Wouldn’t it be fascinating to step into a time machine and visit your younger self? There are so many things you could tell yourself. But if you were only given a limited amount of time what would you say? The mind reels.
For those of you who have coined yourselves as “writers,” and who did it regularly with the hope of spinning some story that will reach into the hearts of readers, or with the hope of sharing insights that change the way people think…what wisdom would you impart about writing?
Here are the three things I would tell my younger self about writing:
1. Do It For the Joy…Not the Elusive Publishing Contract
When I first started writing in college, I wanted to be a published author. I wanted to stand in front of people reading from my book. I wanted to win all kinds of awards for my work. I wanted people to see me as an author. What happened was I ended up comparing my writing to authors who had achieved all of this already and came up short. I got discouraged and gave up writing for a long time. But the lure of words, stories, adventures, and characters eventually drew me back to the page. For a time, I just did it for me, and only me. I discovered the simple joy of creating with no purpose tied to it. Just allowing the words to take me wherever they needed to so I could learn more about myself and the world around me. That’s it. It’s why I write now. It doesn’t mean that I’m not going to try and get my book published, or even publish it myself but I no longer am stressed out about that end result. If it comes, then whoopie! If not, I still got to experience the joy of creating.
2. It Takes Time to Discover Your Voice
Writing is a microcosim for life. In life, you go through experiences and discover who you really are by how you deal with those experiences. You can’t just wake up one day and say, “I’m a resilient person.” You had to have gone through something that reveals that quality in how you respond to the situation. Slowly you realize what you are made of and the kind of person you have become. Writing is the same. You have to experience what it is to write badly, what it is to write like other people, and what it is to write like only you can before you discover who you are as a writer. That’s your voice. It’s the words you choose, how you structure your sentences, and the images you evoke. There is no short cut. It comes through writing, and doing it a lot. It’s a weird paradox: you must be patient but you must also not waste time doing other crap. The more you write, and the earlier you do it in life, the faster you will discover your voice.
3. Structure is Not an Evil Thing
I’ve been a free spirit ever since I would breathe. I do not like rules. I do not like being told what to do. And I do not like structure. When I was younger, it seemed like everything was structured and all I wanted to do was break free of it. The irony is it wasn’t until I hit my forties that I realized I need some form of structure or nothing ever gets done, and if it does get done it will be a big mess. Structure doesn’t mean rigid processes and rules that cannot be broken, it’s quite the opposite. It means guidelines that give you a direction and something to aim for. A calendar of what you want to write by a certain date is a guideline. With nothing to aim for, how is it ever going to get done? A structure for a story gives you an idea of what is going to happen but it doesn’t tell you how it is going to happen–that’s where all the rules get broken. Structure gives you the freedom to create. I wish I had known this earlier.
So I ask you: what would you tell your younger writer self? Tell me in the comments. I’d love to hear from you!