How I wrote a novel in one day, then missed every opportunity to be a writer.

I was 17 years old, taking a year off from school, and saving up money for my cross-country Kerouacian adventure. It was morning when the Muses arrived, and I’d been nursing a personal theme for some time: normalcy. My life was not the typical teenage life. Not by any stretch of the imagination. There were things (things that are better saved for another post) that made me thankful I’d found like-minded non-conformists. So this theme of normalcy was a big one with me. I kept thinking, What does normalcy mean? Does it mean “ideal”? Or “popular”? Or “most statistically prevalent”? What are instances of it? Examples of it? How do you know when something is “normal”? What is the point of it? And what are its implications?

That morning, things just clicked. I sat up in bed, took out my laptop, and wrote 150 pages of fiction that described exactly how I felt on the subject of normalcy. I didn’t stop to eat (my dad brought up Chinese delivery and I typed while munching on dumplings and lo mein). I didn’t stop to sleep (my mind was racing at the speed of thought and I couldn’t let that go to waste). I didn’t even procrastinate. Not one bit. No checking email. No talking on the phone. No cleaning or reading or texting or masturbating. Looking back, it’s really clear to me that I had a single purpose that day: to write that book from beginning to end.

That was in the heady days of budding romance. Writing and I had been seeing each other on and off for as long as I could remember, but somehow, at that exact moment in time, it was different. We had found in each other exactly what we needed.

The rest of the day is a blur. This is what I remember: sitting in bed, typing up a storm, and stopping only to write out notes on a sheet of loose leaf. The notes were a vague outline of the oncoming chapters. I would write out questions, and the plot of a chapter would answer that question. Sometimes, entire summaries of chapters were dozens and dozens of questions: What outfit would show female superiority, without seeming cliche? How topical is the subject? Will readers understand the political reference years from now?

I don’t remember how long it took, exactly, but I know that by the time the day was over, I had a book, Beautiful Prison. I decided to let the book stew in its juices for a while, so that I could clear my head before revising it. Then I saw an ad in Poets & Writers Magazine: a small, independent press was looking for submissions. I knew I should let my thoughts marinate, and then slice them and plate them accordingly, but I felt a tickle in the back of my throat. I wrote a query letter and a promotions proposal, and sent it out along with the first 50 pages of my manuscript. I figured the worst that could happen was that my submission would be lost amongst a sea of other projects.

A few months later, I got an email declaring interest in my writing and requesting that I send the rest of the manuscript. Then shortly thereafter, I got a string of emails, telling me how interested they were in my work, asking me to meet, then finally telling me they were going bankrupt and therefore couldn’t publish my book after all. I was disappointed, but I was also 17 years old and not entirely sure the book was worth publishing yet.

I parlayed that manuscript, the next one, and my subsequent experiences with the literary world into a dozen important relationships with writers, journalists, editors, and publishers. I was the only teenager I knew of with an “editor” friend that contributed to Vogue magazine and helped me polish my work. Published novelists had faith in my talent. Writer-friends gifted me with amazing opportunities for bylines and projects.

And I wasted all of it.

I was too busy dreaming, and too afraid to fail. So I wrote, sure. But I never took advantage of any of these amazing opportunities. Actually, I fucked up a bunch of them. People asked me to edit anthologies, work at big publishing houses, contribute to glossy magazines and chic websites, and meet literary big shots – and each time, I faltered. I flaked. I failed. Miserably. Maybe I just wasn’t ready to take that leap of faith in my talent. Maybe I felt I didn’t deserve any of these opportunities. Maybe I was too young and stupid and naive. Like everything else in my life, the promise of literary success came too quickly and too easily, so I misinterpreted the implications of those opportunities.

Now I’m older and wiser, and more hungry. I’m working around the clock to fulfill this dream of mine, and I’m hoping that time has withered the memory some of these people might have of me. Maybe they’ll understand what I was going through, or maybe they won’t remember me at all, or maybe they don’t care enough for my past mistakes to matter. Anyway, this time around, I’m making it count. Here’s hoping the writing gods like to give out second chances.


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