Two Things That Don’t Help a Query (Part 1)

“I got up today and decided to wear purple socks.”

Now, I’m sure you can see how a line like that wouldn’t help your query. Does it tell me something about you? Yes. Is it relevant to your book? No. Does it help an agent make an informed decision about whether to represent your book? Again, no.

Of course, you’d never write about your purple socks in your query letter. (Right?) BUT. What you will write… what you have written in a query (many thousands of you, anyway) is this:

“I’ve been writing since I fell out of my mother’s womb with a pencil in my hand.” Or some such impressive statement about your lifelong habit of writing. “I’ve been writing fiction since the third grade when I showed my first novel to my teacher Mrs. Zuckerman and she told me it was the best story she’d ever read in her life.”

The corollary is: “I’ve loved writing ever since I can remember.” You want us to know that you’ve not only been writing your whole life, you love writing.

Listen carefully:

It’s about as relevant as the purple socks statement. Yes, it tells me something about you. Go ahead and include it if you really feel it’s the most important thing I should know. But understand this: I will ignore it. I will slide right past as if you’d never said it. That’s because every single day of my life I read query letters that include “I’ve been writing my whole life” and hence, it has gone so far beyond clichรฉ, it’s like a parody of a stereotype of a clichรฉ.

The only time that kind of line is helpful and relevant is if it goes something like this: “I’ve been writing since I was three, at which time I won my first Caldecott Medal. By the age of seven I’d garnered two National Book Awards, one for fiction and one for non-fiction. I love writing so much that I continued, even though it took eight more years for me to finally win the Nobel Prize for Literature.”

See what I’m saying? Only if it’s relevant.

One of the reasons your lifelong penchant for writing is irrelevant is because plenty of wonderful, talented authors didn’t get published until later in life. Richard Adams published Watership Down when in his fifties. Laura Ingalls Wilder didn’t publish the Little House books until her sixties. Henry Miller was 44 when his first novel was published, Raymond Chandler 51. And don’t forget one of my favorites, Frank McCourt, didn’t publish Angela’s Ashes until he was 66. So really, who cares if you’ve been writing since you were a child? Either you have a saleable book or you don’t, whether you started writing at six or sixty.

Keep your query letters on-point and focused. Only include information that’s germane to the topic at hand. Besides the actual pitch for the book, include such details as whether or not you’re previously published, if you’ve won any awards for your writing, and what genre of book you’re pitching.

All clear?

Q4U: Since I don’t want to hear it in a query, go ahead and tell me now: How long have you been writing? Did you start when you were five, or fourteen, or were you a late bloomer?

*Tomorrow: The OTHER Thing That Doesn’t Help a Query

Rachelle Gardner

Literary agent at Gardner Literary. Coffee & wine enthusiast (not at the same time) and dark chocolate connoisseur. I've worked in publishing since 1995 and I love talking about books!


  1. nuclear on March 17, 2012 at 5:11 PM

    You will discover lots of ecigarette starter kits promoting over the internet at the moment, but which electronic cigarette starter package is definitely the most effective, and which electronic cigarette starter kit would be the best value for the capital.

  2. Joyce Lansky on October 14, 2009 at 6:17 PM

    >Although I've always enjoyed writing, I didn't start until about three or four years ago (mid-forties). I guess that makes me a late bloomer.

  3. The Amateur on August 17, 2009 at 8:14 PM

    >I've been writing since I was seven years old. Wonderful masterpieces confused with my 39 year old mother's prose! Seriously. I wrote wonderful stories about a family of bears who melted and ate platinum bars. Definitely should of won a Pushcart for that ;). But I started to write seriously when I was 14. I wrote very scary but intellectual poetry. I was spoiled in high school because my teachers loved how I described things and would give me 130 points when there were only 120 to be had. My poetry wasn't awful, but I wasn't going to see it published that's for sure! I've been writing for 24 years, to be exact.

  4. Laurie Boris on August 14, 2009 at 5:37 PM

    >Although I started keeping a journal and writing abysmal short stories and poetry in my early teens, I didn't start my first novel until I was 30. And I never write in purple socks.

  5. Bert Johnston on August 14, 2009 at 8:57 AM

    >I've scanned all 94 of these comments. Looks like I'm the only guy to publish a first novel at the age of 83.

    For most of those years I wrote nonfiction, and not for publication. Sermons mostly. But I wrote the novel purely for fun, and there's no sermonizing in it.

  6. Dominique on August 14, 2009 at 8:31 AM

    >As I rule, I didn't like the "write a short story" assignments my elementary school teachers were so fond of. Getting me to crank out an assignment on a deadline in those days was like getting weeds to grow in your garden — set it and forget it. But I never had ideas. Even I knew the stories I wrote were bad.

    I didn't start writing until my junior year in high school. That's when I started getting ideas.

  7. Paradox on August 13, 2009 at 4:21 PM

    >Oh! I don't know if it counts, but when I was four I had my mom write down my favorite dreams for me as I dictated them.

    And my first "novel" was about fairies. At the time, I was obsessed with them. It also involved a tornado, a miniature planet, a shooting star, magic lakes and wishing waterfalls, intelligent "moon babies", and the Easter Bunny getting married. All in the same book.

    I can also recall writing about "heart people", "star people", evil clouds, dogs who go on quests to change their brown hair to blue, lots of princesses and fairies, parallel universes, time travel, kids with magic powers, and ice monsters. I was never interested in horses or unicorns though, so I never wrote about them. I was a weird little kid.

  8. samantharoyce on August 13, 2009 at 3:04 PM

    >I started when I was five. My kindergarten teacher had these little booklets shaped like eggs, snowflakes, chicks, etc., that we could use to draw in. I used them to write. My first story was entitled "Happy Birthday Easter Egg" and was somewhat plagiarized from various children's TV shows I'd seen. Basically it was about an Easter egg whose friends throw him a surprise birthday party. I threw it out several years ago when I was reducing my stash of things. I've been kicking myself about that ever since.

