Advice For a Young Writer

I was recently invited to a local book club where they were discussing The Insistence of Memory. It was a fun night and they had great questions about the book and about writing in general. One of those questions was:

If you could go back in time and tell your young writer self anything, what would it be?

That’s an interesting thought. There are a lot of things I’d wished I’d known when I was younger, but I’m not sure they were things I could have been told. Sometimes you have to learn things for yourself before you really know them.

That being said, I would tell my young writer self (and other young writers) to stop worrying so much.

By all means, take your writing seriously, but here are some things to not stress over:

  • Writing something that everyone will like – It’s impossible to please everyone and when you try, you often end up weakening your own unique perspective. You don’t like every book you’ve ever read, yet there are plenty of people who do like the books that you don’t (and vice versa). If you love your writing, someone else will, too. People who don’t like it just aren’t your audience—and that’s okay!
  • Writing something that is unlike anything else – When I was younger, it was demoralizing to talk about something I was working on and hear, “Oh that sounds like _____!” I’d be so upset because what I’d thought was an original idea was actually derivative of something else. But here’s the thing: something can be original and still a bit derivative or similar to something else. It’s the spin you put on it and the way you put it all together that makes your writing an original work. 
  • Writing fiction that readers will think is about your real life – There’s no reason to worry about this because it is going to happen. You cannot stop it. No matter what disclaimers are in the front of your book, some readers will assume that parts of your story are based on your life or that characters are based on you or people you know. It can be uncomfortable—and frustrating to have your research and imagination dismissed—but it happens to every writer. While your own experiences may shade whatever you write, you know there’s a separation between your fiction and your personal life. You can’t control others’ assumptions, so let it go.
  • Writing drafts that will never see the light of day – Writing is hard work. One of the hardest parts is leaving pieces of your draft (or your entire draft) on the proverbial cutting room floor, but it has to happen. Remember this maxim: Writing is rewriting. The time you spend writing something that gets cut is not wasted time. Forget daily word counts as the only way to track progress. Some of my most productive writing days have daily word counts in the negative. You learn from what gets cut and you rewrite something stronger.  
I’m sure there are a lot of other things that aren’t worth the worry as well, but you get the idea. 
Write more, worry less. 

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