At every comic book convention and book festival I attend, I meet young writers—some middle schoolers, but mostly teenagers—who want to hone their craft, but are either embarrassed by what they’ve written, or frustrated that the words aren’t coming fast enough. And they want to give up.
As writers, we all know about frustration. It’s sitting at your laptop or desktop computer, staring at the screen, trying to will the next words to form so you can get down to business—and they won’t show up. And sure, we all get embarrassed by stuff we’ve written—we see the mistakes and the clunky sentence structure and the stilted dialogue that everyone fails to notice while they’re telling us how brilliant the prose is.
But that, as the saying goes, is all part of the game. You accept the frustrations and the embarrassments and move on. There’s no reason to just give up.
Want an example?
Here, presented for the first time anywhere, are scans of my first published work, “Again: He Who Stalks”—a space-fantasy story I wrote in my junior year at Loyola School in NYC; I would’ve been 16 or so. (I’ve updated the title treatment so not everything about this thing is embarrassing.) Even though it wears its Star Wars influence not just on its sleeve but on the whole damn coat (I was a major SW fan back then), even though every moment I spent re-reading it for this post made me cringe—because no creator likes to examine their early works—it reinforces the adage I’m constantly telling young writers: Everybody’s Gotta Start Somewhere. You just have to keep at it.
Looking at “Stalks” today…yeah, it’s pretty embarrassing—to me, at least. The clunky sentence structure and stilted dialogue? They’re all there—and more. I mean, nerdy author notes within the story explaining sci-fi terms I’d made up? Really? I even provided the sad illustration on page 4. Even worse, it was meant to tie-in to an 8mm sci-fi movie I’d tried my hand at writing and directing (Star Knights? Seriously? Ugh.), but never got past the first couple of days of shooting—before the brand-new camera broke. (That’s what I get for attempting double exposures on film by taping over one of the gears inside the camera housing—damn you for your bad advice, Cinemagic magazine!)
And yet, warts and all, this little gem won The Loyola Magazine!’s contest for Best Short Story—which came as a complete surprise to me. It also led to the teacher who oversaw the magazine asking me the next year if I’d like to become the fiction editor (thanks again, Mr. Moylan!); I said yes. So, maybe “Stalks” was better than I thought…at the time. And maybe if I hadn’t written it I wouldn’t have started down the path that has me entertaining you today with the adventures of a teenaged Goth named Pandora Zwieback.
Everybody’s Gotta Start Somewhere. So keep writing!
“Again: He Who Stalks” copyright © 1979, 2014 Steven A. Roman. All rights reserved.