Letter to My Aspiring Writer Self

I posted this to A Writer Afoot a month or so ago, but I’m getting ready to to to the Romance Writers of America conference, thinking about all these things, and I thought many of you would enjoy, too.  
https://www.flickr.com/photos/rightee/1257384934/in/photolist-2V7qJA-f53bGW-aqLtfV-f53bNo-f53bKA-kfCw7-iGsrd3-bkW1jX-aj699g-5dNDc7-ifDfk3-5C5g1X-kzfbqM-8D4zwo-4SQXUM-bN1oSe-9PG53Y-j8p8pU-dmFX6J-gasMno-fxddKr-nr5Wr2-6xnrVk-eUhbNb-gsXvkx-6vaNSi-eUYdqL-bUQdeY-ezj98j-ezfUB6-ezfVik-5FQYQN-7WRZ8B-hnmLtF-dJzN2o-4VvLvq-bQu3Hz-4As9wf-9rnux-hcN3iz-3Prxu-4wZ2FW-5rnNZp-4ZZL89-7eVnCE-4wYZeh-4wZ8Ho-ek4Luu-f2BHW3-7kNGQf/

Dear New, Young, Passionate, Painfully Aspiring Writer Self:

I am looking at you with great tenderness. Your passion for your craft, your hunger for publication, your commitment to continue to try makes my heart swell with pride. It is not easy, what you’re doing, writing, or rather, writing with the full intent to publish.  It’s easy to write if you are doing it only for yourself.  It’s only a joy, then, a secret pleasure, a tattoo on your inner thigh that you share only with your most intimate associates.

Writing for publication is a much more dangerous and challenging undertaking.  It means risking your ego and your standing in the community. People don’t understand your desire, even those you expect to understand, like reader friends and your librarian. Oh, I know how you’ve learned to dread that question at gatherings. You say you are a writer and someone says with excitement, “Are you published?”  You have to say no, and watch their eyes dim and their attention stray. But you will not always have to say no. If you stay the course, you will be published.  For now, you go ahead and claim the title of writer, because you are a writer. You write. You put in the hours of study and practice, over and over, whenever you can fit it in. You do it even though no one does particularly understand or even believe that you can ever break into the hallowed company of Authors.  I am so proud of you. Keep it up.

A few other things that will help you stay the course: pay more attention to what you are doing right than what you are doing wrong. Time, reading, and practice will heal most of your flaws, but no one can do what you do as well as you do it, so stick with that. Polish it, explore it, love it.  That’s where your voice is, in the things you love and do well.

Keep reading a ton. People tell you that writing will corrupt your process, but that’s how you came to writing in the first place, isn’t it? You read, more than anyone you know, always. Keep doing that, and don’t just read in the areas where you write. Read everything—articles and essays and poems and books of fiction and non-fiction. Read crap and read classics. Read genre and read literary fiction. Just read. It teaches and guides new writers better than any other single thing.

Keep your eye on the prize. You’re going to keep trying on hats until you find the one that fits, and once you do, your life is going to change in such big ways that you will never believe it could be your life. You will eat a meal in New York City with an editor. You will see your book on the shelves of your local bookstore. You will get letters from readers who love your work more than any other writer out there. Honor her, that reader, with your will to stick with it.

One more thing: don’t be afraid of editors and agents. They are busy, but they are always looking for the writer they connect with, the one they can publish, the one they adore. Some of them, over time, will become your friends for life.  Some of them will only make you crazy, but this is the great secret: editors and agents are your equal. You are all a corner in the great triangle of publishing. Don’t be intimidated.

Finally, you are more powerful than you know. Have faith in yourself, and the work, and trust it to take you where you want to do.

Love, Your Older, Wiser, More Experienced Self

Want to read more letters from other writers to their younger selves?  Check out http://soyoureawriter.blogspot.com/

How do you keep yourself inspired? What would you say to your younger self about writing? 

0

About Barbara O'Neal

Barbara O'Neal has written a number of highly acclaimed novels, including 2012 RITA winner, How To Bake A Perfect Life, which landed her in the Hall of Fame. Her latest novel, The All You Can Dream Buffet has just been released by Bantam Books in March. A complete backlist is available here.

Comments

  1. says

    Thank you, Barbara for a most stimulating post. The idea to “pay more attention to what you are doing right than what you are doing wrong” is a great thought for the day. I’m often looking at what’s not working–and we have to do that, of course, to keep improving our writing–but recognizing when a difficult scene goes well or finally gels is good energy and sparks more good energy.