  9. Paradox on August 13, 2009 at 2:37 PM

    >I started writing stories and stapling together my own picture books when I was five and made my first attempt at a "novel" at age 7, which got to about 30 pages long before I abandoned it. I haven't gotten anything published yet, but it's still my goal.

  10. Lynne Connolly on August 12, 2009 at 3:32 PM

    >I did it once, with an agent who had left her previous agency in order to start up on her own. She hadn't even started her website yet, so I had to explain how I'd heard about her. She was the agent I wanted and I was lucky enough to get her.

  11. Samantha on August 12, 2009 at 2:59 PM

    >I'm feeling the love in this post. I loved writing since the fourth grade. I had awesome creative writing teachers that encouraged me to keep writing. I got accepted into the Institute of Children's Literature in college. Graduated from that. Then won a fiction award. My first published article was Brio & Beyond and I was 21 yrs. old. From that point on, I'm now 26 and have been contributing to all kinds of books, magazines, and currently write for a major Christian media company. Lets just say what is life without writing?
    Won't you be my agent?
    Thanks Rachelle.

  12. Dee Yoder on August 12, 2009 at 1:35 PM

    >Teen angst-ridden years and late bloomer (Jubilee year): age 50.

  13. Tricia on August 12, 2009 at 12:17 PM

    >As a mentally unbalanced child, I wrote dark tales of woe that had my teachers calling for meetings with my parents. I was encouraged to never write again.

    After shocking as many people as necessary to fulfill my tainted ego, I gave it up for nearly thirty years. I resumed three ago, writing tamer tales–mostly true stories–but no less shocking.

  14. Marinka on August 12, 2009 at 11:43 AM

    >It's going to take some time for me to forget that "ever since I fell out of my mother's womb with a pencil in my hand" line. Some time and possibly some tequila.

  15. Bethanne on August 12, 2009 at 9:50 AM

    >I started writing five years ago. I had a lot of trouble with the cursive Z at first, but after weeks and weeks of practice, mine is as good as my husbands. ๐Ÿ˜€

  16. AnnieLaurie on August 12, 2009 at 8:49 AM

    >I started telling stories as soon as I had a large enough vocabulary to make sentences. I started writing stories in 2nd grade, I wrote a book called Night Dreams. I designed the book by folding several sheets of notebook paper in half and saddle stapling them by hand. The length of the story was predetermined by the number of notebook paper pages I had on hand. I also drew a half moon on the front. Cant remember much of the story but remember the crafty part ๐Ÿ™‚

  17. Sheryl Tuttle on August 12, 2009 at 7:25 AM

    >I just want to say great post. Not only do you help writers know what not to include in a query letter, but you also are very encouraging to those of us who are at or near a (clears throat) mature middle age! Regardless of how long we've been writing. ๐Ÿ™‚

  18. Tracey Bateman on August 11, 2009 at 10:49 PM

    >I fell out of the womb wearing purples socks, with a pen in my hand. OH and God told me you are supposed to be my agent.

  19. christa allan on August 11, 2009 at 10:42 PM

    >What I want to know is this: Was the pencil sharpened when s/he fell out of the womb?

  20. BJ on August 11, 2009 at 10:24 PM

    >I've been writing forever — I say that because I don't remember when or how I started. I do know I got honourable mention at the town fair for a poem I wrote (should I mention that in a query letter?). For Robin: my mother insisted the only reason I didn't win was because my handwriting was bad. I would much rather have been told I was just starting out and would someday get better. I feel your pain.

    I decided to be a writer the day I first realized that someone had to write these stories I was devouring – I must have been about six or seven.

    Now I'm in my 40s and finally trying to get published.

    Question: is it worthwhile to mention in my query letter that I write copy and manuals for a living?

  21. Robin Archibald on August 11, 2009 at 8:39 PM

    >As a fifth-grader at the Singapore American School faced with a story-writing assignment, I found my inspiration in the lyrics of the Meatball Song โ€œOn top of old Smokey, all covered with cheese, I lost my poor meatball, when somebody sneezed. It rolled off the table and onto the floor. And then my poor meatball rolled out of the door.โ€
    I couldnโ€™t accept the tale as told by the remaining stanzas that the meatball had merely stopped outside the door, been squashed, and grown into a meatball tree. Surely a recently-liberated, free-wheeling meatball in motion would keep rolling . . . off to find the adventures that awaited it in the wide world! So I imagined three linked adventures for my anthropomorphized meatball and wrote them. My teacher thought my story very clever and decided to display it on the wall for Parentsโ€™ Night. But my handwriting was so bad that she asked a girl with excellent penmanship to copy it over. โ€œWe want people to be able to read your story!โ€ she said. But the story on the wall for Parentsโ€™ Night didnโ€™t look like my story, and it made me kind of sad.

  22. Wes Morris on August 11, 2009 at 7:55 PM

    >I wrote my first short story about a haunted house when I was in the third grade and received an A. After that I thought that I was a writer. But honestly, from then to now at age 51, I have struggled with starting and stopping many times.

    I wrote stories with dark themes for my college writing courses, where I received my degree in writing over ten years ago. But since my conversion to Christianity over six years ago, I have wanted to write about the light. My wife tells me that I have to write and I agree, but I still procrastinate.

  23. Pegg on August 11, 2009 at 7:43 PM

    >I actually started writing while still IN my mother's womb. When she had the hysterectomy her doctors were amazed at all the graffiti scribbled in there. She considered contacting the people at Ripley's Believe it or Not, but didn't want to embarrass me by pointing out my particular genius.

