Sparkle, you've definitely earned your place in the Annals of History's Greatest Buck-Ups—well done, me. You make you proud.
Well I'm glad that, even at a time like this, the little voice inside my head has the wherewithal to be as snide as ever—I know I certainly don't; not right now, anyways. Aside from Little Miss Snarky, a thousand and ten other thoughts are presently trotting through my temple, tripping over themselves, trampling each other, and totally tearing the place apart. I'd love to draw a witty analogy to a Pinkie Pie party, but I can't even brain that, I'm so messed up at the moment.
I do know what each one of those thousand and ten thoughts is, though: a little piece of hindsight. It's a puzzle of sorts; each piece is a small mistake I've made along the way, and putting them all together reveals The Big Picture—which, as is the case with an alarming frequency—I've missed. Again. Thinking about this is giving me a migraine.
My body isn't faring much better than my head at the moment, either. I'm pretty sure I've sprained at least two of my ankles, and I think I bit my tongue when I fell. To make matters worse, with every ragged breath I take I can hear a rather distinct whistle coming from within. Asthma? I haven't had an asthma attack since I was ten, for Celestia's sake!
That inhaler's going to look great with your glasses—way to further the Egghead stereotype, by the way.
It still surprises me that Rainbow Dash is the only pony who's noticed how close I have to stick my muzzle into a book to be able to read it. Then again, Rainbow Dash noticing things is the very reason I've ended up in this small ditch deep inside the Everfree Forest, covered in mud and a hundred sheets of equally muddy paper.
The manuscript is ruined, or at least, this copy is. The fact that I double-triplicate everything I ever write is of little comfort right now as I lay here waiting for Rainbow Dash to find me like I know she will. It'll probably take her a while—it's a long flight from Cloudsdale after all, and teleporting her so suddenly like that probably left her a little disoriented. I don't mind the wait, though; I need to calm myself down after the marathon I've just run, anyways. In fact, I think I'll use the time to sort out my thoughts and review a few of those puzzle pieces. No sense in letting all those mistakes go to waste; might as well learn something from them, even if it's a bit too late to do anything about it.
First things first: curse my gift of retention! To possess the ability to reexamine each and every event that led to my fall from grace—in vivid detail—is an unexpected and rather unwelcome consequence of near-perfect recall, to say the least.
A true scientist knows no shame.
Right. Constructing a list of every idiotic step I took to dig myself deeper into this metaphorical and, well, physical hole shouldn't preclude me from being thorough and exhaustive.
While I'm at it and for the sake of completeness, I believe Twilight Sparkle Senior and Princess Celestia both deserve special mention for their prominent roles as catalysts to my downfall. It was my dear Mother that first blighted my passionate pursuit of percipience by introducing fiction, of all things, to my reading routine. As in, non-non-fiction! Oh, I resisted it at first; valiantly, if I do say so myself. My petulance knew no bounds, and from a very early age my grasp of logic was airtight. In fact, I was the only student from Magic Kindergarten to ever be made an honorary member of the Alicorn League Colleges Debate Team. Mother, however, can be quite stubborn once she gets an idea in her head—especially if she believes herself to be right and, considering how smart she is, that does happen to be the case more often than not.
And so it was that, at the tender age of five, Twilight Sparkle Junior put down her beautiful, wonderful encyclopaedia set and picked up... a light novel. 'Smarty Pants and the Notebook of Knowledge,' a book chosen by Mother because she is evil and cunning, is the amazing and surprisingly deep story of a little filly using her book-smarts to outwit the bad guys and save the eponymous Notebook from falling into their evil hooves.
I didn't stand a chance.
Smarty Pants proved to be my gateway series into an endless collection of amazing worlds eagerly waiting to be thoroughly explored by my inquisitive mind (right after I was done exploring the real one, of course). Suddenly, the other half of the library had been opened up for my perusal, and I perused hard. I burned through a myriad of subjects at a pace that nearly matched my unending enthusiasm for the sciences: high fantasy, hard sci-fi, dystopian futures, horror, epic poetry, knight errant; just about any book within reach was fair game now, and I lost myself completely to the reading.
