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On Writing What You Know: High School

I wrote my first novel  in high school, and it was a very high school sort of book. I spent a lot of time back then priding myself on being above the stupid high school drama going on all around me…and, of course, I was completely full of it.

I’ve already introduced you to Trish. We first met when we were thirteen. I was new to the youth group, my family having just moved to Wichita, Kansas, from remote Claremore, Oklahoma, and Trish’s family attended the congregation that had hired Dad as family minister.

So we all ended up together on this trip to Dallas, Texas, for some youth event at Six Flags, and when we broke for lunch, I ended up sitting next to two girls my own age. Trish, and her friend Amanda.

Within moments, I fell deeply and irrevocably in love with Amanda. Amanda wasn’t terribly interested in being adored, but Trish thought it was a great turn of events, so we spent most of the next three months conspiring to win me the heart of the fair Amanda. To no one’s surprise at all, Trish and I ended up falling for each other, and I think Amanda breathed a big sigh of relief to be out of the picture.

That was at thirteen, and we were an item on and off for the next six years. To be honest, I put a lot more energy and emotion into the off than I ever did the on. I wailed, I gnashed my teeth, I wrote epic poems — and, eventually, an epic novel — complaining how miserable it was to be so close to the one I loved, but without her.

That novel turned into a monster. I felt a deep need to capture every nuance of this burning, totally unique angst that was my personal curse, and I poured three years into it, with all the tireless energy of a high school kid.

The thing was…it had no end. It just went on and on and on, just like my own suffering. Sometimes there were high points, sometimes there were crushingly low points, but there was no climax. There was no resolution. And, at the time, I didn’t really know I even needed those things. I just kept writing, figuring someday it would become clear.

And then, one day, it finally did. I was seventeen, and it was Friday night, and I was home alone with nothing to do. In desperation, I grabbed a movie Dan or Brad had recommended to me, just to kill some time, and popped it in the VCR.

Empire Records. If you don’t know it, you should. 90 minutes of engaging characters, crushing complications, and exquisite high school drama.

That was the first time I’d ever seen it, though, and it captured so perfectly all the things I wanted to show, all the things I wanted to say. It lit a fire inside me.

I remember standing in the middle of the living room, bouncing on my toes, through the whole final act — too caught up in it all to even think of sitting. I remember holding my breath through the final confrontation between The Boy and The Girl.

I probably cried at the resolution. I’m not sure on that one, but it was an ending worth it. I do know with perfect certainty what I did next, though.

The moment the credits rolled, I turned my back on the TV, marched over to the computer desk, and sat down to work on my book. I started writing, from some point buried in an overlong second act, and made my way to the nearest possible plot point to transition into Act III.

Because it was time for the final act. It was time for confrontation, for climax, for conclusion. I felt the demand of the story, and I sat right there and wrote it.

And wrote. And wrote. And wrote. And when I was done for the night, I typed, “The End” right where it was supposed to go. Then I saved my book, logged off the computer, and headed upstairs to go to bed.

It was a little annoying trying to fall asleep with the bright morning sun slanting through the windows, but I managed. After all, I was exhausted. 15,000 words in just under nine hours will do that to you.

That’s how I finally finished my malingering love story, though. And six months later, maybe eight, I was engaged to The Girl. That’s…well, that’s how ninety minutes of high school drama changed my life.

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