“Write what you think you can’t.”
~M. T. Anderson
In Fifth grade, when we were asked to write short stories, I wrote a novel. My amazing teacher, Ms. Mitchell, even typed up my stack of handwritten pages and let me read passages to the class. It was called Unicorn Valley, involved a Narnia-like passage into a mystical realm, was never finished, and is probably still living in my basement storage room somewhere.
In middle school and high school, I couldn’t seem to find that kind of time again, but I did stash a lot of first chapters on our family’s word processor whenever novel ideas rattled around in my head. (Most of those chapters died along with floppy drives as technology changed, proving there’s still something to be said for hard copies.) I also wrote almost daily in a journal, which was possibly the best writing teacher a teenager could have had.
In college, I majored in English teaching and learned some nuances of writing, like intentional fragments. I also read and discussed incredible books that taught me a lot about beautiful literature.
In grad school, fate aligned in a peculiar way: I didn’t get the job I wanted. That left an opening in my schedule, and Louise Plummer was teaching a young adult novel-writing class at that time, and suddenly I decided to emphasize in creative writing.
My thesis was a young adult novel called Revealing Cupid, later retitled And Gazes on the Stars, based on the myth of Cupid and Psyche. Having it bound like a real book and sitting on a university library shelf is pretty cool, even if it’s still double-spaced on 8.5×11″ pages. I reworked it a bit after graduation and sent it to a few agents and got some feedback, but overall the shelf is a pretty good place for it. It taught me a lot about writing a complete novel, but it wasn’t the greatest thing ever.
The manuscript I’ve recently completed and do think is the greatest thing ever is called Say Quick. It’s a contemporary retelling of Peter Pan involving a meddling universe, a peevish fairy, and five teens running away from growing up. You’ll find plenty of blog posts on this site describing the ups and downs of that extremely long adventure (the working title was Wendy and the Lost Boys), but what fascinates me the most looking back is how the story wanted to be found and patiently waited for me to figure it out.
I love the M. T. Anderson quote “Write what you think you can’t” because that’s how novels have felt to me. With Say Quick, the manuscript kept demanding more and more from me, and I thought, “This is insane! I can’t write this complex of a book.” In some ways I really couldn’t—until the universe dragged me through dark periods that taught me what I needed to understand about the human condition. Some of those dark periods broke me, making it impossible to write for too many months at a time in 2020 and 2021, until Charlie Jane Anders got me back on my keyboard with her book Never Say You Can’t Survive. As I penned my dedication page, I recalled the years and tears of writing and life experience that were prerequisites to completing this novel, and I summed it up like this:
To the universe, with both a middle finger and begrudging thanks for all your pranks.
(Updated 28 Mar 2022)