This is how I Became a Published Writer at 18!

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A DREAM

At the mere age of eighteen, I found myself having a book (FRED Teen Detective) published under my name (not even a Pen name or anything!)

As you can guess, it was an amazing experience for a boy who had just completed his high school. I didn’t even know what to do with my life at the turn of the year. It was a hazy road ahead and I was unsure of myself.

But the dream of authoring a book didn’t start this year.

how i became a published author

 DOWN MEMORY LANE

If my memory serves me right, I was around the age of five when I first held a storybook up my chubby face and tried to enunciate the words as impeccably as I could. The storybook was Goat Matata (Swahili for Troublesome Goat).

I can’t quite remember the graphics on the front page but the iconic character still remains etched in my mind vividly. I could actually go on a bookshop spree looking for the book which gave me my first shove into the world of writing.

After reading the book, I recall walking up to the gigantic Windows 98 desktop in our old house and propping the book on the screen. I would then go ahead and start pressing each key slowly as I typed in the book on the screen.

Every press of a key brought so much elation and angst in equal measure.

I didn’t know that I was preparing myself for a world of typing and bringing inanimate characters into real life.

It was still quite the spectacle to my parents who would stand back and watch this young five-year-old toddler maneuver the keyboard with amateur dexterity.

 

STEPPING STONES

It wasn’t long before the Windows 98 desktop was sold and the new inventions going by the name “laptops” came into being.

I now began obsessing over other types of books. Of course, I had exhausted the comic books and graphic novels that were the in-thing back then. I was immediately clinched by the gripping thrill that emanated from detective novels. If you read “The Famous Five” by Enid Blyton, then you’d know how captivating they are and you would end up buying an entire box set.

Well, that was exactly what I was fond of!

So much that a local bookshop I enjoyed making rounds in gave me the liberty to borrow the books in their vault and return at my pleasure. That was how much I was passionate about immersing my life into the fictional world.

Nancy Drew” was my second love. I am even known at our home for being Ned Nickerson in the flesh if you know what I mean. I was and still am obsessed with this book. Was it the thrill of chasing down leads and suspects that kept me hostage? Was it the female protagonist and her crime-busting friends? Or was it the mere belief that the characters were real and I could almost touch and feel them with every flip of the page?

Sadly, I wouldn’t know.

I just kept reading, smiling, laughing by my own, getting lost in the plot, feeling the pain and joy and connecting with the characters. After all, that’s what a reader is meant to do.

Going by the former books I had indulged in, it wouldn’t come as a surprise that I would end up obsessing more on “The Hardy Boys“. Something about the entire plot of a well-crafted detective book makes you feel like you owe it a proper reading. And proper reading was exactly what I did.

I am still a big fan of crime thrillers and I normally binge on a set of suspense-filled blockbusters by prolific writers such as James Patterson (The Alex Cross series), John Grisham (Theodore Boone series), and Mary Higgins Clark (Where Are You Now).

When it comes to finding out what you want to write, remember:

  1. Write what you would also like to read. Put yourself in your potential readers’ minds so that you are unbiased when judging your work.
  2. Find a niche. I have friends who are great poets but I wonder why they haven’t found the audacity to write an analogy of their masterful poems. Find out what excites you enough to make others excited through writing.
  3. Accept that you will doubt yourself. Everyone does. Especially when you don’t know whether anyone will approve it or whether it will be harshly laid on by critics. Don’t let, however, the doubt bog you down.

 

PATIENCE

Obviously, I did all that while juggling my middle school education and once I was done, I knew exactly what I wanted. To write my OWN book. I still don’t know what sort of confidence I had in my twelve-year-old self that pushed me to even think I could write.

But, as I have learned, avid readers can write all they want. The reservoir of knowledge in such people is unmatchable.

The moment came when I actually typed in my very first draft (which is now wallowing somewhere in the dark depths of computer trash), I couldn’t stop.