  24. Ms. Maven on August 11, 2009 at 7:14 PM

    >I started writing in my diary when I was shy and abused, and about 7 or 8. I don't write every day anymore since there is peace and joy in my life. It may be today, or one month from now, even years have passed before I pick up a sheet of paper, or journal, and scribble some thoughts about my blessed existence. Writing was my therapy more than a professional pursuit. Yet, like all things, I realize today that I am a late bloomer or reinventing myself. I have a 2-yr old (college age kids too), a new teaching career, and yes, a love for writing for pleasure all over again. I don't even care where it leads…

  25. Kathleen MacIver on August 11, 2009 at 7:04 PM

    >I haven't been writing my entire life. Or even since I was a child. (Though I suppose, if a 3 year old is learning their letters in preschool, then technically I was writing something.)

    Does that count against me? That I didn't grow up with this burning urge to write?

    Truth was, writing a book was always the thing my English-major mother wanted to do. Writing was what I didn't mind doing when school required, or when a friend asked for help, or when I wanted to publish an e-newsletter and had to write my own articles because there was no one else to do it. I did it when the need arose and thought very little about it, either good or bad. I don't think I even realized that lots of people find it difficult.

    But then mom died, and a year later I got an idea for a story that wouldn't leave my head, and I discovered that I might actually enjoy writing books! What-do-ya-know?

    I was 30.

  26. Cecelia on August 11, 2009 at 6:56 PM

    >I started seriously writing when I was about 28. I decided I wanted to write a romance novel and get it published. I was finally able to do that five and a half years later!

  27. The Ink Gypsy on August 11, 2009 at 6:47 PM

    >I've been writing since I was IN the womb, tapping out morse code on my mother's uterine wall, though she didn't pick this up until I was at least halfway through my opus.

    I believe the story went something like: "It was dark, so very dark. It seemed as if all the world were dark and had always been this way…"

    PS My writing methods are now more conventional and less in need of interpretation, though I still like that tap, tappity, tap, tap sound… ๐Ÿ˜‰

  28. M. K. Clarke on August 11, 2009 at 5:54 PM

    >I was sixteen when I took writing seriously. Sorta had to, really: An in-house, month-long HS suspension almost drove me insane enough to announce I could see a 6'3.5" tall rabbit in a red bowtie and named Harvey; the in-house sus[pension's whitewashed walls closing in on me almost drove me over the precipice of sanity that did it. Almost. ๐Ÿ™‚

    Actually, it was my mouth that got me tight-leashed. To keep it shut, I let my pen, notebook and characters say what present-day society and decorum wouldn't permit me to; I've been writing ever since. When did I know I wanted to be a writer? I think during the suspension–and it's burned in me ever since. I think a dedication'll go to the bus driver who reported me–and to my smart mouth. Were it not for them, i wouldn't give the imaginary friends, frneneimes and foes an outlet to blow off steam. . . and to let me sleep at night :).


  29. ~Brenda on August 11, 2009 at 5:42 PM

    >I've been writing since I was a young mom, at the age of 19 … unless you include letter writing. I've done that for years, but it took me a while to realize that I love to write other things to. What can I say? I'm slow.

    I don't know if that qualifies as a late bloomer, but I suppose I was definitely not an early bloomer.


  30. Mariana on August 11, 2009 at 3:45 PM

    >Until last year I didn't believe I could contribute and innovate, since such wonderful things had been already written. I didnโ€™t have a sufficiently fertile imagination, I thought. So I spent the last ten years or so writing technical boring stuff, and just recently Iโ€™m dedicated to creative writing. I have learned a lot, and have yet more to learn, but Iโ€™m confident now that I have something to tell and people may actually want to read it. Wanna know how did I break through? The answer is Neil Gaiman.

  31. gumbo writers on August 11, 2009 at 3:35 PM

    >Brutally honest, thanks!

  32. Reesha on August 11, 2009 at 2:55 PM

    >Oh, I'm so glad someone asked this question so I can get it out of my system and keep it from appearing in my query letters.

    And wow. The stories on here are amazing. You guys rock!

    I wrote a 256 page book when I was 8. That's when I knew I wanted to be a writer. When I say book, I mean it was never published but I printed it all out anyway, got yelled at by my parents for using so much paper and ink, then showed them the book and got out of trouble for having written so much.

    I was homeschooled. Strangely enough, after that year, my mom never bothered to teach me literature or English grammar ever again even though I begged her to. She knew I would learn it on my own, which I did, but it was sneaky of her.

    Here's to the heart of a writer!!! And all of you persevering souls who have dreams. Ah, to dream! Keep keeping on and you'll get there!

  33. Merrie Destefano on August 11, 2009 at 2:44 PM

    >On a tangent, I agree with Timothy.
    "I got up this morning and decided to wear purple socks," would make a great first line for a children's book.

    "I got up this morning and decided to wear purple socks. It was the worst decision I would ever make…"

    I think I started writing in 3rd grade, but no one is going to trick me into telling how many years I've been writing.

    Not that anyone was intentionally trying to trick me. But I'm easily tricked, especially if you're wearing purple socks.

  34. Julie Gillies on August 11, 2009 at 2:39 PM

    >At 9 years of age, I wrote my first book–a 28-page, stapled-together story involving a myseterious, abandoned farm house. I even included a hand-colored cover.

    I don't remember the color my socks at the time. ๐Ÿ˜‰

  35. magolla on August 11, 2009 at 2:26 PM

    >At the age of 41, I decided to write a book. At the age of 43, I finished it.
    At the age of 47, I have written five novels, eleven picture books, one novella, and two short stories, along with a plethora of novel starts.

  36. Shawna Marie on August 11, 2009 at 2:17 PM

    >At the age of eight I wrote and "performed" a poem in class.

    In 7th grade I wrote a novella my 17-year old daughter recently found and devoured. She thinks it's better than Nancy Drew. (Which reminds me, my daughter also wrote a poem when she was eight. I remember the first line… "Oh brother, my mother is weird.")

