At only seventeen, Taylor Bennett has achieved what many dream of for a lifetime – a three book contract with a traditional publisher. When looking at such success it’s easy to assume that’s all there is to it, but the upcoming publication of Porch Swing Girl (available for preorder March 1st) was the result of years of hard work and dedication. Taylor was happy to tell us more about her difficult journey to publication and share some of the lessons learnt along the way.
When did you start writing? Can you remember your earliest story?
My earliest story was written when I was about four and barely knew how to read myself. I dictated to my dad, and he typed up every word on the family computer. I think the story was to be a gift for my mom’s birthday. All I really know is that it was purely awful, so I can hardly count it as my literary debut 😉
I got serious about writing when I was thirteen. I took a course on how to write a story and, deciding to shoot for the stars, penned my first almost-novel (more like a scrawny novella, really) for an extracurricular project. It wasn’t a masterpiece by any means, but it inspired me to learn more about both the writing AND publishing process.
How did you come up with the title for ‘Porch Swing Girl’?
The title literally popped into my head one chilly February morning as my mom and I walked the dog. I was sixteen and I’d been wrestling with the “novel” I wrote in middle school for three long years. I’d finally given it up, but I’d been in a creative rut for months.
Those three simple words—Porch Swing Girl—sparked something inside of me that inspired me to keep creating. I already had a different idea I’d been toying with, but it didn’t intrigue me like that simple title did—who was the girl? Why was she on the porch swing? I started concocting answers to those questions, and Porch Swing Girl was born.
What has been your biggest challenge in getting published?
Probably the fact that my first draft of Porch Swing Girl had an extremely weak plot. When I started working with my editor, I was shocked by how much work I would have to do to get this book publication-ready. I had to do “book surgery” and rip my poor manuscript apart, tearing out the puffy parts and pumping it full of plot. But it wasn’t enough—I didn’t know how much plot I needed. In other words, I didn’t put in enough.
So I did another surgery.
Basically, that poor book was in the operating room far longer than a book should ever have to be. But it was necessary, and I’m so much happier with it now.
What has been your biggest mistake? What would you have done differently?
Ha! I made nothing but mistakes! For one, I submitted an unfinished manuscript, therefore breaking one of the biggest rules in the publishing industry. (A note to aspiring authors: PLEASE, make sure your first draft is completed—AND EDITED—before you start sending it to publishers!)
For another…well, there were a lot of them. But, honestly, even if I could go back and change things, I wouldn’t. God had His hand over my career and He worked everything for my ultimate good. I don’t regret a thing I did while pursuing publication, though I do laugh at myself because of my obvious ignorance.
What resources have you found most useful?
The website, Go Teen Writers, was literally my ONLY writing resource for years. Sure, maybe I’d google a question here or there, but Go Teen Writers was my go-to place for inspiration, encouragement, and instruction. It is one of the most amazing, welcoming writing communities I have ever been a part of.
Now, I’m also a part of the Young Writers Workshop, which is an amazing place where teen writers from around the world connect, participate in exclusive online masterclasses and workshops, and bounce ideas off of one another. It’s a true gem for young writers.
I also am a member of the American Christian Fiction Writers association, which is where I found my amazing critique group and have also received instruction from multi-published authors via online masterclasses.
Basically, I can’t pick just ONE writing resource that has helped me the most. There are so many, and they’ve all been there for me during different points in my writing journey.
What do you think is unique about your writing?
My writing is unique because I incorporate unusual settings and situations. Not many books take place in Hawaii. Even fewer feature a one-legged protagonist. But that’s exactly what my sequel to Porch Swing Girl is about. I won’t tell any more because…spoilers 😉
Basically, I try to write books that embrace the unexpected—most of the ideas I have for future books include unconventional protagonists/settings/situations. I crave books that hit on more unusual topics like showbiz or physical disabilities and devour stories that take place in unique locations.
One of my favorite quotes, by author Beverly Cleary, says something along the lines of “write the book YOU want to read.” That’s what I do, and that’s what makes my stories unique.
What one piece of practical advice would you give to other young writers?
Read a lot.
Read in your chosen genre, and read books you’d never dream of picking up. Read fiction. Read nonfiction. Read books about writing and books about writers.
Write a lot.
Write short stories, write blog posts, write novels. Write the book of your heart—that story that tugs at your hand, brings it to the page (or keyboard,) and begs you to write. Write when you’re at your best, write when you’re at your worst. Write for the world, write for yourself.
Don’t focus so much on writing that you forget about your life—your family, your friends. Embrace life and all of its amazing, beautiful messiness. When you’re on top of the world, bottle up those emotions for your writing. When you’re wracked with gut-clenching sobs, when you’re down on your knees, in the worst pain you’ve ever felt, take hold of those moments, too. You’ll need them.
You’ll need the highs. You’ll need the lows.
You might not think you will, but I promise you—everything that happens to you in your life will make a difference in your writing. So get out there. Live. Bask under the bright blue sky, breathe the fresh sea air. Listen to music. Make music. Dream—not just at night, but under the midday sun.
And then, when it’s late at night and the shadows creep through your windows, turn on a lamp. Let its golden glow wrap around you. Draw a blanket around your shoulders. Pick up a pen and write.
Taylor Bennett is the author of the contemporary YA novel, Porch Swing Girl, which releases from Mountain Brook Ink in June 2018. When she isn’t pecking madly at her computer, she’s playing violin on her church’s worship team, snapping pictures, or walking in the beauty of the Pacific Northwest. She loves to connect with future readers on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, or Instagram (her favorite!) as well as on Goodreads and her author website.
Find Taylor at:
If you have any questions for Taylor then leave a message in the comments and she’ll be happy to talk.
That’s it for this week’s special series of Teen Author Talks. It’s been wonderful getting to know so many amazing young authors and I hope everyone has found them as inspiring as I have. I’m very grateful for them giving up their valuable time to answer questions and help the community.
I’ve been thinking of continuing Teen Author Talks as a weekly post, interviewing a mixture of traditionally published, self-published and unpublished teenage authors to help connect everyone in the community and share knowledge, experience and stories. If you think you’d be interested in reading posts like that, or think you might like to take part yourself someday then please let me know in the comments!