Jon Etter

Writer, Teacher, Resident of the October Country

One of the most common questions I’ve gotten at school visits, book talks, and readings has been, “What advice do you have for young writers?” I’ve never been fully satisfied with the answers I’ve given, but now I think I’ve got it: “Be like Ada and Cynthia.”

Back in January of 2019 (which feels like a lifetime ago as I write this in our fourth week of safer-at-home semi-quarantine), after doing a couple school visits one of the school librarians emailed me and let me know that there was a pair of 4th graders, Ada and Cynthia, who had written a story and would love to share it with me if that was okay. I said, “Of course! I’d love to read it” The next day those young ladies sent me the first draft of their story “Once Upon a Time Is Overrated” (and included their librarian on the email because kids should always make sure that a parent and/or teacher knows about any communication they have with adults) and asked if I would read it and let them know if there was anything they could do to make it better.

Impressed by that extremely brave and mature request, I read (and thoroughly enjoyed) their delightful story and then wrote back telling them everything I loved about their story and gave them a few ways I thought they could make an already good story even better, the main one being, “I’d love for there to be even more adventures for your main character.”

And then they did the really hard work that a lot of adult writers don’t bother doing: they sat down and started revising. Over the course of the next year, they sent me three or four more drafts, each one better and more polished than the last. It was amazing to watch these two young writers toil at their project with such passion, dedication, and determination. And then, when they were finally satisfied and felt the story was done, they let it go and shared it with other people, another terribly brave act that many adult writers blanch at. First, they let family and friends read it. Then they shared it with everyone in their grade at school (which, honestly, 5th grade me never would have had the nerve to do). And now they’ve made it available as an ebook on Amazon for anyone in the world to read! If you’ve got three dollars and the time for a cracking good read (and let’s be honest, we all have the time while in quarantine), you can get a copy by clicking on the title here: Once Upon a Time Is Overrated.

So let’s take a clear look at everything these young ladies did that is so exemplary for aspiring writers, young and old:

  1. They read a lot (their story is inspired by many of the fairy tales they read growing up).
  2. They write a lot.
  3. They finished their story–a lot of writers quit before they finish a story due to frustration, boredom, or enthusiasm for some other idea that they pursue instead, but not these two.
  4. They asked for and were open to honest suggestions for improvement.
  5. They went back and revised multiple times to make sure they had written the best story they could.
  6. They knew when to let the story go–some writers keep working a thing over and over and never really stop.
  7. They shared it with others.

Because Ada and Cynthia did all that, there’s one more great story out in the world for people to enjoyand the world needs as many stories as possibleand, almost as importantly, I finally have a good answer to a question I’m likely to get asked again. Plus, the next time I personally get stuck or frustrated with my own writing, I’ve got something to tell myself to help get through it: “Be like Ada and Cynthia!”

Thanks, Ada and Cynthia, for writing such a great story and letting me be part of your literary journey (and for the shout-out you gave me in both the acknowledgments and in the story). I can’t wait for your next story!

Once Upon a Time...


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