A letter to my younger writer-self

Dear me-in-the-past

You are really talented. I’m sorry your parents didn’t encourage you to write. I’m sorry they showed no interest in trying to read past your first story. I know when your mom said that she would read your next book if you gave her a list of people who died before starting and you actually compiled that list, you didn’t understand she was being disingenuous. You were twelve. You couldn’t possibly have known what that word meant.

But I am so proud of you for continuing to write despite the lack of external encouragement. I’m so glad you spent your teen years embroidering huge worlds with massive complications instead of getting into drugs or bad influences or…well, you wouldn’t have gotten into boys but I’m sure you would have found something equally limiting.

I do wish you would have knocked it off for university, kid. What you could have learned for those four years still leaves me staggered. It was great that you maintained a 7 out of a 9 point average while never attending class and never handing in anything that wasn’t first draft and rushed. That near photographic memory of ours sure was worth it. But education will set you up for a life that you can live with the freedom to write in your free time. You were this close to not getting your degree on multiple times because you just checked out. Nothing you wrote during that time was worth risking your future on, kid. Don’t steal from your future to write.

I know you were scared a lot of the time in your twenties, I know you got a couple of knocks to the head that would have sent up most people’s white flags. But you’d fought wars in your head. You saved kingdoms. Sure, you felt untethered for a while and you pushed a lot of bleak, dark stuff into a dark well, but you kept writing. You survived a Tokyo subway ride and stood on the top of the World Trade Towers. You saw palm trees in February and birds-of-paradise when your hometown was covered in snow, all because you wrote your heart out on the page. I don’t regret a moment of your fanfic years. It taught you plot and conflict and tension in a world you didn’t need to build up. It taught you how to do bittersweet and bleakhopeful. That being said, I’m so proud of you for taking what you could from the community and then striking it out on your own again to build your own sandbox. Walking away from the support and the feedback after so many years writing things that no one would ever read took courage.

I know you think back to the orange backpack that held all your childhood writings. I’m sorry it was thrown out. I know you would have cherished it, as bad as they were. Writing those bleak stories got you out of a bad place. You lost your novels as you moved from operating system to operating system back before a common .txt or .rtf existed, but the books you are going to write will be far better than the books you had written.

We know epiphanies are easy, but making the changes that they demand is where the hard work comes in, and I am so proud of you for making the realization fifteen years after you started writing that maybe you didn’t know how to write at all. When you read Writing the Breakout Novel, I remember how absolutely sure you were that you were doing everything in that book and it was just a matter of time before you were discovered. Reading it again three years later and realizing that you weren’t doing any of that on the page where it counted was hard.

I know you hated revision. In 2005 when Misbegotten came out of you, though, you revised the heck out of that book. You did the very best you could with every ounce of skill that you had, and the story still failed. I’m proud of you for trunking it. You could have spent the next four years workshopping it, sending it out. editing it, sending it out, revising it. Instead, you fell into the paranormal world by accident, but you thrived in it. I’m glad the words and the worlds came so easy and I’m thrilled you had so much fun doing it.

But, in 2009 when the words stopped, I’m proud of you too. You dealt with your issues head on and the last thing you wanted to do was spend your free time writing conflict and misery. I know writing was like a breathing tube for you, and had been since you were 11, and when the words got cut off, suddenly you existed in an anaerobic world. The well in your head where the bad memories were stuffed just couldn’t be ignored any more and you needed that time in the real world to deal with your own, real conflict. Telling your wife that thing you said that brought you to that stupid therapist office who couldn’t have been worse at his job if it was a Saturday Night Live skit and he’d written and peformed in the segment. But you needed it. You needed to laugh and cry and you did.

Writing the letter of resignation to a job you hated was the first thing you wrote in three years. Those years where you had nothing to say were years the fields lay fallow, recharging the soil. Because the day after the letter, you’re going to start your next book. You’re going to write five books this year, 2012, and none of them are going to be good enough, but don’t worry. They were just clearing the pipes. 2013 is where you soared. And today, in the last bit of 2015, we’re still flying. When you were fifteen and walking home under that blue, blue sky and thought you were going to write the stories that were going to be remembered, we’re doing that now.

I know retelling Drunks, Fools and Kings six times over the past decade was a lot to do, but it needed to be done. The idea you had ten years ago was solid, but your execution just wasn’t where it had to be. You know great books aren’t written, they’re rewritten and the day you realized that applied to you…that all the rules applied to you was the day you figured this whole thing out. Chess isn’t a game where you move a bunch of pieces about, it’s about capturing the other person’s king. Writing isn’t about your first drafts, it’s about capturing the thing you’re trying to say while you’re moving the pieces around to do that goal. Thank you for not settling on anything less but the way the story ought to have been.

And for all the cuts and bruises and silence, I would not have lived a day differently. The most important thing a writer has is what they want to say. And you’re saying it now. You sat down at 11 years old and you were going to write a ten-page story, and sweetie, you never quit.

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