be the next J.K. Rowling.

Rule # 5- Being inspired is great, but don’t try to write like anyone but yourself.

I wanted to be the next J.K. Rowling, but at some point I came to the realization that I couldn’t be. There already was a J.K. Rowling and I wasn’t her. She had written an incredible story and become a world phenomenon. Harry Potter was a huge success and everyone would come to know his name. I thought maybe I could next J.R.R. Tolkien or C.S. Lewis writing the next great Christian fiction and fantasy novels. But once I realized that would be impossible. There was no way I could do it! They had written some of my favorite novels, Lord of the Rings and The Chronicles of Narnia, but those stories were not mine. I had to realize that my stories had to be my own. My stories could be inspired by those whose works I’ve come to love, but I could never be the next “whoever it is”. No, I had to be the first me. Except in high school, I had no idea who I was, but I was slowly discovering in part due to writing.

Rule # 6- Know when to put the pen down.

For a few years after my second short story in ninth grade, I stopped my creative writing. There were no short stories and a few poems here and there but no deep writing. I continued to submit to Teen Ink but it was only one or two poems. I began to feel ashamed. I wasn’t reading or writing as much as I wanted, and I wasn’t involved with it as much as I wanted. Everything felt disconnected and out of place and all because I wasn’t working on what I was meant to do. But while I put the pen down I discovered something else I enjoyed: editing. I loved getting other people’s short stories and papers to read a tear-apart. Whenever someone gave me a paper to edit, it would always return to them in shreds. There would be strips of commas and misspellings strewn across the floor at the dining room table. The ink from the pen flowed like a river gushing over run-on sentences. I would then help piece it back together so that when whoever gave it to me turned in the assignment, it shined like a sun. I love writing, but I also love editing. Sometimes, I’m glad for the excruciating pain of not writing.

Rule # 7- To write a story, you must hold a whole world in your head.

Through freshman and sophomore years of college I was writing again! Short stories, poems, all that jazz. I was loving it! The stories at first aren’t great, but what do you expect after three years of not writing? Still, I gave it my best and picked up the pen again. I relished in the writing. The stories that flooded my head was about a girl who could control lightning. The story was about a girl who fought off dangerous sea creatures to save her friend. The story is about a dance studio built near ancient Faerie land in Ireland. While writing these stories, I also analyzed and edited stories written by my peers and stories that were assigned. It forced me to look at the underbelly of the writing process and tear apart every last bit of the beast. I relished it. The sweet frustration of writing combined with the excruciating pain of not writing made for the perfect scenario to develop a love of creation. I started developing magic systems and worlds and characters and landscapes and it was incredible. Creating a masterpiece of words that had bled ink from my soul was wondrous.There were magic and Tidekin and wonder and mystery and clans and different realms and Faeries and dancing and waterfalls and secrets and iron bands and, and, and, it flowed from my
mind, into my heart, through my arms, into my hand, and poured from my pen. It was a sense of rejuvenation! To put into words a place and friends you had never seen but knew extremely well was invigorating. I felt my writer-self breaking free from its prison.

Rule # 8- It’s okay not to know.

But each time I wrote a story, I had the same doubts. Is it good enough for my professors? Would it be perfect? I became so worried about this, that I would stop writing. Perhaps it’s why I hadn’t written in two years, when I put down the pen I was too nervous to pick it back up. What if…what if…what if… kept playing in my head like a broken record, scratching, loud and uncomfortable. Soon, it became so much that I screamed enough, and sat down and started writing. I was sixteen and while I wasn’t creating worlds yet I was making my voice heard. I wrote down my thoughts and handed them to my church’s newsletter. Once again I was published, but it was an article rather than a short story. It felt strange the first time out. I slowly slipped into this new process of writing which is different from the creative writing process. In one you know all the details, in the other you know nothing. I began wondering if could I write articles. Were the articles good enough? I stopped myself. It wouldn’t do me any good to worry while I waited. Once again, the articles were good enough, they were out in my church’s newsletter and I had begun branching out to topical writing. So then I turned my mind to another question, one I had asked when I was fourteen. One I continue to ask today. What is publishing? What is it to be published?

Rule # 9- Being published is not the goal.

