Writing for 10 Years: Age 14 to 24
© Jennifer Dryden 2012
If you look under my bed you’ll see where it all began. There’s a Lucky Brand perfume tin – teal, pink, and scratched – that holds frayed lined paper, printer paper, hotel notepad paper, bank envelopes, colored scraps of construction paper, torn high school agenda pages, and Post-It notes filled with poems, some are stapled and some lie loose. Poems that aren’t really all that good. The handwriting varies from perfect to scribbles, from my seventh grade drama-filled self to my senior-in-high-school, truly-in-love self. I don’t even remember how I found writing so I have always believed that writing found me. Writing, for me, is like that friend who came along at the right time. The one who always answered their phone, always held your hand, and always knew just when to talk and when to shut up. Writing was cheap therapy and writing saved my life.
My first published piece was a poem written in seventh grade and it printed in a compilation of the year’s submissions from Poetry.com. I lived on that site and so did my two best friends. This poem, Nature with Me, was the only poem I’d go on to memorize – although it was easy with it being five stanzas of four lines each, but I can still remember. The award I got is framed on my dresser as a symbol of my starting place.
I took creative writing in high school, but I never really took it seriously until I wrote my “voice” assignment, which was telling a fairytale from a different point of view character. Well I took this and ran with it: Cinderella, stepsister’s point of view, sassiness, pen in hand, and go! Within 10 minutes I had written a page of Cinderella smashed together with slang like “booty-licious” and this ending, “Happily ever after? Ha, I think not!” My teacher and classmates laughed and deemed it the best. Stuff like that happened in other classes, but I never thought twice about it. Writing was just for fun.
College took me the Elementary Education route because my mom was a teacher and I loved kids, but sooner than later, I found out that I didn’t want to teach those kids, I wanted to write. I called my mom one night after spending countless hours pounding at the keyboard under a smoldering desk lamp (My roommate had to have hated me.) and said, “Mom, I can write.” Her response? “I know you can.” Within a month, I had switched completely over to journalism, becoming a news reporter for the Iowa State Daily, and dreaming of New York City.
Oh, New York City, how I love thee. Oh, writing too; don’t get me wrong. That’s what got me there… well, that and Professor Benjamin Percy’s amazing recommendation letter. I applied under his near threat that I couldn’t let my talent go to waste and get sucked into a life of newspaper printed fingers and harsh rules on creativity. A memoir essay I wrote for his class called “Concentrated Breathing” is my best piece yet, but I never knew it was until the critique day came and the class just stared at me, eyes wide. The first comment someone said was “Can I have your autograph?” and I just laughed, then another student asked the same and added, “We’re not joking.” I giggled nervously and looked at Ben. Ben nodded and said in the Godly-deep voice he has, “Dryden… well done.” Evidently, he doesn’t say that often.
That essay I cried, kicked, screamed through. I nearly died writing it. It was the hardest ten pages I have ever written because it’s about my brother and his accident and trial hearings and the brokenness of it all. I only wanted it to be written and over with, but I had to write on it. I had to. After all, this was cheap therapy.
I went to New York University’s Summer Publishing Institute for six weeks in 2010 and met and learned from editors, publishers, designers, writers, authors, agents, sales reps, and anyone and everyone who was someone in the publishing field in New York City. Pinch me, please! This was a dream. I lived in Union Square and learned in the Woolworth skyscraper on Broadway down in the Financial District. Writing got me to my dream. And NYU would get me to another.
I accepted an internship with Sterling Publishing’s children’s department starting September 2010 and was there through May 2011. While I was there I was edited children’s books and educational children’s workbooks; I compiled many books into one giant book; I worked with Richard Scarry and Little Critter books; I created a Richard Scarry book to be published overseas; and I was asked to write a completely new series of six preschool workbooks. At first I brainstormed and envisioned, then I outlined, then I drafted and went for approval. After few revisions of my proposal with my editorial director I started writing the first of six manuscripts, writing the words and directions, but also descriptions to the illustrator in California and designer in house of what I wanted each page to look like and what I wanted him to draw or design for each activity. Each book is eighty pages and so I wrote over 480 pages of children’s activities and introduction content.
This didn’t come without error, however, and I think even though I was so embarrassed, I appreciate this happening in my writing career. The “Coloring: At the Zoo” manuscript was done and emailed to my editorial director, but it came back with “Did you see that [another publisher] already has a coloring workbook themed zoo?” Uh oh. I apologized up and down, found the competition’s zoo coloring workbook and told her I’d have the next coloring manuscript done that week. So I rewrote the coloring manuscript with a Town Fair theme.
I officially became a published children’s author on Tuesday, January 3, 2012 in every Barnes & Noble Booksellers store and online. My books – or as I call them: my six babies – are distributed in the US, Canada, UK, and Australia. They are called Flash Kids Preschool Activities. I went to the Des Moines Barnes & Noble that day and reached for one upon the shelf. I held it, flipped to the title page and saw this: “Written by Jennifer Dryden”. I touched it with my shaking fingers, framed it with an invisible rectangle, and let myself cry. They’re not novels. They’re not autobiographies. They’re not umpteen pages long with paragraphs, five characters, or subplots, but they’re mine.