I was having a conversation with a friend some time ago about writing advice. Now, in our 30s, we know that all advice comes wrapped up in the reality of that particular authors life. We know it is okay to add to the advice things such as “within the constraints of our own lives.”
In our teens and 20s, however, the advice often seemed prescriptive. When an author that you know and love tells you how to write, it is very hard to imagine that you should do anything counter to what the greats were saying. They were successful, surely they knew the right way to do things, and if we can’t do what they say to do… then what hope do we have?
In our late-teens and 20’s we step into a whole new world – it’s a time of great change, when you are still getting your feet under you, trying to navigate that strange line between childhood and adulthood. My own writing ambitions took a hit in those years because of the way my work was treated by peers in fiction workshops. My confidence was already taking a hit on all ends during those early college years, my life was shifting dramatically, and my writing was (and had always been) my outlet to deal with the emotions and changes. It was also where I was most vulnerable. Perhaps those peers were trying to prove themselves, show to our instructor that they knew what they were doing, that they were true literary people… walking just slightly on the wrong side of that line of useful critique.
It took me a good ten years to regain even a shred of the level of confidence I had when I was in high school. It took a decade for me to be ready to share my writing with anyone but the closest of friends, to remember the dream I had. The dream that had gotten buried deep beneath layers of self-doubt and a conviction that writing could never be anything more than a hobby.
In that conversation about a month ago, my friend and I agreed that what the world needs is more writing advice for people like we were, as we were trying to figure out even the most basic foundations of who we are. Gentler advice, more supportive of the reality of the lives of those young adults. Advice that speaks to the reality that sometimes writing and reading are not going to be the ultimate focus of your attention. That having to put other considerations first doesn’t mean you should give up your writing dreams, or that you don’t have what it takes.
I wish someone had taken me aside when I was in my early 20’s and told me that I should not let that little piece of me hide away for too long. That it was okay if I didn’t write every day — if sometimes months passed before I could write something new. I needed to be told that the only right way was the way that worked for you — that each of us has a different path to travel and what I do isn’t going to look the same as anyone else’s journey.
I know I am a stronger writer now than I was when I was younger, but I can’t help but wonder what things would look like if I hadn’t let those ambitions fade away for so long. What if I had manage to hold onto that confidence that had me sending short stories out to magazines while I was still in high school? What if I had known that the fact my rejection letters came with hand-written encouragement was a very good sign that I might have potential?
Sometimes I think we need to reconnect with our younger selves, before the harsh world gave us an onslaught of (hopefully) well-intentioned advice which may have actually undermined our self-confidence?
Have you gone through a time of crippling doubt with your writing? Did you hold confidence in your younger years that you wish you could believe as strongly today? What advice would you give to those writers who are also dealing with coming into the adult world?
This is my monthly post as part of the Insecure Writer’s Support Group, a great group of supportive writers, helping one another through our writing ups-and-downs.
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