Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Ten Years Ago...

Ten years ago, I knew I wanted to be a novelist but I had never written anything even close to 100 pages long.

Then I wrote a 164 page creative thesis. After that, I decided High Fantasy wasn't really what I was meant to write despite reading it for so many years.

My next novel featured a twenty-three-year-old blogger named Paige, her younger sister Rory, and a foxy Fae named Adder Whitethorn. It was (gulp) 329 pages long.

I scrapped it and started again, completely rewriting everything but keeping the central characters and changing Paige's name to Maggie. It was 268 pages long. Then I rewrote it a few more times. Maggie grew five years older and slightly more jaded and bitter. Rory dropped out of most of the story because following both sisters on their parallel adventures just wasn't working.

Unfortunately Charlie, the kindly statue without a heart, did not survive. Don't worry, he's still out there, patiently awaiting his story.

And then, last year, after some wonderful advice and much thought, I decided to rewrite it again, almost entirely from scratch. Maggie dropped back down to 17 and wasn't quite so jaded anymore. Rory grew into the older sister. Adder continued goblin wrestling. Maggie continued blogging. I realized that the story had to be told in first person. Several voices were silenced.

Ten years ago, I wouldn't have been able to write the novel I'm writing. I knew how to immitate the sound of a novel, but I had no idea how to give it a heart. I'm still learning, but my current draft is 194 pages and counting.

And it's the best version yet.

Ten years ago, I had never lived in a city or even slept in one overnight. Ever. Since then I've lived in Stirling, Scotland (okay not exactly an overwhelming metropolis, but it has public transportation and it sure felt big to me at the time) and Boston.

Ten years ago, I had never left the country. Since then I've traveled to Scotland four times with a quick detour in Ireland. And yes, I do realize that next time I can afford to leave the country, I absolutely must go somewhere else. But it's so hard when I love Scotland so much.

Ten years ago, I thought I might want to work in publishing. When I graduated college, I elbowed my way through the door as an administrative assistant and was promoted to an editorial assistant position working on the bestselling grammar handbooks in the country.

I still don't think I'm all that good with grammar, but I'm a lot better than I used to be. And now I know how to use the Chicago Manual of Style, the MLA, and any grammar handbook you can throw at me. Just...don't test me, okay? Surprisingly, hunting down the answers to obscure grammar questions is not as fun as it sounds.

Ten years ago, I'd never had a boyfriend. Now I've been married for six years.

Ten years ago, I'd never been to a wedding reception. It turned out that the first one I attended was my own.

Ten years ago, the sickest I'd ever been was when I got pneumonia in sixth grade for two weeks. Then I got mono and was sick for four months. YES, I BROUGHT IT UP AGAIN. (Fine, I won't talk about my pee this time. I'll spare you that, at least.) And I learned that sometimes being married means relying entirely on your partner while looking the grossest you've ever looked in your life.

Ten years ago, I had never hurt my body. Then I messed up my wrist (paste's a textbook publishing thing), ankle (a jump rope aerobics certification class. I should have stopped at kickboxing), and knee (turns out sometimes if you ignore something, it doesn't go away. It gets worse). I couldn't do much of anything for several years and I hated my body for giving up on me so soon.

Slowly, I worked my way back to healthy. Now I'm taking the same kickboxing class I took exactly ten years ago and I'm much kinder to my body. Also I don't use scissors. Scissors are evil.

Ten years ago, I had just started taking kickboxing classes. Since then I've become a certified instructor and I've taught classes from 5 - 100 people at Bates College, Boston, and Vermont.

Ten years ago, I had never been a permanent resident of any state except Connecticut. Since then I've lived in Massachusetts, Vermont, and Maine.

Ten years ago, I hadn't met Depression yet. Now we are sort of on-again, off-again. He never sends me flowers. Jerk.

Ten years ago, I could more or less count the number of times I'd been to the beach on one hand. The reason for this is that my otherwise practical parents sincerely believe that they have a curse that causes bad weather whenever they are less than ten miles from the ocean. But I had always wanted to live by the sea.

Since then I spent two years living just a five minute walk from the beach. I visited the ocean every day. I think Ms. Rumphius would be proud.

Ten years ago, I had never heard of Book Expo America or the Bread Loaf Writers Conference or Sirens. Since then I've worked at BEA for three years, audited Bread Loaf with author Margot Livesey, and attended Sirens twice.

Ten years ago, I knew I loved to write and I knew I loved stories but I didn't know if I had any stories to tell. Now I know I do.

Ten years ago, I didn't have cheekbones. This is still true.

Ten years ago, I was a twin. This is still true. This will always be true. Happy Birthday, Melissa.

A lot has happened in the last ten years. I wonder what will happen in the next ten...


  1. A great Eve reflection. I'm ten minutes too early to say Happy Birthday on this post. Guess I'll have to come back!

  2. Happy birthday, Jenn! I hope your next ten years are everything you want them to be. I didn't know you went to Scotland. Must be wonderful. :)

  3. Happy Birthday Jennifer! What a great post. Here's to another great 10 years.

  4. Happy Birthday, sweet pea! Wonderful reflection on all that you've experienced in the past ten years -- can't wait to see what the next ten bring you!

    Much love,

  5. Thanks, ladies! You know what else happened in the last ten years? I met all of you!!! And I'm so happy I did.

  6. Love this post and have had it open to be bookmarked for.... Yeah, we won't say how long. You inspired me to write my thoughts looking back and ahead for my birthday next month.

  7. Hey Carter, for some reason this comment got stuck in the bloggerverse for a while! Odd. Regardless, that is such a sweet thing to say. I'm really glad I inspired you. You've accomplished so much in the last 10 years as well. I'm sure you'll be blown away when you really think about it all. Crazy.