How I Began Writing

"How did you begin writing?" That's one of the most often asked questions I get – only narrowly surpassed by the legendary "Where do your ideas come from?" – so I thought I would make a blog entry about it.

From pictures to words

I've obviously always loved book. One doesn't become a writer if you're not into reading – at least not to my knowledge. As a child I loved comics and drew a lot myself. I thought I would become a cartoon artist someday. But when my small school library ran out of comics for me to read, I had to – rather reluctantly – try some of those without any pictures, only words.

I clearly remember having an aha moment during the first book I read on my own. A very distinct thought said something along the lines of: "This is much easier than drawing." Suddenly I saw how much more powerful words were compared to pictures. Instead of spending two or three hours drawing a huge, splendid castle in a fairy tale – which would probably end up not reaching my expectations anyway – I could create the same thing with two or three sentences. And it didn't really take any special skill – I just had to write it! Learning to draw beautiful drawings takes many years. But writing I already knew. That was the feeling that struck me in that moment, and suddenly my dreams for the future had changes. Now I wanted to become a writer.

The first, tentative steps

I wrote a little in my spare time and whenever we had to write an essay at school. But I really wasn't your typical bookworm. I had so much energy and spent most of my time climbing trees, playing soccer or building club houses. I read a whole lot more than I wrote. And when the school library couldn't offer me anymore books I found exciting, my teacher started to take out books from the big municipal library for me. I'm eternally grateful to her for doing that. That kept my passion for books alive.

Around fifteen I wrote a short story collection which I sent to a publisher. They were pretty excited, especially about one of the stories, but seen as a whole, they couldn't publish the collection. They actually called me up to deliver their verdict, and they told me they were impressed with me only being fifteen. If I ever wrote a novel, they would love to read it. So, I wrote a novel and sent it to them. They read it and came back to me saying that with some changes and revisions, they would consider a publication. But I didn't really take it seriously, and I didn't feel like doing the work, so I gave it a quick do-over and sent it once more. They turned it down.

It didn't turn me off. I hadn't at all expected to even come close to getting anything published. I knew you probably had to go through tons of rejections before becoming a published writer. I was still convinced I would make it some day. Besides, I had plenty of time.

No after no

I forgot about my dream for a few years. Leaving public school, I had to choose an education. I had no earthly idea of what I wanted to do, since no jobs appealed to me even the slightest. I got an apprenticeship as a carpenter, because I had heard it was very easy. It's not. Especially not when you don't like it. But I held out for three years. You have to. You need an education. At any cost. Even if that cost is happiness. Finally, I was so worn-down I was practically depressed. The prospect of working the rest of my life as a carpenter wasn't exactly uplifting. So, I started wondering if I could find another way to make a living. And suddenly, I remembered my dream of becoming a writer.

At that time, I was eighteen, and now I was suddenly in a hurry. I had to go through all of those rejections, so I'd better get to it. I made a promise to myself that I would write 1,000 words a day until I got a book published - a tip I got from my all-time favorite author Stephen King - and I started that same day. I kind of expected to lose interest and break my promise pretty early on. But I didn't. In fact, I got more and more into the daily writing. That was now what I was living for. I couldn't wait to get home from work so I could write.

Soon I started sending off the manuscripts to the publisher. But I couldn't wait for their answer, since I had to meet my daily quota, so next day I started on the next story. The first manuscript was turned down, and so was the second. But I didn't really care; I hadn't expected anything else. And I was already two or three stories ahead. I wrote, sent in, got a no, wrote, sent in, got a no. Rinse and repeat.

The first book

Gradually, the rejections got more and more positive. Now, they weren't all like hell-no-where-you-really-thinking-we-would-honestly-consinder-publishing-this-rubbish, but more like no-but-close. And I started smelling blood. So, I decided to make an extra effort. I took a book I really liked (I don't remember which one) and read it from start to finish, but without really reading the story – I knew that part already. What I did notice was the language and structure. I absorbed the technique. And as soon as I put the book down, I immediately started my 13th manuscript. I named it They Come At Night. It got accepted for publication.

I kept my promise. After talking to the publisher on the phone and receiving the good news, I ran out into the street and screamed to the heavens in perfect Hollywood-manner. (Yes, I really did.) I wouldn't have to work as a carpenter forever. My dream would come true. It had only taken me 18 months. And this only felt like the beginning. The next day I wrote another 1,000 words. Now I was suddenly more motivated than ever.

And the rest, of course, is history.


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© 2020 Nick Clausen