Writing Resource

Prodigy ≠ Perseverance (the one about age)

“The One About Age…”

“How it feels to be an old fart among shooting stars.”

“Still or Sparkling, ma’am?”

I wasn’t sure what to call this post, to be honest. I’m not even sure how to start it without sounding like a pathetic, whiny bitch. So maybe I’ll just start out like that, like a pathetic and whiny bitch. It’s my birthday today, and I’m a Scorpio, and I know I’m not the only one who’s a whiny bitch, so let’s just go for it, yeah?

First off, you can’t measure hurt.

Hurt is hurt.

Everyone gets their say in what hurts them, and one hurt isn’t “worth more” than another.

This is my hurt; allow me to walk you through it…

In recent years, I’ve seen a lot of people write their first book, and then label it the book of their heart, after which they sign with their agent, believing 100% that their love for their book was what got them the agent. I’m not discrediting that—not discrediting them and their experience—but it took me five heart books to get an agent. Either I’m incapable of putting my heart in a book (which, fair, maybe I am), or perhaps writing a heart book isn’t a guarantee that you’ll get an agent.

In recent years, I’ve also seen young writers lamenting that their traditionally published books aren’t taken seriously by their peers and critics because they themselves are young. Once again, I’m not discrediting these experiences, and I shouldn’t, but I also can’t help but think that I worked on getting an agent for 10 years, which amounts to half the life of these young people. Maybe they’re not taken seriously—I’m not at liberty to judge that—but they do have an agent.

Bottom line: my experience is the direct opposite of the examples above.

I actually suspect that my side is the more common one, yet it’s the side that’s talked about the least—because who wants to be a horse when they can be a unicorn? So, please, allow me to talk about my life as a horse, here, at length, in the safe space I’ve created for myself and for you. Hopefully, I can do it justice. I’ll certainly try to do so, as best as I am able.

When I was 18, I swore to be agented by the time I was 21.

This was also around the time that I queried my first book.

We don’t talk about that 2012 book. Not even here. Sorry.

We’ll talk about the next book, though, 5 years later.

It was a SASE query, sent from Denmark to the US, and that was back in 2016. When I was 26. I’m not sure what I was thinking back then, both in terms of querying one of the first “real” books I’d written (fanfiction and half-finished original books notwithstanding), and in terms of sending a damned SASE from Denmark to the US, querying only one agent. Neil Gaiman’s agent, no less. Shoot for the stars, eh? More to the point, I probably wasn’t thinking. Probably didn’t know what to think, to be honest. I was young. I was Danish. I didn’t know how the American publishing industry worked. I barely knew how anything Danish truly worked.

I only had something I wanted, and I was trying to get it.

When I want to feel hard on myself, I imagine that agent (Neil Gaiman’s agent, my god, what was I thinking?) opening that envelope back in 2016 and… well, I don’t know what her reaction would be. I don’t know her, after all. Sometimes I picture laughter. Sometimes pity. Sometimes confusion. At my worst, I imagine ridicule. It really depends on my own mood at the time—but it’s an image I return to often when I need to not be positive. When I need to feel pain, only so I can cleanse myself of it afterwards. Just for five minutes. Or an hour. Or a whole day.

It’s a good image, in a way, and not one I’d want to live without.

Right, so, obviously, I didn’t get agented by 21.

And, so, I set a new goal: 25.

I wrote a new book. I queried that. It must’ve been in 2018 or thereabouts. I didn’t use SASEs this time, but I still didn’t know that I wasn’t supposed to attach files to query emails, so I bet a lot of queries never even reached agents for this particular book. Which, in hindsight, was a good thing since it was a book that definitely wasn’t for me to write. It was a cultural appropriation book. I know that now. And I’ll freely admit it, as I should. I’ll never write a book like that again because I know better now.

I did get one full request for that book, though, which was nice—because it gave me faith.

Faith that this could actually happen.

That I could get a foot in the door, you know?

Moving on, I obviously wasn’t agented with this book either.

And, so, I set a new goal: be agented by 30.

This was when I started to realize that storytelling and writing are two separate crafts—and that I was woefully ignorant when it came to storytelling. Maybe because I never had any formal education in creative writing. Maybe because I’m Danish, so my storytelling is different. Maybe because I had no IRL network to teach me about writing because I wrote in English, not Danish. There are many maybes. Either way, I decided to self-study. To read tons of English craft books. And I did. I read many craft books. And, more importantly, I built solid and trustworthy relationships with English-speaking critique partners and beta readers, found via social media, who helped me improve my craft as I helped them improve theirs. This might be a slight tangent here, but let me just quickly stress that we put so much pressure on mentorships these days that I feel like we often forget our peers are also our mentors. We learn from them, and they learn from us. At least in terms of craft, if not in terms of network.

And so I wrote a new book—and that one got requests.

Not many, but a few.

They all ended up as rejections.

So, I wrote another book. Again. And, just to clarify, I’ve written books that I’ve never queried, but these are not the books we’re talking about here. This book, however, was a better book. I was fully sure of that, and I still am. It’s stronger in craft, both in storytelling and in writing. Around that same time, I also landed a job teaching creative writing. But then the pandemic happened, and the publishing industry all but (reasonably!) collapsed, just like the rest of us. Which ultimately meant that most of my queries for this “better” book went unanswered (still are? I’m not even sure at this point?). I got zero full requests for that book. Basically, I regressed in the query trenches despite having a “better” book.

At this point in my journey, I would've ordinarily set a new goal.

Maybe something like “get agented by 35.”

But, you know what… fuck it. This was the point that I stopped. I realized that I wasn't not gonna be a prodigy story. I'm still not gonna be that. I’m gonna be a perseverance story instead. And it’s been hard to accept that, in this day and age, in this world. But I’m finally gonna damn well lean into it and be proud of my failures. I’ll write my next book, and my next book, and my next book, and you catch my drift.

I’m a better person now. I’m older. My books will reflect that. They will be better books than anything I could’ve written 10 years ago.

Others have it harder than me, for sure, but I can only speak for myself. And, in doing so, I hope some of the things I’ve said here can perhaps resonate with you.