L.E. Todd: It’s Never Too Late- my story as a writer
I was in my fourth year of college when I discovered what I wanted to do with my life. Or, I should say, it discovered me. I’d been navigating a pretty awful relationship and going through some of my darkest days when I sat down one night and started hammering out words on my Dell. It was 2008, and I was subsisting on Mountain Dew and Djarum Blacks, which somehow propelled me forward as I began to write what would become my first novel-length manuscript.
It’s never too late to start something new. I was supposed to be in the twilight of my college career, determined and decided and ready to add important credentials to my résumé. But I had no idea what I wanted to do until one difficult night changed everything.
I’d never thought about being a writer, though I had developed a love of writing, especially in my philosophy and history classes. But writing wasn’t something I was studying—or, *ahem*, failing out of—in college. In fact, I knew next to nothing about writing. But what I did know was that I wasn’t fond of rules and I was determined to do things my way.
At first, the words I’d gotten down were just an emotional mess. I’d had a difficult night with the guy I’d been dating and it was the first time I had really started to question my own future. Where was I going? Was he coming with me? My night wore on, punctuated by bouts of tears, and I found myself in bed with my laptop open and my fingers on the keys. And right there, in my little apartment in the Kalamazoo student ghetto, I started writing.
What was, at first, a depiction of what had happened that night, soon became a bigger story. The future I was searching for became the image I painted across my screen. I was furiously writing myself out of my circumstances and into something new and meaningful and necessary. I needed it, this new life I was inventing. So, for months, that’s all I did. I wrote and researched and planned and wrote. I created people who felt real to me and a main character who is me, and I built out an enormous story… until I came to THE END.
And then I tried to get it published, right?
Wrong. Well, sort of wrong.
Back then, everything was snail mail and SASEs, so after an expensive, short, and daunting period of querying agents, I slowed myself down. I still had a lot to figure out about my future, but I knew then as I know now that it’s never too late.
I was sure as shit lucky to have two parents who were down for the ride to help me figure this stupid life thing out. And literally, they were Down. For. The. Ride. When I told my dad I wanted to move far away and live alone in some small town writing books, he dropped everything and took me on a big road trip through Vermont. We wandered aimlessly through a dozen small towns just trying to find a life I wanted to live. If not for altitude sickness that I couldn’t seem to shake, I might have made that giant move. Instead, I took a breath, closed my suitcase, and went back to Detroit, where I tried to settle into a nine-to-five.
Time went on as I worked through jobs I hated and floated through a few dead-end relationships. I was in my mid-twenties and still obsessing over this story I’d written, still letting myself daydream about what I’d planned to be a massive series, but never putting my fingers back on the keys. Still, I didn’t love anything as much as I loved writing that story. I lived it and I breathed it, even with it sitting on my back burner for years.
Major life changes came when I started dating someone who convinced me that writing could be my career. He meant content writing in the marketing field, but still, it was a step in the right direction in terms of catering to what I loved. So, I finally started getting paid to write and honing my craft in a unique way, and for quite some time, it was awesome. Another goal was met when we moved to northern Michigan and started living that small-town life I’d been craving, all nestled in the woods and surrounded by what I felt, and still feel, is some semblance of a magical existence.
And so, a decade had passed. More than a decade, in fact, and I’d written nothing new. I’d focused on other areas of my life and prioritized family while working in marketing, which was probably what I needed at the time. Sure, over the years, I’d reopened that document and done some shifting, some word-slashing here and there. But, that first book of mine remained largely untouched until the point at which I found myself lost again. Some part of me would wonder if I’d wasted too much time or if I’d ever get back to what I really loved. Still, in the back of my mind, I had to keep reminding myself that it’s never too late.
The pandemic was a curious time for all of us. A lot of sitting and waiting and wondering. When will it end? Will it end?! What should I be doing? By this time in my life, I was married, had two beautiful boys, and was a work-from-home, stay-at-home-mom. It was late summer 2020 and people were starting to leave their houses more and getting out in the fresh air before winter hit hard in “up north” Michigan.
It was on a particularly pleasant afternoon that my family of four went to a local, woodsy park and I had the first meet-cute of my life. A woman, there with her husband and their two boys, happened upon us and struck up conversation about my wizarding world phone case. It was just a simple opener that transitioned into enthusiastic chatter about all things book-related, and soon, we were making plans and having family get-togethers. What I didn’t know about this platonic meet-cute was that it would become the turning point in my writing career.
