How To Write
Jenna grabbed the rolled-up copy of the Neopian Times that sat on her doorstep. The blue Kacheek’s eyes widened as she opened it up. “It’s... golden! The Neopian Times is golden!” She shut the door, hurrying down the corridor with the newspaper clutched in her hand. “Sarah? Sarah! Where are you?”
A striped Kacheek sat in the living room, leaning back in a Writers’ Arm Chair with a notebook open in her lap. She looked up as her little sister burst into the room, waving the Neopian Times like a flag.
“Look, Sarah! The Neopian Times is all golden today? How come? Is your story in this issue?”
Sarah smiled, sitting up as she closed her notebook. “I hope so! I haven’t received the acceptance letter yet, but anyway — can I see?”
Jenna squeezed herself beside Sarah and watched as she flipped through the pages. Moments later, a smile broke out on her face. “I did it! See? There’s my series’s first part! Darigan Citadel’s Doom: Part One.”
“That’s great!” Jenna leaned in to read the words, but she had barely read the first sentence when they heard the doorbell ring. Sarah placed the newspaper in Jenna’s hands and stood up. “Awesome!”
“What do you think that’s about?” Jenna asked.
“I’m pretty sure it’s... I’ll be back in a second to show you,” Sarah said. She disappeared around the corner of the corridor, reappearing with a small package. A label with her name on it had been stuck to the package. It also bore the quill icon of the Neopian Times Committee.
Jenna raised an eyebrow as Sarah unwrapped the package. She could see something white and feathery inside. It couldn’t be a —?
Sarah didn’t need to finish unwrapping. The paper fell to pieces as a white Petpet flew out, tearing it all to pieces.
“A Weewoo! And a white one! Wow, Sarah, they sent you that? How come?”
Her sister didn’t reply straight away. She beckoned to the white Weewoo, which flapped down and, as if it knew Sarah’s thoughts, extended its leg. A rolled-up letter had been tied to it.
Jenna walked over to read it over Sarah’s shoulder. Dear Sarah, thank you for your contribution to the Neopian Times. Because you have been published in the 500th issue, we send you this present as a token of our thanks. She looked up. “It’s the 500th issue?”
“Yes,” Sarah said. “That’s why some parts of the newspaper are golden, too.” She patted the Weewoo before sitting back into her armchair, watching it fly around.
Jenna sat back down with her. She picked up the Neopian Times, but had her eyes on the white Weewoo. “Aww! I’m going to name it Feathers. Is that OK?”
“Of course,” Sarah said.
“I wish I could have a Weewoo, and nice trophies, and see my name in the Neopian Times as well. I want to be a writer as well.”
“You won’t get a Weewoo every time you’re published.”
“But still. Everyone at school likes reading your stories. I wish I could get published. I wish that would happen to me.”
Sarah paused to gather her thoughts. Even though Jenna was only ten, Sarah had listened to her telling stories and watched her making up plays for years. Sometimes she acted the plays out with her toys; sometimes she got her friends from neoschool to act them out in their games. Sarah didn’t doubt that Jenna had a great imagination, and a talent for storytelling. The problem wasn’t helping her to be a writer. It was teaching her how to put words down on a page; how to edit them; how to see her work objectively; how to think. The hard part would be teaching her how to write.
“Sarah? Hello? You still alive?” Jenna waved a paw in front of Sarah’s face.
Sarah blinked. “Oh, yeah. I’m fine. Well, sure, I’ll teach you how to write. I’ll get you a notebook and pen first.”
In her drawers, at least ten different types of notebooks and pens sat. She picked out one of each and presented them to Jenna. When they were sitting comfortably again, and the yellow Kacheek had finished observing the stationery, Sarah spoke. “Go on, Jenna. Write something. Write down your story!”
Jenna looked up. “Just write? Like, now? Is it that easy?”
“Just get started first.”
Jenna picked up the pen, flicked over to the first page, and laid down those first words.
In the dunjeons of Meridel Castle...
She looked up. “Is that OK?”
“Of course,” Sarah said. “Keep going.” She had obviously noticed the spelling mistakes, but decided not to mention that yet. Editing was for later. Jenna had to have the chance to actually tell the story first.