Then along came 'Harrier the Spy,' a story about a young Griffon girl with a keen eye for observation and data gathering (two of my favorite things in the world!). The short story quickly turned my focus toward mystery and detective novels—to think, there was an entire genre of books dedicated to critical thinking and the triumph of logical reasoning! As a bonus, these stories usually took place in a past or present setting that tended to mirror the real world very closely—it was a close to non-fiction as fiction could get. I am not ashamed to admit to having had a crush back then to Fetlock Holmes and that brilliant brain of hers.
Your lust for fictional characters is irrelevant to this list, Sparkle.
Right. Anyways, it didn't take long for me to start writing my own little short stories between study sessions—even among the bright children at Princess Celestia's School for Gifted Unicorns I tended to complete all of my work well ahead of the rest of the class, something that afforded me a lot of idle time with which to write. The first time I found myself absentmindedly scribbling away after finishing with my self-study assignment, I felt so guilty about using class time for such decidedly non-academic pursuits that I turned myself over to the Royal Guards. To this day, my brother and his company will not let me live it down.
These 'stories' that I wrote were terrible, by the way; the paper they were scribbled on was not even fit to be burned. I'm certain my absolute lack of skill even turned the ink I used into a powerful, deadly poison. I was not aware of that at the time, however—to my eleven-year-old eyes, they were a masterfully-penned literary tour de force that easily rivaled any other best-seller out there. All of them featured a lavender-coated winged unicorn filly with a streaked, midnight blue mane who was the smartest pony in the land. Everypony loved her, and deferred to her infinite knowledge, and she was also a Princess. Princess of the entire world. Clearly, the Bullitzer Prize for Fiction was as good as mine.
Princess Celestia, bless her enormous heart and infinite patience, very gently taught me all about Pony Sues and the difference between storytelling and blatant wish-fulfillment. Many years later, during my 20th birthday party, she would go on to describe my first attempts at writing as 'masturbatory,' which I still believe is not a word Spike should have learned yet. I've since then destroyed those neophytic scribblings using a Matter Annihilation spell I came up with out of sheer embarrassment after re-reading them as an adult. The Princess barred me from using my horn as a collider ever again after the resulting explosion caused some slight surface damage to a comparatively small area of the otherwise featureless desert south of Las Pegasus. While I do agree that I was perhaps somewhat hasty and should have run it by her beforehoof, the fact that Earth weighs just a little bit less now and has a thin new planetary ring should be seen as a serendipitous collateral boon!
But, I digress. Despite my less-than-stellar beginnings, my Mentor (somehow) saw something in my writing worth nurturing. Most afternoons, after the conclusion of the day's tutoring session, the Princess and I would find ourselves relaxing in the quietude of the Royal Gardens; Celestia serenely reading my day's work while I rested patiently by her side, usually doing some extra credit assignment while I waited for her opinion. Her careful guidance helped mold and hone my writing skills, and I grew more confident each day.
Time passed, and during my first year of college, the Princess casually informed me that I had truly found my voice as a writer and encouraged me to get one of my short stories printed in the school paper's literary section. The very idea absolutely terrified me—other than Spike, nopony else but my Princess had been allowed to read those silly little tales, and the only other pony who knew that they even existed was my Mother, and that's only because she somehow figured me out despite my incredible efforts to hide them.
You hid them under your bed in a box marked 'My Stories'.
I spent most of my first semester mulling over that decision; sure, the School for Gifted Unicorns catered to the Arts as much as it did to the Sciences, but Princess Celestia's personal, hoof-chosen student, writing childish fiction? The scandal! Surely, a coup d'état would not be far off as public opinion of the Princess's wisdom and sovereignty came under serious scrutiny. Despite Princess Celestia's numerous assurances to the contrary, having anypony else read my work utterly paralyzed me with fear. I didn't want to let my Princess down, however, as she really did enjoy my work.