    Then in 9th grade my English teacher asked me to write a short story with a sad ending. He said I was a good enough writer to make people cry. I can still picture the Open House in his classroom. Parents and students lined up to read my story hanging from the wall. That was my first real taste of success. Several readers walked away drying tears.

    My journey into nonfiction happened in college. My senior thesis received one of only two A's given. Alongside my grade posted on the professor's door were these glorious words: "Best Written Presentation."

    Thanks, Rachelle! I enjoyed the memories. But even more, I enjoyed tooting my horn. I do that about as often as I wear purple socks.

  37. Anonymous on August 11, 2009 at 1:31 PM

    >I've been writing since fourth grade, when I wrote a 69 page novel with a plot I can't remember. Then a prequel about a prince who turned into a dragon due to a curse. Then a prequel to that about the evil prince ancestor of the guy who caused the curse. But I liked the evil prince guy even more than the good guy and this one ended up 84 pages.

    The evil prince starts the story out in the forest. He encounters a bear. It attacks him, so he slays it. He realizes it has a cub. He takes the cub in as a pet. He and the bear grow older together as best friends. The prince's parents decide they want to kill the prince, for some reason. They can't get to him with the bear there. So they murder the bear. The prince is so angry he beheads his parents.

    That was chapter one.

  38. Andrea Brokaw on August 11, 2009 at 12:58 PM

    >As far as I can recall, my extra-curricular writing started when I was eight. I wrote a series of books about Penny the Pineapple, World Traveler. Her first book was about Scotland, where I had just moved, and was sent back to the States to my grandmother. She still has it somewhere.

    My son has a head start on me. He composed his first story. a Sonic the Hedgehog fanfic piece, at age six.

  39. Lynnda - Passionate for the Glory of God on August 11, 2009 at 12:55 PM

    >I dodged the socks that were flying through the bedroom door as I climbed the stairs.

    "Where's my purple socks?" my son yelled.

    Ahhh, what a wonderful thing it is to have an imagination! I have used mine more to "see" the stories I read than to write. After all, reading involves no work.

    The publishing bug struck when I was nine years old. I had a poem published in our city newspaper. In high school, I won the science award for the whole school in my freshman year because I wrote a terrific term paper on DNA, as a junior I took fifth place in a national essay contest and I won second place for a short story contest in our senior advanced English class.

    I put my writing aside, for the most part, for the next 40 years. Now I have a new opportunity to write and to learn the publishing business. It is a wonderful adventure!

    Thanks for bringing back those memories, Rachelle.

    Be blessed!


  40. Kelly Combs on August 11, 2009 at 12:40 PM

    >I've only been writing for publication for about 2 years. I never even considered that opportunity until my newsletter articles & such kept getting the "you should get published" comment. Little did I know, easier said than done!

  41. Damaris on August 11, 2009 at 12:38 PM

    >I think this is really interesting, I actually find relief in the fact that I don't have to really write anything about myself in the query. The only thing about me that I will include will be a tiny sentence at the end that will read:

    This is my first novel.

    And hopefully you will be so delighted with the story by then that you won't even notice that line. (That is if you're not retired by the time I finish my MS.) ๐Ÿ˜‰

  42. Liana Brooks on August 11, 2009 at 12:00 PM

    >Age 4 because our school required us to do the Young Authors program every year and write a book. I was in kindergarten and wrote (with a lot of parental help) a book about a sea turtle with pictures.

    I won the competition in third grade. And finished my first full-length (and then some) novel in high school.

    None of those will ever see the light of day. EVER.

    And I promise not to dredge that up in a query letter. :o)

  43. Keli Gwyn on August 11, 2009 at 11:57 AM

    >My first published writing took place in college XX years ago when I changed my major to mass communication during my last year. Having worked to put myself through school on the eleven-year plan, I was a mature senior who knew enough to snag the best beat: the Associated Students. I had a front page story in every issue.

    Two decades later, after raising our daughter, I returned to my dream of writing. Sometimes I wear cat socks when I write, but none are purple.

  44. Arabella on August 11, 2009 at 11:31 AM

    >I started writing when I was young, but nobody taught me how to write–so what was the point? I graduated from high school w/o being able to write an essay thanks to the PED.
    I learned how to write stories from Nancy Drew. The early authors of Nancy Drew used an extensive vocabulary, specific details, and perfect grammar. Hurrah for Nancy Drew!

  45. Rachel Starr Thomson on August 11, 2009 at 11:23 AM

    >I wrote a lot at the age of six or so, a whole series of picture books about a character called Jonathan Gorilla. For years I didn't write anything, then between 12-14 I wrote two and a half novels. Then I dropped it again and started writing seriously about age 17. Have been keeping up the habit ever since :). I haven't won any awards yet, but my age-13 novel got a very positive personal note from an editor at Farrar, Strauss, and Giroux, which I struggle not to mention in query letters, because, after all, it was still a rejection. But I still have that rejection letter :). He didn't actually know I was a young teenager, which makes it all the sweeter.

  46. Jennifer AlLee on August 11, 2009 at 11:16 AM

    >I'm not wearing socks, but I am wearing a tank top and my favorite pink and orange plaid flannel pajama bottoms which have a hole in one leg so should really be thrown out, but I can't bear to, so I'm wearing them till they fall off my body in pieces.
    Yep, been writing a long time…

  47. Stephanie on August 11, 2009 at 11:12 AM

    >I wrote rhyming poems and one-page stories in about 4th grade or so. I started writing more stories and fewer poems in 5th and 6th grade. Then we moved to a different state and my new school didn't teach or encourage creative writing so most of what I did was for fun in my free time. I rediscovered & focused so much in college that I majored in creative writing. And I've never put any of that in a cover or query ๐Ÿ˜‰

  48. Julie Weathers on August 11, 2009 at 11:11 AM

    >Eight. I wrote an entire mini novel on a tablet my step-dad found. He read the first few pages aloud to everyone and they had a good laugh.

