Advice for My Younger Self that Might Help on Your Writing Journey
We all have negative thoughts that keep us from trying new things. I certainly did. I held myself back from writing for so long because of little phrases that floated around in my head. “I can’t do this.” “It’s too late.” “I have writer’s block.” I can hear myself saying them when I think about my younger self, and I so wish I could go back and refute my own excuses for not writing.
It’s never too late to take your own advice though. Here’s what I wish I’d told myself, and what I still tell myself all the time when the thoughts creep back in.
1. “I can’t be a writer.”
Yes, you can. Sometimes as adults, we think we’re supposed to be immediately perfect at everything we try. Let yourself think about what it was like to be in school for a moment. No one expected you to know multiplication before it was taught. You were allowed to make mistakes then, and you are now. Everyone has imposter syndrome sometimes. The ones who do things anyway are the ones who reap the rewards.
2. “I have an idea, but what if it isn’t any good?”
You can’t get everything right the first time. The whole point of a first draft is to try things out. No one writes a first draft and gets it published as is. That’s what editing is for. You’re allowed to make mistakes. Tell yourself the story, and worry about the rest later.
3. “If I throw out a storyline, it’s gone forever.”
We’ve all heard the phrase “kill your darlings.”. The thing is, you don’t have to get rid of those great ideas that just didn’t fit forever. Maybe that thing you wrote doesn’t fit here, but it might in your next story. Keep a “Great Ideas” folder for things that don’t work, and refer to them when you start something new.
4. “I have writer’s block.”
No, you don’t. That phrase is so often a shortcut for looking at what’s really happening. Maybe you’re bored. Maybe you’re tired. Maybe you wrote yourself into a corner. It doesn’t matter why. What matters is how you handle it.
There are so many things to try. Journal in a character’s voice. Write a story about how frustrating it is to be stuck with a plot line. One writer I know refuses to stare at a blank page, so she’ll write about what her character had for dinner, just to get things moving again. You can also check out the thousands of writing exercises that are out there on the Internet and give them a shot.
Finally, maybe you just need a break. No one can be inspired 24/7. If you need to go take a walk, do it, and start again when you’re refreshed.
5. “It’s too late for me to start a new career.”
It’s never too late. That’s not a greeting card sentiment. Some people know they want to be writers from childhood. They wrote stories in composition notebooks in elementary school, and published their first book at 20. That’s great, but it’s hardly the norm. This is a profession that has nothing to do with age. Are you older than the average writer? Cool! That will be a great thing to talk about when you’re interviewed about your first novel.
The problem with writing as a younger person is that you only have your limited life experience to draw from. The writing industry has people of all ages. I’ve met people who spent 20 years on their very first book, which they had published in their 60s. I’ve met writers who wrote their first comic book at 40, or contributed to an anthology for the first time at 50. Your stories matter, and the ones from people who have experienced life often resonate more with readers.
6. “I can’t sit still that long.”
So don’t. Write your story while hiking, speaking into a voice recorder on your phone. Tell your story orally to a group of friends and record it. Tell a friend you’ll buy them pizza if they transcribe it for you. Write in a cafe if you get distracted at home. Write in the park if you can’t be close to people right now. Write on the subway. Brainstorm while working out. Not every writer sits in a remote cabin with a bottle of scotch and a typewriter. Be creative.
Now, fire up that computer and start writing! If you need more inspiration, subscribe to the Books That Make You Show and hear from authors about their amazing books.