Throughout my childhood I was a voracious reader, and also loved playing make believe and making up stories. I remember lying on my bed one day (I was probably in my early teens) reading a book I was dissatisfied with. I thought, "I could write better than this!" Shortly after that, I started brainstorming stories I could write. I carried a small writing notebook around with me, and wrote down ideas and scenes.
Then, as now, I loved science fiction and fantasy, so my first novel was science fiction. I brainstormed it after dark with my younger sister (who slept in the lower bunk bed while I slept in the upper bunk). When I started writing it, I was in high school. Since I used lined paper in a three-ring binder at school, that's how I wrote my novel: in pencil, double-spaced, on college-rule binder paper.
I worked all that summer and through my first full year in college on that novel, writing between classes. By the next summer I had finished it and rewritten it. All the rewrites were done on binder paper too. If I had extensive rewrites, I'd cross out the old part and add another page, numbering it "56a" to show where it went (after page 56). Then on the page with the crossed-out part, I'd write in the margin "see addition."
This was in 1972. I didn't know anyone who was a writer, and had very few references to tell me what to do next. Finally, I found a copy of The Writer's Market in the Brigham Young University library. That book let me know there was a whole world out there, a world where there were other writers, people who had done what I was trying to do. I read almost every article in that book, then checked the market section for publishers who wanted science fiction. From this book I finally figured out how to create a manuscript to send to a publisher.
|A Remington Rand typewriter just like the one I used for years.|
|Round typewriter eraser|
|Long typewriter eraser|
|The good old black-and-white Liquid Paper bottle.|
|"Vintage" typeface. Note how the "a" and "w" are messy. They look like no one has cleaned the keys!|
I spent the entire summer just typing the manuscript--original and carbon copy. I figured out how to write a cover sheet, bought a box to put the manuscript in, and mailed it off. Then, I proceeded to wait. I was still busy with classes, but I started writing another science fiction novel. I also began writing short stories.
When a very long time had passed, and I'd heard nothing, I wrote to the publisher I'd sent my novel to. When they wrote back, I discovered I had done a very stupid novice trick. I'd forgotten to put my return address with the manuscript in the box! I was extremely lucky that the publisher hadn't just thrown away the manuscript I'd spent months typing. So I sent my address, and enough stamps to mail the manuscript back "if necessary," and then waited for another very long time.
Of course, I got my precious manuscript back eventually. I honestly don't remember if I was crushed or not. By that time I had written another novel (handwritten, in pencil), and a few short stories. Also, I had found other science fiction fans.
To be continued.
Julia H. West has published fantasy and science fiction stories in magazines such as Realms of Fantasy and anthologies such as Sword and Sorceress. She was Grand Prize winner in the Writers of the Future Contest in 1995. Most of her previously published stories are now available as ebooks from Callihoo Publishing.
Remington Rand typewriter picture from silkwaterantiques.com
Round typewriter eraser picture from artfire.com
Long typewriter eraser picture from technicalshipsupplies.com
Liquid Paper picture from motelwest.blogspot.com
Vintage Type picture from web.mac.com