Monday, November 8, 2021

A Teen Writer's Perspective


16 year-old novelist, Hermione Lee

Hi, everyone. I'm Hermione Lee. It's a huge honor to be invited to do a blog post here on Insecure Writers Support Group. In this post, I'll be discussing my journey of publication and the lessons I learnt along the way. 

I've always known I'd be a writer. Fortune smiled upon me when I was thirteen (a month before I turned fourteen), bestowing upon me a story idea inspired by the fountain in the middle of the courtyard in my school. I birthed a manuscript titled In the Name of the Otherworld the next year in February. 

The thought of completing a novel at my age thrilled me, but it also made me extremely pompous at the same time. I sent my manuscript to my aunt, who was an expert in English. Expecting a positive reply complimenting my incredible work, I waited patiently. 

And then came the phone call 

The feedback I reaped was far from my expectations. My aunt spotted every error in the manuscript I deemed a bestseller-to-be, from unreasonable scenes to trashy sentences. Thanking her, I decided to respect her opinion, although I thought to myself there was no need to heed her advice. I didn’t think there was anything wrong with it. 

During the next six months, I started writing a collection of fantasy adventure short stories inspired by the educational magazines our English teacher made us read. I ended up growing a lot, honing my craft and skills on creative writing. After I completed them, I went back to edit In the Name of the Otherworld. My growth and improvement allowed me to realize what was wrong with it. The prose was a nightmare, and the characters sounded like babies trying to dictate classical literature. The problem? I grew up reading not only books with elegant prose but also those with ridiculous wording meant to humor the readers. As a result, I didn’t have a definite style or tone of writing. In my prose, you'd spot a pretty metaphor here, but some cheap, colloquial wording there, which made the whole manuscript beyond awkward. 

I decided to rewrite my book, which was a draining project. It took me three months, but I finally succeeded in taming the monster. After a few more rewrites, I sent it to the Leapfrog Fiction Contest, expecting an award, which included publication. Again, my hope was shattered. Another rejection. 

It was about that time I started entering Writers of the Future, a quarterly fantasy and sci-fi short story contest. On the forum, I encountered many benefactors who selflessly taught novices like me all they knew. After giving In the Name of the Otherworld a few more rounds of editing and rewrites, I sent it on its way to World Castle Publishing, crossing my fingers for a green light. 

On that fateful Sunday morning four months later, World Castle Publishing sent me an acceptance letter and signed a contract with me. It was the best day of my life. My book then went into editing, and I got to work with a great editor who was very professional and loved her career. 

In the Name of the Otherworld garnered its first award in the first week of September (the Literary Titan silver book award), and was soon released. The reception in Taiwan stunned me. I was (and still am) #1 on the New Releases in the English YA fiction bestsellers list. It did not take long for World Castle to accept both the sequel and third book of the Otherworld trilogy, which puts a smile on my face every time I think about it. It's been a long way, but now as I retrace my steps, I wouldn’t change a thing about my journey. 

What I Learned

1. Don't tell yourself what you can or can’t do. Human potential knows no limits.

Too frequently do we self-reject. When I was outlining my second book, I told myself I was being ridiculous. There were crazy scenes—a haunted house scene, a scaling-a-fantasy-mountain scene, and a chase-in-an-arboretum scene. I made the grave mistake of staring at my outline for weeks instead of working on it. 

But when I got the project started, I realized it wasn’t that difficult at all. The writing process was easy, enjoyable, even. So next time a brilliant story idea strikes you, just write it! Miracles only occur when you believe in them. A story won’t write itself. You have to complete it. And in order to do that, you have to first believe you can. 

2. Embrace criticism. It is like medicine, bitter but beneficial.

There are two kinds of criticism—hate speech and constructive criticism. The former is vile and meaningless, yet the latter can be truly beneficial. 

I grew from criticism myself. Had my aunt been too shy to point out the absurdity of my plot and the unlikeliness of my characters, I would have mailed that manuscript out to a publisher and be rewarded with a well-deserved rejection. Next time when someone criticizes your work, listen closely. Are they making valid points? Would your story be better if you heed their advice? 

3. Never give up. Perseverance can yield rewards beyond your imagination. Don’t let your stories die in you.

As a writer on his / her journey of becoming an author, there will be setbacks—loads of them. People in your life may mock your efforts and discourage you from chasing your dreams. Don’t let them win. Prove them wrong. Keep writing and submitting, and you’ll get there.

In my journey, it took two and a half years to earn the contract for my first book. I’m glad I didn’t let my stories die in me and instead chose to write them down and get them published. Should I have given up or quitted halfway, I'd never know how much potential my story held. So I advise you all to do the same. Believe anything is possible as long as you've got perseverance and grit.

Hermione Lee 

Available Now 
Known for her debut novel In the Name of the Otherworld, Hermione Lee is a teen author born and raised in Taiwan, where everyone and everything in her life stimulated her rich imagination and inspired her to write. Although she prefers writing stories in her grandma's quaint, cozy home, she writes anytime and anywhere. She loves experimenting with words and discovering new formulas to beautiful prose. To her, words are portals that whisk her to whimsical worlds of magic. When Hermione isn't writing, she indulges herself in epic tales of fantasy, horror and adventure; but mostly, dwelling in her reverie. 

"Fight for what you believe in, believe in what you fight for." Hermione's life motto says a lot about her stories. This sentence best represents her journey of becoming a writer. She waged a constant war against invisible enemies - self-doubt, self-discrimination, and of course, countless rejections. However, these struggles only strengthened her will to succeed and pursue her ambition. Along the way, Hermione learned to stick to her goals, have humility and perseverance, and stay loyal to her own beliefs. Her personality is strongly projected on the characters she created; firm, unyielding, and with a thirst to prove themselves.

When Hermione first started writing, she had eyes for only the fame and recognition accompanied by success; however, her opinions have matured greatly during the past few years. She continues to write stories nowadays, but out of sheer interest and passion rather than gaining profit.



Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Congratulations on the publication of your first book!
Constructive criticism is important, and both given and taken in the right spirit, will help us grow as writers.

Jemi Fraser said...

Fantastic!!! Congrats to Hermione on the book release and on learning quickly what so many of us take years to learn. A good critique is worth its weight in gold!

Rajani Rehana said...

Super blog

Rajani Rehana said...

Read my new post

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Elizabeth - congratulations to Hermione ... she's learnt a great deal along the way and obviously is born to be a writer, as she's persevered ... good luck to her - and to all who pay attention to be prepared to start their authorly career. Cheers to you both and good luck to Hermione, as she continues on her journey. Hilary

Toi Thomas said...

Great insights in this post.
Congratulations to Hermione on her first publication.

L. Diane Wolfe said...

Human potential knows no limits - yes!

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cleemckenzie said...

This was fantastic! A young writer with such an adult perspective. Loved her work ethic. Re-write even when it's a huge chore.