    I didn't attempt it again until I was in my 40's. My husband pronounced the first page disgusting trash and threw it back at me.

  49. Christina G. on August 11, 2009 at 11:04 AM

    >I was writing when I was still a twinkle in my daddy's eye…

    OK, for real. I started my first novel when I was 12. Never finished it. Started another when I was 13. Finished that. Then, three more. Took a break for school. Now, back at it.

  50. Heather on August 11, 2009 at 10:46 AM

    >LOL! Like some others here, my mind thought immediately that the purple socks line would be amazing as the first line in a novel. :0)
    As for writing–I remember asking my babysitter for three pieces of construction paper and a colored pencil, then sitting down to write a mystery story about Donald Duck, Minnie Mouse, Barbie, and Raggedy Anne. At age 8.
    Age 9, I wrote my first short story, "Bobby's New Friend", and shortly after wrote a series about a panda bear which I illustrated and let my little brother color in the front page illustration for me. :0)
    12, I felt God calling me to be an author, and also became enamored with fantasy (thanks to my dad, a Tolkien fanatic). The last two years of high school, I took a Comp 1, Comp 4, Essay, Short Story, and Research Paper online workshops. Now (age 20) I'm in the last year of my apprentice writing course from the Christian Writers Guild, with two books in the final stages of editing and a third 1st draft almost complete. And no signs of slowing down in the near future.
    How's that for a spiel? :0D

  51. Charlie on August 11, 2009 at 10:46 AM

    >I had a dream that was unusually vivid when I was 39 years old. I wrote it down and it turned into my first book.

    I'm 46 now.

  52. Bryan on August 11, 2009 at 10:31 AM

    >I never liked writing until I was in college. Until then I didnt even like reading. However, my professor in seminary, Dr. Calvin Miller, encouraged me to write. He liked some of my stuff and believed in me. It is because of him that I now hope writing becomes a part of my life for a long time.

  53. Stephanie Faris on August 11, 2009 at 10:29 AM

    >I love this not only because I agree but because you give me hope! I began trying to get published in my 20s but a divorce put me off track for a few years. Now I'm back and almost (gasp) 39…where does time go? I keep thinking, oh no, it's too late for me. I'm too old now to get started! This blog gives me encouragement to keep going.

    And yes, I've been writing my entire life, but I can't imagine an editor/agent would care to know that. Haven't MOST of us been writing in some form or another for as long as we can remember?

  54. TereLiz on August 11, 2009 at 10:21 AM

    >I guess I finished my first novel at age fifteen. Not sure of the word count, but it was a notebook and a half. It might have been a little too influenced by the X-Men, complete with boarding school for the "gifted", but I thought it was pretty good.

    Started a lot of other stories before I went to college, but none of them panned out, and I didn't make time to write again until about four years ago. Now I'm making up for lost time!

  55. Suzanne Eller on August 11, 2009 at 10:10 AM

    >Dear agent,

    I've been writing since I was a girl, but then I learned that writing for publication is more than just writing. It's two halves to a whole.
    I discovered that writing is more than words on paper. It's the business of writing meets the creativity of writing.
    When we get that, our writing is no longer confined to a dresser drawer or computer file. It allows our work to reach agents, and pubishers, and editors, and most of all, readers. : )
    So, to answer your question, I've been writing for 10 years.
    Love this post, Rachelle. As usual.

  56. Dara on August 11, 2009 at 10:02 AM

    >I started writing before I actually knew how. The first story I remember writing was at age 4 and I made my mom transcribe it. I still have it somewhere; it was about two kids planting a tulip ๐Ÿ˜›

    I wrote little picture books through grade school and even wrote one that I did a " kid's book on tape" for, complete with the little sound effect that told you when to turn the page ๐Ÿ™‚

    I think my first "novel" was written between age 11 and 12; it was about a girl and her family who were immigrants to my hometown in the mid 1800s and her struggle to fit in. I think it ended up being 80 something pages, (175 front and back) all hand written. I still have that somewhere too, although it's hard to read because of the pencil and my poor handwriting ๐Ÿ˜›

    So I guess I have been writing most of my life. ๐Ÿ™‚

  57. ginny martyn on August 11, 2009 at 9:57 AM


  58. David A. Todd on August 11, 2009 at 9:47 AM

    >Late bloomer for sure, if you don't count business writing, which I've done since I was about 25. Started feeling the urge to write creatively when I was 47 (ten years ago). Started my novel when I was 48, wrote on and off for two years, then knuckled down and finished it when I was 51. Began writing poetry when I was 49. Began freelancing when I was 57 (this year).

    I like to say I was bit by the writing bug in 1999, diagnosed incurable in 2001.


  59. Kristina on August 11, 2009 at 9:38 AM

    >As soon as I could write, I began writing stories. I vividly recall using my mother's old typewriter and getting my tiny fingers caught between the keys. They'd come out scraped and bloodied, but I kept typing! I wish I still had some of the long novels I wrote in those days.

  60. Roxane B. Salonen on August 11, 2009 at 9:33 AM

    >While on writing retreat, I've missed popping in every day. Glad to be back reading. I think this is great. I mean, most writers have been writing, in some form or another, their entire life, right? So no need to state the obvious — totally agreeing here. I feel really fortunate to have found a "book" I wrote at age 5, and I use that in my author visits (Powerpoint) to show kids my first "book." It has three pages, and is called "Roxane's book" (very original wouldn't you say?). The really cool thing about it is that my father wrote some additional text on the last page to go with my fabulous illustrations. That, really, is the bigger part of the story — my father was my first writing coach, and all of us who started writing young had someone in our lives to guide the way. Perhaps a post for another time? ๐Ÿ™‚
    Thanks for your great thoughts…

  61. katieleigh on August 11, 2009 at 9:28 AM

    >I've been writing since I was about six – journals and stories and such. (Nearly 20 years now, then.) Most of my early work was truly awful, but whose isn't?