Sigh. There had been a simple, elementary solution to this problem all along, one that—naturally—I had failed to consider in all that time that I spent wallowing in worry: a pseudonym. It took me a few more days to recover from the personal shame I felt for not thinking of the glaringly obvious answer. Oddam's Razor, for Celestia's Sake!
Ahem. As Twinkle Starlight, I got published for the first time, much to my absolute giddiness. Surprisingly, that week's printing of the paper completely ran out as students from all over the school heard about my story through word-of-mouth. I never in a thousand years expected to be so well-received, and after my initial shock, I began sending in short stories most every other week and reveling in the little mystery I had created around myself—nopony at school knew who Twinkle Starlight really was!
Now, I'm mature enough to admit that being somewhat of a friendless recluse might have helped me maintain my veil of anonymity at the time—I mean, despite being Princess Celestia's protégé, the general student body never really got to know me, what with me spending most of my free time at school at the library or with Celestia. Come to think of it, using my real name probably wouldn't have drawn much attention to me anyways.
Some months later, once again at the behest of my Princess, I participated in a literary contest that was being held by a small publisher in Canterlot; suddenly, my pen name became more important than ever as I prepared to hesitantly step out of my already-not-so-comfort zone. Happy as I was with the prospect, to my nerves it was bad enough that all the students were reading my stories; now the entire city was going to read them too? Then again, that would only be a problem if my stories won anything of course, and what were the chances of that?
I'll spare you the guessing game—Princess Celestia was right, as she always is (just as much as Mother), and five of my stories were selected for inclusion in an anthology featuring young, up-and-coming writers. I didn't sleep much at all after I got the news; I didn't know whether to feel either incredibly excited or incredibly sick with nervousness. I recall settling for the point where both curves met: I was incredibly sick with nervous excitement. I couldn't stop smiling, and my stomach wouldn't stop churning; suffice to say it was a rather... disconcerting feeling. It even affected my grades! My test scores dropped dramatically to dead even 100s, and I was on the brink of sinking into utter despondency. For the first time in my life, I hid my grades from my parents.
Then, that first fan letter came in, and it changed everything. A mother had written to me, wanting to let me know how much she and her daughter enjoyed reading my part of the anthology every night. That one short, simple letter filled me with an indescribable sensation of elation that seemed to carry me towards my quill and inkwell; after reading it, I had stayed up all night writing fervently until exhaustion claimed my consciousness.
The next day, I woke up to find my mailbox stuffed beyond capacity. I actually woke up poor Spike with my crazed squealing; when I showed him the pile of letters, he just rolled his eyes. “Oh, wow,” he began with an unimpressed yawn, “I'm happy you found out that you're an amazing writer and all, like me an' the Princess have been telling you all this time, but could you keep it down? It's 12 in the afternoon.” With that, he just up and went back to sleep, that sweet, lazy lizard. Really, I did my best to raise him but I still don't know how or where he acquired that know-it-all, cynical attitude from. He's got quite the sarcastic streak going despite his age; at times, he reminds me of my Mother.
Anyways, I'm going off on a tangent now; back to the letters. It was an incredible feeling to know that something I wrote was reaching so many ponies; I had never gotten fan letters before despite all of my published articles in various scientific journals. Sure, colleagues would oftentimes write to me to comment on how interesting my research was, or to inform me of further work done based on my writings, but... these ponies, these fans were different. Each letter was filled with praise and emotion drawn out by my stories, and I read each and every one of them many times over that second night. After that, a steady stream of fan-mail reaching my publisher led to me getting signed on for a book deal. A book all of my own!
Quite honestly, I was on top of the world.
And then, two months later, I deciphered a prophecy.
Two months later, I was sent to Ponyville.
Two months later, I met Rainbow Dash.
Two months later, I fell in love.