Over the years, I’d made a habit out of breezing past any talk of my book. In fact, very few people actually knew I’d written a book or had dreams of becoming a published author. But, there was something about this common ground and this new person in my life that made me finally blurt the words out during a playdate: “I wrote a book.” And just like that, it was there on my tongue and in the forefront of my mind for the first time in a dozen years. A book exists that I have written. It is mine and I’m not done with this book writing thing.
So, that winter, my new friend—a voracious reader with her own home library, stuffed to the brim with thousands of books—read, nay, devoured my book. She was the fourth person to read it and the fourth person to love it, and just that alone gave me life. It’s never too late; it’s never too late; it’s never too late. I had taken on a mantra like my own early-thirties human version of The Little Engine That Could and I was ready to get back to what I loved.
A long, peaceful winter in northern Michigan provided the perfect stage on which I wrote the sequel to my first book, then continued on with notes and planning and plotting for the remainder of the series. I also got back into reading, which I’d been turned off of for some time as a depressing reminder of what I should have been doing. But, should I have been doing it all along or was the timing just right? I think it’s easy to get into the headspace of questioning the time we have and what we do with it while also bemoaning lost time. I had to push past this, though. I had to keep going.
In spring of 2021, after tumbling head-first into a contemporary romance bender, I had this lightbulb moment. I’d been rapidly consuming any and everything written by Lexi Ryan, finally understanding the romance category beyond my preconceived notions about it, when I started writing The Spoiler.
After this massive break from writing and a haphazard reentry with the sequel to my first book, I somehow managed to churn this new story out in just under six weeks. And holy shit, I loved it. I’d never entertained the idea of writing contemporary romance, although my historical fantasy series does have a prominent romance subplot, but this new genre felt surprisingly comfortable to me. I could write something outside of fantasy, and I did!
Soon, I’d done revisions and found beta readers and even sent out queries. For the first time in forever, a story I’d written was getting out in the world instead of hiding in my Google Drive. And, being in this daring state of mind, I decided to query my first book at the same time. I was sending both projects out into the world like a mother of twins at a debutante ball and I was equal parts thrilled and terrified.
Of course it must be said that the pandemic provided an excellent chunk of time for people considering writing books to actually write books, and they did just that. Submissions were up and the writing community was filled with questions of how long and will they respond and how many queries before giving up. Again, I tend to march to beat of my own drum, so I tried my best to stay on the fringe of these debates and continue on my own way.
High submission rates mean high rejection rates, and I’ll admit it was hard to wade through a seemingly endless pit of NOs. But I also held to the idea that I only needed one YES. About six months into querying, participating in Twitter pitch events, and on maybe the third version of my query letter, I finally did get a full manuscript request. Then, another. I even, finally, got a request for that dusty, finely aged, 12-year manuscript.
Fall of 2022 was the best fall of my life. Over the course of three glorious, crisp and colorful months, so many changes took place. First, my offer of acquisition for The Spoiler came through. It was just an ordinary morning—one where you refresh your email a thousand times because you’re in the query trenches and that has become your new normal—and there it was, an offer. Someone wanted to publish a book I’d written. A lot of screaming and tears and ohmygodIcan’tbelieveit ensued and then a zoom call with Sword and Silk was set to discuss the offer.
On Halloween, I received more good news. An agent—the one who had read my first book, Harrow Eternus—sent me a detailed email requesting revisions on it. It was too long for her to sell, but she really loved it. Soon, I was on yet another thrilling zoom call and I had all my notes down for what she was requesting. She also wanted me to send along the sequel so we could be on the same page for the whole series.
In November, I signed my first publishing contract and sold The Spoiler, joining this tight-knit community of authors in the Sword and Silk family. It was a huge first for me. I was 35 and had been dreaming of selling a book since I was 21, and though I stepped away for some time and needed to find my path once more, I knew that it was only the beginning. Selling my first book was just the start of my story.
Life has evolved for me into something of a dream itself. I spend the majority of my time writing new books while also working on revisions for Harrow Eternus and looking to the future of the series. I have deadlines and expectations now, and they’re all related to writing—my first love. I know that there will be ups and downs, that I may have a book die on submission or I may not ever have a bestseller. But as I continue on in my life as published author, I also know that everything has happened the way it was meant to. That finding my way at this stage in life is exactly what I was supposed to do. And that it’s never too late to do what you love.