    Inspiration is everywhere for me but mostly from other authors!

    0
    • says

      Totally agree! It’s so easy to dwell on what we don’t do well rather than celebrate our strengths. Thanks for this great post Barbara!
      -Dana

      0
  2. says

    Dear Barbara,

    Thank you for this. I particularly love, and needed to hear: “pay more attention to what you are doing right than what you are doing wrong.” YOU are helping me to stay on course, and not for the first time. You are the gem I keep finding along the way on my writerly journey.

    Sincerely,
    A Not-So-Young, But-Still-Mostly-Passionate, and Often-Painfully Aspiring Writer-Fan-of-Yours

    0
  3. says

    “A few other things that will help you stay the course: pay more attention to what you are doing right than what you are doing wrong. Time, reading, and practice will heal most of your flaws, but no one can do what you do as well as you do it, so stick with that. Polish it, explore it, love it. That’s where your voice is, in the things you love and do well.”

    Thank you for this, and everything else. I just finished an incredible book, Airman by Eoin Colfer, and was thinking how I could never, ever write anything so brilliant, but then, I’m not meant to. There are other stories, small, domestic ones that will be just as meaningful to someone else.

    0
  4. says

    (to add to Donald’s p.s. above)

    p.p.s. after you discover Writer Unboxed, join their Facebook group. Get involved. Learn from everyone and get to know them. Have fun. Success will pave itself, one stone at a time.

    0
  5. says

    Nice letter, Barbara. I would tell my younger self to take the time to learn the craft, and I don’t mean learn by doing. Read the best craft of fiction books. Incorporate the lessons you’ve learned into your writing. Write a lot. Read a lot. Get the crappy writing out of your system. Your first attempts at a novel will be embarrassing. You will know when you have turned a corner and become a good writer. As for inspiration, I find it everywhere. I just have to keep my eyes and ears open.

    0
  6. says

    Beautiful, Barabara. I especially loved, “You are more powerful than you know.” I needed that reminder and that’s it’s word, MY WORDS WRITTEN, that give me that power. Thank you.

    0
  7. says

    Love this letter. Especially this line resonates with me, “People don’t understand your desire, even those you expect to understand, like reader friends and your librarian.” Nice to know I am not unusual in that feeling.

    0
  8. says

    A stimulating read, thanks Barbara! I totally subscribe to what you said, in particular the advice about reading: “Read crap and read classics. Read genre and read literary fiction. Just read. It teaches and guides new writers better than any other single thing.”

    How true!

    0
  9. says

    What a great letter…. It soothes my heart and reminds me to just stop worrying and keep writing.

    God has a way of working it all out as we grow.

    0
  10. Anjali Amit says

    What a compassionate, wise person the young’un has grown up to be. Thank you for this encouraging, saying-it-from-the-trenches post.

    0
  11. Dana McNeely says

    Thank you for this, Barbara. Such tender, thoughtful advice to our younger, more vulnerable selves. I know I need it, and I bet most of us do!

    0
  12. CK Wallis says

    Thank you, Barbara. I didn’t realize how much I needed to hear (read) words of encouragement and hope until I suddenly felt a lump in my throat. You got me with “…no one can do what you do as well as you do it, so stick with that. Polish it, explore it, love it. That’s where your voice is, in the things you love and do well.”

    I thought I had a pretty realistic understanding of what I was in for when I began this journey (and now I know why it’s called a journey instead of a job). Honestly, I didn’t expect it to be easy, but I also didn’t expect it to be so hard, let alone the times when it seems impossible.

    Thanks, again.

    0
  13. says

    Thank you Barbara I needed this today, I have days of asking why bother. But I cannot stop the writing, so I must learn, read, write and repeat. Thank you. I will share this post with my writing buddies.

    0
  14. Priya Gill says

    I am late in reading this. (Trying to stay offline to finish my book). But am so glad I came online today. Loved your post Barbara. So inspiring. Thank you.

    0
  15. says

    “editors and agents are your equal. You are all a corner in the great triangle of publishing. Don’t be intimidated.”

    That’s some great advice, Barbara. Thanks for the cool post.

    0
  16. says

    Thanks so much for writing this, Barbara. I had to laugh as I remembered comments like “Have I read anything you’ve written?”
    I know our critique group will appreciate it, too, especially the unpublished ones.

    0