    Thanks for the tip. ๐Ÿ™‚

  62. LorelieLong on August 11, 2009 at 9:18 AM

    >I started with poetry in 4th grade. To give you a hint of how awful it was: my journals are filled with pages upon pages of rhyme combinations. I think there's two full pages of possible matches for "love."


    Why in the world would I tell you about how bad I used to suck?

  63. Novice Writer Anonymous on August 11, 2009 at 9:11 AM

    >Outside of assigned writing projects in school I didn't start writing until I was in high school. Being only 24 at the present moment, no I haven't been writing my whole life. I've loved reading my whole life, but I didn't decide that I could write something I'd like to read until I was probably 16 or 17.

  64. Amy Bennett on August 11, 2009 at 9:07 AM

    >My friend and I coauthored a book. We were 11. In high school, I wrote a short story required by my English class and it was published in our school's creative writing book. Between all that I've always written in a journal but never considered myself a writer. My friend was "the writer". She's the one that had a notebook full of poetry and stories and went to college for journalism. I majored in Computer Science. My journals went online to a blog when I got pregnant seven years ago. Somewhere along the way I realized I enjoyed creative writing. Last fall I wrote a book after much prodding from my writer friend. And it actually wasn't trash. In fact, I'm kind of proud of it. So I'm still not convinced I'm a writer but if I am, then that's how it came to be.

  65. Marla Taviano on August 11, 2009 at 9:01 AM

    >I composed my first poem at age 4.

    And I have TOTALLY used that in a query/bio/whatever. It does sound kind of lame now that I think about it. ๐Ÿ™‚

  66. Aimee Laine on August 11, 2009 at 8:58 AM

    >What is it about sixth grade publishing? That must be in the curriculum as that's when I started! ๐Ÿ™‚

    Though the real start was in kindergarten … you know … when they put a big fat pencil in your hand and say "trace these letters" so that eventually you spell your own name … backward. ๐Ÿ™‚

  67. Horserider on August 11, 2009 at 8:54 AM

    >I wish I could remember. I suppose it's been for as long as I could hold a pencil. My first stories were ten pages long, each chapter a half page handwritten, and all about cats. Then, like a typical little girl, I moved on to writing stories about unicorns and horses. Though I once had a novel about a hunter that had gotten lost in the wilderness.

  68. lynnrush on August 11, 2009 at 8:45 AM

    >Great topic. Purple socks cracked me up. LOL.

    Wow, most of the comments describe long histories of writing. . . I'm in my second year of writing. God put me on this ride, and I'm having a blast.

    Thanks for this post.

  69. Jill on August 11, 2009 at 8:29 AM

    >I would change that first line to, "I pulled on my purple socks. It was just that kind of a day."

    I don't remember when I started writing. I know I was a kid, and I threw in everything I ever wanted into one story. (It was a long one.) When I became a young adult, I knew I hadn't yet experienced enough of anything to make people want to read what I had to say so writing got put on the back burner.
    Fifteen years later it occurred to me that I was now thirty-five. I had six children and my husband and I were raising them in Uganda, East Africa, where we worked as missionaries. If I hadn't experienced enough life by then I never would. So I started writing again.

    I think I'm going to go look for my green socks. It doesn't feel like a purple day.

  70. CKHB on August 11, 2009 at 8:24 AM

    >Agent Caren Johnson also discussed this recently (and there was some pushback in the comments!)

    I indeed started reading/writing at a ridiculously young age, but who cares, besides my proud parents?

    Leigh Lyons, never apologize for your background. If your query letter doesn't list publications, the agents assume you have none, and THAT'S FINE. "I am currently attending Study Hard College, and I have had 3 short fiction pieces published in Local Paper and Regional News." Embrace it.

  71. R. K. Mortenson on August 11, 2009 at 8:23 AM

    >I wore my first purple socks at age four.
    Published my first poem at age 11.
    Fell in love with writing, for real, at age 26.
    Published my first book at age 35.
    And at the tender age of 65…well, it should be fun to look back then.

  72. Jungle Mom on August 11, 2009 at 8:13 AM

    >I have always kept a journal and have written short stories for my family and friends. I have never felt the need to publish anything, until 3 years ago.
    Now I feel compelled to share the story of the last 20 years of my life as a missionary in the jungles of Venezuela and our experiences with the government of Hugo Chavez. Something about military helicopters and men armed with machine guns entering your home makes one feel the need to share as our days are numbered.
    As a Christian, I wish to share with the next generation that a life of service is not only rewarding, it can be fun, and when danger comes, we can know the peace of God through it all, no matter the outcome.
    I am a grand mother so I must be a late bloomer.

  73. Kat Harris on August 11, 2009 at 8:03 AM

    >"I've been writing since I was three, at which time I won my first Caldecott Medal. By the age of seven I'd garnered two National Book Awards, one for fiction and one for non-fiction. I love writing so much that I continued, even though it took eight more years for me to finally win the Nobel Prize for Literature."

    Whoa! I hope you immediately signed this querier as a client.

    ๐Ÿ™‚ Sorry. Couldn't help it.

    I wrote my first short story when I was six. Loved it ever since.

  74. Rachelle on August 11, 2009 at 7:54 AM

    >Leigh Lyons –

    Pretty much everyone who queries is a "noob" so you'd better get over it. You are what you are. Do you have a good book or not?


  75. Livia on August 11, 2009 at 7:40 AM

    >Your example of a helpful bio cracked me up. Off to work on that nobel prize now….