I started to become infatuated with the idea of being published. I wanted it, wanted to be recognized as a great author, a great writer. Being published would determine if I was worthy of the title writer. I didn’t know when it would happen, as none of us know what will happen in our lives, I just knew it had to happen. Unawares to me did I know it already had. Published in Teen Ink and published in my church’s newsletter! That was my audience at the time and that was who I had written and published for. I know now it is a great achievement, but at the time (and to this day) I desired more. So I set out to be the next J.K. Rowling or the next J.R.R. Tolkien and realized that wouldn’t work. So I set out to write articles for the newsletter but I wasn’t creative. So I set out to write in my notebooks at school again but that wasn’t permanent and was never seen. So what was I to do? All my options it seemed had been exhausted for ways I could be published as a teenager. Sure, I gave my family framed poems and stories as Christmas and birthday gifts but what did that matter? Sure they always told me they loved it, that it was beautiful and well-written, and that I was furthering my calling, but what did that matter? I was not published. I was not a writer. Or so my early teenage self thought.

Rule #10- Just write.

I have been writing forever, it is something I have always enjoyed. But it was not until I was close to sixteen I started calling myself a writer. Publishing was at the forefront of my mind. I had to be published, I had to be! It was necessary to be a writer. And then one day I heard it, saw it! I forget where or from who, but those words have stayed with me. It doesn’t matter if you’re an author or not. If you write, you’re a writer. I have clung to these words time and time again. The finish line is not receiving a yes to publication. It is being drawn into the filth that is corporations. It is selling out so you may have a piece of your soul on display. No, the finish line is finishing your story, poem, book, or article. The end goal is to write and by writing daily, be a writer. This is what I strive for now. I still hear the word echo in my head, wondering if what I have written will be good enough. If it will be perfect. I cannot answer that. Perhaps those words will always be there, but at least I know who to ask now.

Rule #11- Do it for yourself, no one else. It’s your story.

It is hard to not have doubts in my writing. I cannot escape-they are a black hole of sickening rightness and wrongness, sweet at first, then patronizing. They repeat the same vulgar sentences with the same vulgar essence that makes my stomach twist. Have you written your best? Will you ever make it? Will you ever be recognized? What’s more important being recognized or being published? Is it good enough? Will it be perfect? It’s beyond frustrating to
be a writer. It’s painful and soothing and hard and easy and it’s important and just is and it’s the same and it’s unique, all at the same time! Your head begins to spin and spin, swirling, and there’s an enormous sea of words until you land on the perfect story, the perfect poem, or the perfect article. And then you still ask is it good enough? Will it be perfect? The key is to not listen to those doubts until you are ready. When you are and the swirling and spinning have stopped, they will guide instead of frustrate. I have learned that these questions must be directed toward
frustration to avoid becoming nervous and stopping altogether. They must be directed to me. I have the final say when it’s finished. I have the final say in the plotline of the story. I have the final say in the language used in the story. All the publishers can say is whether or not they’ll publish my story. They have the first say in distribution, but they should never get the final say in anything. And if they already have the first say in distribution, why should they have the first say in my doubts, worries, and overthinking?

Rule #12 – Make sure you have support.

In all this talk on writing and publishing and how frustrating and invigorating it can be, I say get published! Find a writing community to get involved in! Find a peer editor! Find yours in the publishing world! It can be nitty-gritty and it can be political and it can be messy and it can but ugly but it will give you support. You’ll know you have someone backing you up, even if it’s only the teen magazine you’ve been submitting to since you were fourteen. Even if it’s only some articles in your church’s newsletter. Even if it’s only a collection of your poems and stories given to the family for Christmas. Even if it’s only asking friends to look over your work to catch your mistakes and anything that doesn’t flow well. Make sure you’re always writing to be to a writer. Even if your first story was in eighth grade. Even if you haven’t written in a few years. Even if your writing never sees the light of day. Even if you aren’t sure where the story is going. Even if you are scared to create a world from nothing. Write! Publish! Be strong and courageous with the pen as if you were heading into battle. The war is over, the story is being told and the prize is publication. Even if publication means only showing it to those in your closest, most inner circle.

Rule# 13: The rules listed need not be followed in any order. In fact, they need not be followed at all.

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