State College

Young novelist puts words to work

State College Area High School freshman Naomi Nembhard just self-published her first novel, “The Price of Perfection.”
State College Area High School freshman Naomi Nembhard just self-published her first novel, “The Price of Perfection.” nthomas@centredaily.com

Kids do the darndest things.

Just ask Naomi Nembhard, a freshman at State College Area High School, who just self-published her first novel, “The Price of Perfection.”

Noami has put out a 115-page tome at a time when many of her peers still haven’t done the reading for English class.

How did she do it? Here are a couple of handy tips to be gleaned from Naomi’s experiences.

1. It’s just a number

The tricky thing about writing a novel is that there are always going to be a million reasons not to get started — chief among them being that you are only 12 years old.

“Ever since I was little I loved reading and writing,” Naomi said.

Never one to procrastinate, the preteen Naomi got to work, signing up for National Novel Writing Month’s Young Writer’s Program.

The annual challenge asks fledgling writers to complete an entire novel over the course of just 30 days in November.

While the first draft of what would eventually become “The Price of Perfection” took a full two to three months to get down on paper, the real lesson in all of this practically writes itself.

“You’re never too young to do what you want to do,” Naomi said.

2. Find a story that matters

For her debut novel, Naomi drew from some of the common problems that people face in everyday life.

“I definitely wanted to take my observations about societal pressure and put those into words,” Naomi said.

“The Price of Perfection” is set in a dystopian future where a young girl attempts to uncover the secrets behind the eerie Reform Center, a building where the people who enter are never quite the same when they leave.

3. Failing to plan is planning to fail

There’s going to be a very strong temptation to launch right into the first chapter.

Don’t.

Instead, take a page from Naomi’s book and sketch out your plot and characters. You wouldn’t drive to Yellowstone without a map or a GPS handy — and the same general principle applies here.

“I still have that first notebook where I planned out characters,” Naomi said.

4. Make it a habit

Consistency is your friend. Writing a book forces you to be manager, employee and human resources department all wrapped into one adorable, weary-eyed little package.

“Writing every day, especially with this book, is what kept it going, what kept it flowing,” Naomi said.

Naomi held herself accountable to a daily writing schedule. Sure, the exact time and place could change from day to day — at her desk, on the living room sofa, in the car (that last one doesn’t always work).

5. Don’t get discouraged

Odds are that at one point or another, you’re going to get stuck. Your fingers will hover over the keyboard, tingling with anticipation, begging for some direction — and nothing will come.

“There are always going to be days where you feel like you can’t do it or you feel like you don’t want to do it,” Naomi said.

Whenever she found herself at an impasse on “The Price of Perfection,” Naomi would force herself to go and do something else creative.

Drawing and painting proved to be invaluable distractions that gave her mind a chance to refocus.

“I think starting a book, finishing a book, being in the middle of a book, it’s always going to be difficult, but it’s never going to be not worth it,” Naomi said.

6. Plan on spontaneity

Naomi had done a thorough outline of “The Price of Perfection” before she started writing, but sometimes her novel had ideas of its own.

“There were definitely times where I knew I didn’t like where it was going but I didn’t know how to change it,” Naomi said.

The young writer ultimately wrote two drafts of the book and didn’t shy away from making dramatic changes when she felt that her characters or story called for it.

Even her original denouement wasn’t safe from a few last-minute tweaks.

“I was surprised about how hard it was to make the choice about where the story should end,” Naomi said.

7. Our critics are our friends

We all have blind spots — especially when it comes to our own work.

Naomi was determined to see her novel held to the highest professional standards. To help catch any mistakes that she might have made, Naomi engaged the editing services of Liz Welker.

A staff member at Penn State Center for Integrated Healthcare Delivery Systems, Welker had helped Naomi’s mother, Harriet Nembhard, edit a textbook she co-authored entitled Healthcare Systems Engineering.

Welker did a full edit of “The Price of Perfection,” suggesting places for cuts and tending to any grammatical snafus.

Naomi appreciated the extra set of eyes.

“She always told me if something sounded redundant or if it was too long,” Naomi said.

During her first draft, Naomi was reluctant to show her work to anyone that she knew — it was still too new and unfinished. Even her parents didn’t see any pages until the second draft.

Nerves aside, having a second pair of eyes was crucial.

“If even you only take one of the suggestions an editor gives you, having that other point of view ... It’s invaluable,” Naomi said.

8. Savor the moment

The first hard copies of “The Price of Perfection” arrived at Naomi’s doorstep earlier this month, about a week after her 15th birthday.

“That’s been my dream for a long time, to have that. It was really amazing to hold it for the first time,” Naomi said.

Signing copies for folks at last week’s Pennsylvania School Librarians Association Conference couldn’t have been too shabby either.

“I think it was really valuable to go and see what you need to do to sell your book,” Naomi said.

Ah, yes, the selling of the books. Today, readers can find the eBook version of “The Price of Perfection” on amazon.com, barnesandnoble.com and iBooks.

9. Leave the door open

Naomi has a couple of projects that she’s considering working on next, but she hasn’t ruled out the idea of writing a direct sequel to “The Price of Perfection.”

“Liz, when she finished it, said that ‘you have to write a sequel, there are so many questions,’ ” Naomi said.

Frank Ready: 814-231-4620, @fjready

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