There was some sort of strength that had taken over me, that always takes control of me when I want to write, and it was relentless. The motivation kept beating against the tips of my fingers as I typed away, creating imaginary worlds, giving them imaginary names, creating characters, shaping their lives like playing mold, controlling their conversations and ultimately deciding their fate.

I felt like a King.

I would spark conversation, script a fight, create conflict and make the bad guys seem like little devils all in my mind. The feeling of supreme control over what I was doing is one I may never enjoy doing anything else.

Until I had to put it on hold. Priorities had to be set right. High school awaited me. And so I obliged.

Another dose of sage advice from me:

  1. Don’t let your passion for writing cloud the most important things in your life such as education. Sometimes your passion can become a trivial option.
  2. Involve others. I am guilty of not letting my close friends in on my writing. They only but recently came to know about it. My parents and sibling were, however, the bedrock to my success and I owe it to them.
  3. Explore. You may hit a writer’s block where you feel as if you can’t write anymore. You are not alone. Keep reading and exploring different subjects in your surroundings. This way, you keep your imagination ignited and sparked.

 

NEVER GIVING UP

I first came up with the idea of Fred when I was in my first year of high school, a period where emotions are usually on a knife balance and expectations suddenly bigger than yourself.

In my mind, Fred was me in an alternate universe. Somehow.

Fred was a confident boy with the urge to spread justice deep in his veins. And in his hometown, Glades, in Chicago, this was very necessary. Having two friends by his side, in the name of Jay and Jolene, it was inevitable that they would form an intrepid trio of crime busters in their hometown and even beyond. (Oops. I might have told you the entire story.)

And that’s exactly what Fred still remains. I am very happy to report that my first draft of Fred is the one that made it through publication this year and is now set to hit bookstores before the close of the year.

Small dreams are still dreams. I now know that when you set your mind on success, that is exactly what you will get.

Knock, knock. More tips:

  1. Be friends with your characters. WHAT? HOW? WHY? Acquaint yourself with your characters by getting into your character’s mind so that you don’t break character when writing. It can be hard to switch from your main character to a supporting and a subsidiary one all at once. Be one with each character.
  2. Always visualize the scene and write it as you see it, feel it or hear it. This boosts your vivid descriptions and makes your reader feel as if they are present at the happenings.
  3. Use all your senses when writing. This adds a personal touch to your writings.

 

SO HOW DID YOU DO IT? HOW DID YOU GET YOUR HEAD AROUND A DRAFT?

Trust me, guys, nothing is as easy as putting your thoughts down on paper or on a screen. Thoughts flow from our minds seamlessly and you can never obstruct yourself from self-expression.

Which is exactly the same thing with any creative activity. If you want something, why would you stop yourself?

Here are some pointers I learned painstakingly about drafting:

  1. Never compare your work with another, especially one that has successfully made through publication. This often brings frustration and low esteem in your own work.
  2. Edit as much as you like. Become your own critique and never tire to start over if an idea doesn’t materialize properly.
  3. Be brave. If you reach a point and feel like your idea won’t appeal to your reader, feel free to start over. After all, contending with such phases of writing only makes you stronger.
  4. You can’t go wrong with creativity. The mind has no barriers to the vast ability it has to craft something from absolute nothingness.

I didn’t hold myself back. I went all in. I was pouring the creativity I had bundled in myself ever since I held Goat Matata in my tiny hands years back. I was paying homage to all the years I had slept thinking of how great an author I was going to be. I was paying tribute to the endless times I scribbled short stories in my A4 school pad and hid when my friends tried to peek.

This was my chance to shock myself. Why would I hold back in intimidation?

WHERE DID THE INSPIRATION FOR YOUR STORIES COME FROM?

Inspiration can come in two ways. Self-inspiration and inspiration without yourself.

My first draft was purely self-inspired. I dug deep into the reserves of my mind. Everyone, I believe, has a story in themselves. You just have to listen closely.

When writing, you get into this zone where ideas jump out from nowhere specifically but you still like them. They fit exactly. Every letter falls into place to form a word. Words slot perfectly into sentences. Sentences structure orderly into passages.

