How to Write a Book in Eight Years: On Belief, Persistence, and (Not) Giving Up, a guest post by Rebecca Kim Wells
In 2013 I started writing a book. I’d written one before, which I’d queried agents with unsuccessfully and then shelved unceremoniously. But my new project—this one was the one.
The story featured Lena, a lonely girl whose touch could kill, who ventured into a deadly forest to break her curse. It was dark and fantastical and had more than a few roots in fairy tale. I loved it completely. Over the next two years I revised and polished, and in 2015 was lucky enough to sign with a literary agent.
I revised the book even more with the help of my agent, and in the fall we sent it on submission to publishers. Hooray! I thought. This book, the one I believed in with my whole heart, was going to be published.
Not so fast. Over the next several months we received rejection after rejection, the sort that was kind but unhelpful when it came to taking the book through yet another revision. After a while, my agent suggested that I put this book away for the moment and write something else.
I was devastated. I still believed in the book, but no one wanted to publish it—and after several rounds of revision, I didn’t know how else to approach the story. So I cried (a lot) and followed my agent’s advice. I put it away and slowly moved on. Over the next few years I wrote the books that became my debut duology, Shatter the Sky and Storm the Earth. But in the back of my mind, Lena was always waiting. And last year, I finally got the chance to return to her.
The first spark that became Briar Girls was my love for fairy tales. In 2015 I was trying to create an epic fairy tale mashup. How many characters could I jam into a plot and still hold it all together? I started with Rapunzel and the witch who cursed her, then threw in Sleeping Beauty, Jack (and the Beanstalk), Hansel and Gretel, and made up some of my own tales for good measure. But when I returned to the book in 2020 I had changed, as a reader, a writer, and a person. I looked at Lena’s story with new eyes. It was angrier than I remembered, as well as more personal, more complicated. And I finally felt I knew how to get it right.
Lena was the heart of this story—she always had been. Her hope, her anguish. So I narrowed my focus, stripping out fairy tales and sharpening the few that remained. I homed in on Lena’s wounds and fleshed out the people she encounters, deepening the relationships she forms. I set the stage for Lena to take up space, to be fierce and unapologetically furious, and as I did, the story bloomed. Now Briar Girls is a love letter to fairy tales and complicated relationships, and to growing up, trusting yourself, and making your own path—and it’s finally a published book.
One could say everything that went into Briar Girls was there from the beginning, that I only needed to grow as a writer to be able to pull it all together. That’s possible. I hope I grew as a writer over five years. But there is also an alternate universe where I left this book on the shelf, gathering dust. Where my third published book is something completely different. And the difference between these universes is not my ability and growth as a writer or what story elements existed when—it is belief, and persistence.
I believed Briar Girls should be published, in a way that I hadn’t believed in my first manuscript. The storywas never gone—it was always waiting. And I was persistent enough to pull it back into the light even after five years on the shelf.
Every writer seeking publication for their work needs these two qualities. Belief is what sets you on the path of late-night scribbles and blocking out time on your schedule to write when no one is waiting on that work but you. Persistence is what keeps you going in the face of rejection (after rejection after rejection).
I’ll be honest. There were many times when I lost my belief. When publication seemed so out of reach that I almost did give up. But for every day where I didn’t believe, there was at least one where I did. And every time I gave up, I (eventually) decided to push on—past over one hundred queries before signing with my agent, and dozens of publisher rejections before signing my first book deal. The true secret to becoming an author isn’t that you have to believe in yourself every day. Just enough days. Just more often than not. Just enough that you keep getting up, even when you get knocked down.
To every writer toiling with only belief and persistence to fuel them, I salute you. May your words flow smoothly and your stories soar. And may you know, like I did, when to put a book on a shelf—and when to bring it back out into the light.
Meet the author
Rebecca Kim Wells writes books full of magic and fury (and often dragons). Her debut novel Shatter the Sky was a New England Book Award Finalist, an ALA Rainbow Book List selection, an Indies Introduce selection, and a Kids’ Indie Next Pick. She is also the author of Storm the Earth and Briar Girls.
About Briar Girls
The Cruel Prince meets A Curse So Dark and Lonely in this epic reimagining of “The Sleeping Beauty” that follows a teen girl on a quest to wake a sleeping princess in an enchanted forest, while searching for the truth behind her own deadly curse.
Lena has a secret: the touch of her skin can kill. Cursed by a witch before she was born, Lena has always lived in fear and isolation. But after a devastating mistake, she and her father are forced to flee to a village near the Silence, a mysterious forest with a reputation for luring people into the trees, never to be seen again…
Until the night an enigmatic girl stumbles out of the Silence and into Lena’s sheltered world. Miranda comes from the Gather, a city in the forest brimming with magic. She is on a quest to wake a sleeping princess believed to hold the key to liberating the Gather from its tyrannical ruler—and she offers Lena a bargain. If Lena assists her on her journey, Miranda will help her break the curse.
Mesmerized by Miranda and her promise of a new life, Lena jumps at the chance. But the deeper into the Silence she goes, the more she suspects she’s been lied to—about her family’s history, her curse, and her future. As the shadows close in, Lena must choose who to trust and decide whether it’s more important to have freedom…or power.
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers
Publication date: 11/16/2021
Age Range: 14 – 18 Years
Filed under: Uncategorized
About Amanda MacGregor
Amanda MacGregor works in an elementary library, loves dogs, and can be found on Twitter @CiteSomething.
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