  76. Scott on August 11, 2009 at 7:35 AM

    >I think I was 19 when I started writing. It was all sort of an accident. I finished reading a book and wanted to know more about the characters. What happened after the last page? Did they go on to lead exciting lives? Did they end up desperate and alone? Did . . .? Well, I had all these questions and decided to answer them myself. Go figure.

    Who knew what a remarkable journey I would begin when I first set pen to paper? I certainly didn't.

    I love delving into the depths of my imagination, the chaos of my mind, and the depravity that lurks just beneath the surface.

    Would I trade the writing life? No!

    Great post. I'll have to remember not to mention purple anything in my query . . . though, there was the time my mother decided to take up sewing. Oh, my, you should see the hideous purple shirt she made for me . . . and I unfortunately wore it to school on picture day in the 3rd grade. Just another wonderful moment to talk to my therapist about!! I'm seriously not kidding about the purple shirt. Ah, the scars of childhood!

  77. Sharon A. Lavy on August 11, 2009 at 7:23 AM

    >What a fun topic. Purple socks. Do you know how hard it is to find socks that actually match your outfit? . . . Don't get me started.

    That is the beauty of summer. No socks.

    Oh. . . you don't need to know more about purple socks . . .

  78. Katy McKenna on August 11, 2009 at 7:20 AM

    >Timothy Fish, you are cracking me up today! I also thought the query letter writer was quoting the first line from her novel as a device to hook the agent. Your revision of the first line, btw, is magic! ๐Ÿ˜‰ But, I'm sorry, I have to use the word "awakened."

    "I awakened this morning and decided to wear purple socks."

    Kind of a Rain Man story, I'm thinking. "K-Mart…Definitely not wearing my underwear…"

    Q4U: Started writing the second I cracked the code for phonetic reading, age 6. I remember that moment when the sounds matched up with the letters and the world opened up. Serendipity!

  79. Krista Phillips on August 11, 2009 at 6:41 AM

    >Okay, I just had the shivers. It's like you read a page from one of my first query letters I sent out. I had PARAGRAGHS of what we now call "backstory" but it was MY back story… not even the characters! YUCK. I'm sure my query letters aren't perfect now, but at least I've wised up on that little detail.

    When did I start writing? I think it started with reading really. I devoured books as a kid, and it naturally lent to writing. I started my first novel with I was 18, got three chapters into it, got stuck, and worked on that for the next eight years. Then I realized I was writing the wrong book. I sat down with my NEW story idea and had a rough draft of a 90k novel in three months.

    Then I got to learning how to REALLY write a novel, and spent the last two years fixing said book (and starting others of course!)

  80. H. L. Dyer on August 11, 2009 at 6:40 AM

    >I wrote my first book when I was 4.

    The Two Flowers is women's fiction, like the novel my agent is sending on submission. But it runs a bit shorter (53 words) than The Edge of Memory and interestingly has a less happy ending.

    For Flowers, I hired an editor (my grandmother) as I was unclear on how to spell "rain" at the time. ๐Ÿ˜‰

    It's the story of a young woman struggling with her new marriage and her husband's secret regrets over starting a family… Gripping, I tell you! *snort*

  81. Timothy Fish on August 11, 2009 at 6:38 AM

    >I started writing at six, just after my first cup of coffee and before my second. My characters have been most cooperative lately. Theyโ€™ve been too cooperative if you ask me, but you didnโ€™t. You asked me when I began writing. I find that it helps me if I begin early in the morning. I would begin at three, but thatโ€™s a little too early. Five or six is good. Once I start writing it is much easier to keep right on going. If I wait still eight or nine, well thereโ€™s no telling what I might have started by that time.

  82. Katie Ganshert on August 11, 2009 at 6:09 AM

    >I have this on my website (about when I started writing) – but I won't put it queries when I start sending them out. Thanks for the tip!

    I started laughing out loud when I read this post, because honestly, I did start writing in third grade when my teacher (her name wasn't Mrs. Zuckerman, though) read one of my stories out loud.

    Do you think it's cliche to have that on my website?

  83. Carradee on August 11, 2009 at 5:55 AM

    >I remember trying to write stories when I was little, and my mother says I told a lot of stories, too, often with factors that she was bewildered for where I got them from. (Like the bad man who'd tied up my grandmother in the closet–though now that I think of it, that might've come from Little Red Riding Hood.) I recall scrapping a story after finding it at age nine, and thinking that I'd started writing it a few years earlier.

    I then went through a drawing and crafting phase (needlepoint, crochet, knit–the yarn-based ones).

    I first started writing as a primary hobby at age 14, letting others read it and improving my craft, so that's when I count it.

  84. Holly Bodger on August 11, 2009 at 5:43 AM

    >I wrote my first book at age 5 (even gave it an illustrated hardcover and everything!) It would never occur to me to mention this in a query.

    As for my purple socks…what can I say? Donnie Osmond Rocks.

  85. Timothy Fish on August 11, 2009 at 5:38 AM

    >"I got up today and decided to wear purple socks."

    I like that. Well actually I would change it to "I got up this morning and decided to wear purple socks," but my first thought was what a great first line it would make for a novel–without the quotes of course. I'm sitting here wondering what the significance of wearing purple socks is and why the narrator would want us to know what color of socks he is wearing. Maybe he decided to attend TCU. Now I'm read to read the book.

  86. Tabitha Bird on August 11, 2009 at 4:36 AM

    >Oh, well I really did fall out of my mother's womb with a pen in hand… you sure you don't need to know that? AND my aunt, grandma, sister, canary and the dog next door all said that the very first draft of the only book I am ever going to write was sooooo fantastic and in need of no edits. So naturally you will want my phone number. No wait. I'll call you…

    (PS- I AM joking… what goes through some writer's heads?)

  87. Leigh Lyons on August 11, 2009 at 4:01 AM

    >I've been writing since I was 3.