And within the passages is a character with a name, a face, a personality and a reason to exist. The character is like a stress ball in your palm.

You press and mold to your own liking. You take time, you delete and erase, smack your forehead in anger and frustration and even DREAM how a plot flows.

I usually get into these periods in my sleep where, if I am so immersed in a draft but I stalled, I dream of the occurrences and how I could rearrange them to fit my expectations. (Call me crazy).

Some of my drafts are inspired by external occurrences such as shocking news from the papers, or an exciting personal milestone which can be turned into a gripping thriller. I have used this method for some of my very endearing drafts which I am looking forward to publishing next year as well.


I would like to know where you get inspiration from when you want to embark on any project. Leave it in the comments.


BUT OWEN, EVERYTHING SEEMS TO BE GOING SMOOTHLY. DON’T YOU HAVE CHALLENGES?

Have challenges ever failed to stick their ugly faces whenever they feel like?

No.

The dream itself was a challenge. No one I knew of had done this. Or I hadn’t come across anyone with a story to inspire me. Besides the iconic Ngugi wa Thiong’o who is rightfully acclaimed worldwide, I wasn’t aware of any other Kenyan authors who were riding high in the halls of fame. Well, that is not to say there aren’t. I just didn’t know it then.

In spite of having so much energy and vitality, I didn’t have anyone to inspire me. Some of my friends liked reading novels and it went as far as that. Bless those who were willing to read my drafts.

Churning out more drafts proved to be a challenge sometimes. I am sure it was just a case of creators block. For sure, having thirteen drafts in my fold waiting for publication is no mean fete. It comes a time when you doubt that you can write again and again and again.

Sourcing for a publisher was one of the trying times in my quest. The number of emails I wrote to some of the acclaimed publishing firms in Kenya was enough to give me at least a glimmer of hope. But none of them were interested. When I got word about Lee’s Press and Publishing Firm in the USA, I had the customary fear that everyone has when dealing with a face you can’t see or a voice you can’t hear or someone who is miles away from you and some hours behind as well.

My advice to any writer who intends to be published is:

  1. Be relentless. Write as many emails, make as many calls and visit as many publishing firms as you can.
  2. Weigh the option of getting published locally or internationally based on the services. Here is where writers get it all wrong and judge by their pockets. I believe that if you get great services from any publisher, then you can burn bridges to acquire them.
  3. Do your homework. Don’t just jump on any bandwagon. In my earlier stages of seeking a publisher, I had to turn down a certain company due to credibility issues I noted, thankfully, fast.
  4. Be aware of your budget. Once you find a great publisher, ensure you have the foresight of other expenses you will incur in the road to becoming published fully. I advise you to sit down and chart out the finances needed, such as marketing and getting legal copyright.
  5. Don’t wait for someone to inspire you. Get the energy from within yourself. That’s the kind that doesn’t run out and always burns within.

WHAT’S IN THE FUTURE FOR FRED? 

The future is unclear. It always is.

One thing I am certain of is that Fred is here to stay. I have become very close friends with Fred, Jay, and Jolene that I feel it would be unfair if I abandoned them. I wouldn’t turn my head away from my creation.

My hope is that by the start of September, there will be enough books making rounds in Kenyan bookstores. I may sound greedy at that point, but I am hoping my story will inspire other people who are even younger than me to chase their dreams. Whatever they may be.

Turning Fred into a household name is going to be very hard but nothing is hard if it hasn’t been tried. I am planning to release more Fred customized merchandise, from clothing to stationery. Anything! I am trying to turn Fred into a movement of individuals that believe they can do anything when they exert themselves.

Is that really hard?


Thank you so much for reading my deep outpouring of emotions and ideas. It takes courage to write about one’s journey and clearly the only way forward from here is up. I want to see what will happen if I don’t give up.

I want to see what will happen if I don't give up Click To Tweet

I hear Fred calling out to me right now. It’s been long since I saw him. It’s time I gave him another adventure. (wink, wink)


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