For the rest of the afternoon, Jenna wrote. Sarah kept her supplied with cupcakes and water, and read the Neopian Times. The notebook Jenna wrote in had large pages, and she had small handwriting. So by the time the sky had become a faint glow of pinkish orange, she had finished writing the story, but only written ten pages.
“I’m done,” she said, looking up. “Can you read over it for me, Sarah?”
Sarah took the notebook and read. Jenna had written a short but fast-paced adventure story, in which a criminal locked in the dungeons of Meridell Castle escapes, only to find that his family has disappeared. He is reunited with them at the end of the story, but they have to keep running around to avoid being captured. Despite that, they are happy.
“It’s a great story, Jenna!” Sarah said, handing the notebook back to her. “And it’s just the right length for a short story in the Neopian Times.”
“Do you mean that I can send it off, then?” Jenna said, eyes wide.
Sarah opened her mouth, but closed it again, she thought, hoping to find a way of phrasing her words in the best way. But an idea occurred to her, and she changed her mind about what she would say.
“Of course you can! Let’s go down to the post office right now, before it closes!”
Jenna flung the door open, rushing towards the mailbox. It had been a week; surely her reply would arrive today. She’d checked every inch of the latest Neopian Times issue yesterday, because Sarah said that the Neopian Times Delivery Service sometimes beat the post office in sending their letters. But there had been no mention of Jenna in the Neopian Times.
When Jenna read the addressee on the letters, however, her paws shook. One for Sarah. One for their parents. Another for their parents. And... one for her! She gaped at it, not registering the image of the quill that adorned the label with her name. Without another word, she bounded inside. “Sarah? SARAH! I GOT A REPLY!”
She tore the envelope open before reaching Sarah. Her face fell.
“What’s wrong?” Sarah said, even though she knew exactly what the answer would be.
“I’ve been rejected! They said that it has too many spelling and grammar errors!” Jenna collapsed into the Writers’ Arm Chair, clutching the envelope. She shook it, and the pages of her manuscript fell out.
Sarah hugged her. “Don’t worry, Jenna. We can fix spelling and grammar mistakes.” This had gone exactly as she had planned. Jenna would learn better that way. She took the pages, flipping through them to find the first. “Now, look, Jenna. See that first sentence? Are there any words there that you don’t use often? That you think you might have spelt incorrectly?”
Jenna looked. “Well, maybe ‘dungeon’. We’ve never used that word in neoschool before.”
“Good. And? What else?”
Jenna took a deep breath. “I’m prepared this time,” she said. After her last rejection, and resubmitting her manuscript, she had been steeling herself every time she opened the mailbox. And now, she held the envelope in her paw. The letter from the Neopian Times Committee. Her stomach made a flip. Dropping the rest of the letters, she walked inside.
“Sarah. I got rejected again.” She opened the envelope entirely and, sure enough, the pages of her edited, rewritten manuscripts had been folded and placed inside. “They said they had too many good entries this week.”
Sarah’s eyes widened. “Um. Well...” What could she do now? The grammar and spelling rejection had been part of her plan. Getting TMGE’d, something she had experienced all too many times herself, had not. “Jenna, you can resubmit it. They didn’t say your story is bad.”
“But you said that ‘too many good entries’ usually means they just don’t like it! You said that heaps of times!”
Whoops. She had. Smooth move, Sarah.
The two of them squeezed together in the armchair again. Sarah read over the pages of the manuscript. “Jenna, do you remember what else I said? That you can fix it, and that it’s possible for them to accept. Now, have a think about your story. What could you improve?”
Jenna thought. “Um... maybe I should change the ending. I didn’t really think about it too much while writing. I can change it so all of them are locked up, but they are happy because they are together, in one cell.” She made a note of it. “And also, maybe I should increase the action...”
A week later, Jenna resubmitted her polished manuscript, now a three-part series with a new ending and more action. Two weeks after that, she received the acceptance letter.
Jenna flipped open the Neopian Times. There, in the ‘new series’ section, her name had been printed for all of Neopia to see. Now she knew why Sarah’s eyes sparkled while she wrote, and why she took so long to do it. Getting published was satisfying, but actually getting there took hard work. It still wasn’t the best part, though. The best part was the writing.