A few years ago, my mom found an old composition notebook of mine from when I was a wee tike. In it, there was one entry that struck her. It said something like: “Meghan (my sister) says if I try hard one day I might write good.” Even little me knew that I wanted to be a novelist. The phases of me wanting to be a pediatrician, an architect, a buyer / business lady wouldn’t last. What parent wouldn’t be proud of their kid throwing away money and stability for books and an inevitable prescription for glasses?
Well, my mom was thrilled. She had read every crappy novel I ever wrote, and she was still like, “Go, Sydney! Live your dream!”
And I believe that she was right to do so. I’ve come a long, long way. It’s a history I’m both mortified and thrilled to share. So, here goes:
It all began a long time ago with a fantasy novel I wrote and re-wrote a few times before finishing. It’s called Sarma. The first line was: “The rain soaked my auburn hair, and the tiny droplets of water destroyed my fabulous silk robes.” Yikes. A little melodramatic, and not very original or interesting. But hey, at least I didn’t write a character exactly like me. Auburn hair and fab silk robes? That ain’t me.
When I was 13, I was still a little stuck. In a book labeled “Love Story 2009,” we get: “The raindrops were like bullets ricocheting off the mansions rooftop.” Rain again? This was also back when I was thinking, “wow love stories are the way to go.”
The same year I decided to write something called To the Stars With Difficulty (who knows why that title) and I diverged from the rain trope, electing to go with: “My name is Cadence, Cadence Morgan Foxwood.” While I admit that’s a great name, it’s no call to read. There’s nothing at stake. What’s to separate Cadence Foxwood from Alex Chase? Carmody Evans? She might as well be Jane Doe. Jane Doe might even be more interesting.
’09 must have been a big year for me because I also started a project called Dreamweaver. “The Suburban street flashed by outside the car window, and I ducked down, out of sight, from the children playing foolish games like street hockey and tag.” Oh those hooligans! Playing street hockey? And tag? The nerve! I think it’s obvious that teenage me had some angst and wasn’t the most social creature (I mean, I wrote the greater part of three books that year).
The next year brought even more angst. The Shoes of Jennifer Satchet began a little like “Junior year is not something worth looking forward to.” Poor young Sydney. She was only a freshman and already dreading junior year. I still couldn’t separate my emotions from my writing and couldn’t put myself in the mind of other people.
And there’s a whole era of these self-obsessed, cliché, trite, boring, bored, depressed, self-loathing novels. There’s With Yet Stronger Reason, which I’m pretty sure is about this time-traveller dude who is miserable and depressed until he meets this chick Misty. Boring.
BOOK – MUSIC is about two musicians at a highly competitive school being depressed together. And somehow learning the Japanese language is involved.
WALKING BOOK is something about how King Aldrous the Mighty (yeah, that’s right) was an asshole and these people became outcasts in society.
But then there’s a breakthrough. I never titled this one, but it’s called “humanoids, dystopia novel,” and I started it in 2011 when I was 16.
“I remember my father telling me we had all but won.” That’s not half bad. So they lost? Lost what? Why did your dad tell you that? What’s the story? It evokes some curiosity, it has nothing to do with my little teenage life, it doesn’t involve rain or being depressed, and I had finally written a strong main character who wasn’t sad all the time. But more importantly, I found my aesthetic: social commentary. ‘Humanoids, dystopia novel’ is about different species of human emerging over time and how they are discriminated and hunted by the regular humans. So yeah, still a little angsty, but it was a direct commentary on things I was seeing in the world. Things I wanted to create a conversation about. Break. Through.
I took a hiatus for a little bit, but I came back strong with the next book. This project turned into a trilogy. And I actually finished every single one.
The Garden of Eden: The prologue begins “The Earth is, or was, or was meant to be, paradise.” (Ooh what does that mean?) And chapter one starts with some anonymous narrator asking, “Can I show you something?”
The Earth King: “It was said that the valley below the escarpment was something truly beautiful.”
The Man and His Star: “Men would later say that there was a first cause to the universe.”
Getting better, right?
I’m now writing my thesis, which is a novel. Its prologue starts, “His fingers snapped, crisply popping, though it felt more like metal kernels of popcorn exploding through the joints in his hand.” I admit this was not the original first line because even that was bad. In fact, chapter one became chapter two, and then I still decided to add a prologue to bury the original first sentence. It goes to show that writing is this constantly evolving process that’s never really finished or perfect.
I’m already writing ahead, trying to figure out what my next book will be, because what looking back at these crappy first lines tells me is that I’m growing exponentially. I’m growing so fast that I can’t even finish a book before outgrowing the beginning.
It’s important to look at this hilarious progression of first-sentences. It’s important to remember how bad you were once but that hard work pays off. Great writers don’t become that way overnight.