    Okay, I have a question. What if your literary resume is unimpressive? I'm in college and although I've been writing since I was 3, I've only ever published flash fiction pieces in local papers. What does one say in a query that keeps them from tattooing "noob" to my query letter? Thanks!

  88. Geraldine on August 11, 2009 at 3:28 AM

    >Been writing novels since my early thirties and I am now fifty. Published one POD in 2003 and have several more that need a good home. Besides my novels, I have notebooks and journals all over the house for my musings, my daily diary and anything else that can be put into words. And yes, I love writing and still aspire to finding a publisher to go the whole nine yards with me!!!


  89. Jessica on August 11, 2009 at 3:21 AM

    >Oops. I think this info might be in my query! LOL At least (hopefully) agents slide by it…

    The first story I remember writing was in sixth grade, like the other lady, it was bound and I was SO excited to have a "real" book. But most of my writing was done in diaries or short stories that disappeared in notebooks and spare pieces of paper. ๐Ÿ™‚

    And then my newspaper editor said I should write a book! LOL! A whole new, painful, amazing world opened up for me. Hahaa!

  90. Fay on August 11, 2009 at 2:16 AM

    >I started writing when I was a little kid but I didn't write my first novel until 13.

    Being 13, my novel was rather crap, but hey, it was a starting point. As family tends to do, everyone started pushing me to try to publish it, despite the level of awfulness.

    However, I know it might not be until I'm in my twenties or even later, that I write the novel I want to try to get published. I also have other things in life like university to focus on.

    There's no rush after all…since people are still writing bestsellers in their sixties =P

  91. Kathi Lipp on August 11, 2009 at 2:12 AM

    >I was a speaker and happy with just being a speaker, but everyone I talked to said if your going to be a speaker, you need to be a writer.

    I am a left-handed dyslexic who failed freshman English. So naturally, writing seemed like the best career path if I wanted to guarantee misery.

    But, when I found an idea I was passionate about (secretly loving our husbands, on purpose, for 21 days,) I found that I really enjoyed the process of writing.

  92. Pym on August 11, 2009 at 1:58 AM

    >I've saved everything from my high school and further back. A lot of my attention was focused on writing, from my schoolwork to my personal stuff. I wrote two long works in HS, 75k+ each, and then discovered the internet in college and /stopped/. Considering that writing, like anything, requires practice to become good, I don't want to wait until regret sets in before doing what I clearly want to do. I finished NaNoWriMo last year after five tries, it really boosted my drive to continue putting words to paper.

  93. Heart2Heart on August 11, 2009 at 1:42 AM


    I started writing for myself and not as part of required school teaching when I was 12. I wish I would have kept those handwritten notebooks and referenced them today for ideas just to look back and see where I have grown as a writer.

    I picked it up again as a release for a bad divorce and used it as an outlet for a positive direction I wanted to see my life headed in, so I wrote from the perspective of where I wanted to be.

    It wasn't until I hosted my own forum 40 Somethings for Self Magazine that was written about in the March magazine of 2003 as being one of the three largest forums they had seen on their website.

    I felt I might have something and felt led to follow what people told me and to begin to write.

    So for now, I am in the learning process of just what is going to get my book published and for editors and publishers to take me seriously and not make all those first time mistakes most new writers make.

    Your blog makes those small steps possible and I take all your wise words to heart and they surely don't fall on deaf ears.

    Love and Hugs ~ Kat

  94. Yamile on August 11, 2009 at 1:41 AM

    >I was eight, and I wrote a fairy tale about a princess whose grandfather died of cancer. Mine had died three years before. Ever since, writing has been my self psycho-analysis. It wasn't until a few summers ago that "stories" kept coming to me and I had to write them or I couldn't sleep though.

  95. csmith on August 11, 2009 at 1:37 AM

    >In all seriousness, coming up for 10 years now with a 2 year hiatus. But the first 6 years were just fanfiction – good to play around with, but unpublishable. It's a completely different game writing for pubication.

  96. wellreadrabbit on August 11, 2009 at 1:33 AM

    >I am wearing pink and white striped socks, and have been writing since I was about 5 (and obsessed with books since then too). That said, unlike a lot of writers I didn't always know I wanted to be one – writing was just my way of interacting with the world. First I wanted to be a 'bush ranger' (I actually meant park ranger, but Ned Kelly was cool in his own kinda way), then a vet, a designer, a teacher etc. I only realised that writing was an actual profession in my 20s ๐Ÿ™‚


  97. Anonymous on August 11, 2009 at 1:26 AM

    >It should be quality over quantity. Output and length of time shouldn't matter as much as the quality of the writing. Who cares that you've been writing for 25 years if all you've written is unpublishable drivel? Take the time to hone your craft and imrpove your skills and it may pay off in the end.

  98. Icy Roses on August 11, 2009 at 1:26 AM

    >I started when I was eight. It was a magnificent story about unicorns in the sky. Stereotypical to the extreme for a little girl.

    I'm not proud of it, but we all have to start somewhere.

  99. Megan on August 11, 2009 at 1:22 AM

    >i've been writing my eeeennntttiiirrreeee life!

    the first story i can properly remember would be in grade 6 when what we wrote was bound. i wrote a story about a girl who was attacked by her "killer hair" in the shower. instant best seller i tell you! i believe i went into more detail about her and her twin brother, and her mother's twin and her sons and daughters, which included various twins (i think i was a bit obsessed with twins).

    also, my diary enteries were something to write home about. pages and pages and pages until finally i began typing them because it was quicker.

    pages and pages and pages and pages!

    ps – would you like to know what socks i'm wearing? they're white with a little pink box on the bottom saying what size they are (5-8, if interested)


  100. Lazy Writer on August 11, 2009 at 1:15 AM

    >I started writing cards for my mom on Mother's Day when I was five. Does that count?