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We Will Always Be Beginners

Please join us in welcoming new contributor Natalia Sylvester to Writer Unboxed! Born in Lima, Peru, Natalia Sylvester came to the U.S. at age four. A former magazine editor, Natalia now works as a freelance writer in Austin, Texas and is a faculty member of the low-res MFA program at Regis University. Her articles have appeared in Latina Magazine, Writer’s Digest, The Writer, and NBCLatino.com. Her debut novel, CHASING THE SUN, was named Best Debut Book of 2014 by Latinidad and was chosen as a Book of the Month by the National Latino Book Club. Her second novel, EVERYONE CARRIES THEIR OWN WATER, will be published in 2018. You can connect with Natalia on Instagram here [1]. Welcome to WU, Natalia!

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Photo By Nicholas Erwin

On the first week of the new year and for my first post as a regular contributor (hello, WU fam!) it seems only fitting to write about beginnings.

But not new ones. Not the fresh starts or the “New Year, New Yous” messages we are so often bombarded with this time of year. Not the literal and figurative blank pages that are so exciting-we-will-finally-get-them-right-this-time-omg-no-pressure-right?!

Because really, we’ve been here before.

How many January’s have unfolded before us, ripe with potential?

How many first lines, first chapters, first drafts?

How many times has the progress in our Works-in-Progress marched forward, only for us to end up back at square one?

Each time we start over, we find we know (more or less) what to expect. We know what the air smells like in January. We recognize the late-afternoon pastel sky and grey-white trees. But despite being packaged in the familiar, what the year will bring is unknown to us.

And so it goes with our stories. The process will be similar in some ways to the last one—a blank page blossoming into a draft that will be edited, and rewritten, and reworked. But we won’t really know what a story demands of us until it becomes what it’s meant to become.

We are all in different places in our paths, and yet, we will always be beginners.

Starting Over is Still Starting

I’ve been reminded of this countless times in my own writing and publishing journey:

When I signed with my first agent and the book didn’t sell, and I had to start over and write a new one. Faced with that new beginning, I was heartbroken, but once I got back to the writing I recognized that new story for what it was: a new source of hope. (It became my debut, but not my first, novel.)

When, years later, my agent submitted a revised version of that unsold novel to the publisher that had acquired Chasing the Sun, and they turned it down. That rejection, no matter that it wasn’t the first time I’d gotten it, hurt as much as a fresh wound.

When I finally moved on and wrote what I hoped would be my second published novel, only to learn that my agent and I had different visions for the story. After months of trying to make the partnership work, we parted amicably and I began querying agents again.

When I told friends and family members I was starting over and looking for a new agent, and they optimistically said, “but you already have a book out! I’m sure it’ll be easy.” (It wasn’t.) In the end, it all came down to the writing. I signed with a new agent whom I heard about through Twitter, and whom I cold-queried just liked I did the first time around.

When my new agent began shopping my book to publishers, and the process was much like the last two times: a lot of waiting, anxiety, and attempts at distraction. I got reacquainted with toughening my skin as the rejections came in, the measured hope as signs of interest began to surface, the tears, the celebration once it sold.

And finally when, about a month after I signed the contract for my next book, I started writing a new story. I wrote three fresh, first pages that left me inspired and excited…and then I struggled to write another word for weeks. There is only so much experience and know-how I can pull from, because despite my previous writing, I’ve never written this story before. I’m beginning again. And that is both terrifying and exciting.

Everything is Cyclical

Like the Earth that spins on its axis and takes a year to circle around the sun, we, too, exist within cycles, full of both the familiar and the new. We learn a lot as we go along our way, but the more we progress, the more unknowns we encounter.

And so, as we move on to yet another year, onto yet more unwritten stories, I wish us all much wonder to keep us inspired, much humility to keep us learning, and much courage to keep us, always, beginning.

What new (or not-so-new) things are you starting this year? What have you had to begin again?

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About Natalia Sylvester [3]

Born in Lima, Peru, Natalia Sylvester [4] came to the U.S. at age four. A former magazine editor, Natalia now works as a freelance writer in Austin, Texas and is a faculty member of the low-res MFA program at Regis University. Her articles have appeared in Latina Magazine, Writer’s Digest, The Writer, and NBCLatino.com. She is the author of Chasing the Sun, named the Best Debut Book of 2014 by Latinidad and chosen as a Book of the Month by the National Latino Book Club. Her second novel, Everyone Knows You Go Home, is forthcoming from Little A in 2018.