Listen To Your Younger Self

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 IWSG badgegreat group of supportive writers, helping one another through our writing ups-and-downs.
There is also a great Facebook Community for more daily connection!  More posts from the group are tagged on Twitter at #IWSG. 

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33 thoughts on “Listen To Your Younger Self”

  1. I am 22 years old, and this post was like a very powerful advice to me from you . Like you said I do have self doubts . Worst of all i am even scared to spend time writing , thinking I don’t really have the right potential . But I just can’t give up on that dream , and if I don’t do anything about it right now , then it is probably gonna haunt me for ever . This post definitely provided me the right amount of inspiration to me . Thank you so much .

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    1. Thank you! Really, I can’t think of anything more powerful than knowing that the advice to myself is helping someone in an earlier point in their life! Don’t give up the dream, you CAN do it!

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  2. A wonderful idea. It’s important to remember than even the mot famous authors today went through rejection after rejection. Google “Stephen King rejection slips” and see his amusing story.

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    1. It’s actually some of Stephen King’s advice that prompted some of the conversations…
      I feel like it’s one thing to expect rejection from publishers/agents… I had tons of rejection letters in those high school days. But in the face of peers and teachers it can be a lot harder. It seems like that is one of the places where a lot of us end up stumbling… when we harmful criticism (not critiques, which can be done in ways that are supportive and HELPFUL) from those who are supposed to be helping us. I’ve never been one to take the tact that you can build “thick skin” by knocking people down.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Confidence is fragile. Sometimes I find I need to step back and not read craft books or listen to advice until my self-confidence returns. The key is to know when you are in the right state of mind to seek advice.

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    1. The right state of mind.. and where to find people who will be kind but honest with their feedback. I feel like some people take the idea of “giving feedback” to mean “tear this to shreds and be needlessly cruel.” Now I have had the time to learn how to identify that kind of behavior, and not seek out that help. When I was starting out I did not have the same skill set.

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    1. We do improve with practice, and pushing ourselves. This past year is the first time I’ve done (nonacademic) writing even when it isn’t flowing. I’ve been amazed at how much that has helped me to be able to write more!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. These are interesting questions to ponder. Did I have more confidence as a young adult, or do I have more confidence now? I think now. I think as a YA, I was clueless. I didn’t have the tools to discern what I really needed and wanted as a creative person or what I needed in my relationships. I was too easily swayed. Today, I feel much stronger. I wish I had the energy and ready to jump in attitude of my youth with my current wisdom.
    Great post. The best one I’ve read so far today.
    Play off the Page

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    1. Thank you!
      I feel like we certainly grow and learn as we get older, but there are some things that we (often) begin to forget, or build up new concerns about. For instance: when I was younger I had no trouble writing the head of the estate of my favorite book to see if they would let me write a screenplay based on the book. Yes, I was a silly, headstrong High School student, who had nowhere near the skills and abilities to write that screenplay — but that didn’t stop me from thinking I could and putting myself out there. Now I would be mortified to even send out the question. I think that willingness to take risks and try something is one of the things that I could (and perhaps should) reclaim from my youth.

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  5. Alli, as a fellow 30-something who is finally, slowly coming back as a wannabe writer who put that on hold for some real-world work experience, I think I know exactly where you’re coming from. The perspective I have now is totally different from the perspective I had way back when. Back when, I suppose I received a lot of heavy criticism for my religious beliefs and also for my love of fantasy/sci-fi, and for wanting to “write” instead of a “real job” and a lot of that is still there, but I’m also at more of a – I really don’t care because life is short – point.
    I’m not sure I really regret any of my choices, but I would tell younger people to not be afraid of their beliefs or their choices, because what some “important” people may see as silly may be important to them.
    Something like that, maybe.
    Anne

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    1. Yes! It’s about trying to encourage people — it can be couched in reality: yes, it is going to be hard to make a living off of your writing; yes, you may have to take another job to support yourself and carve out time to write around that — but that doesn’t mean you should give up. I would have loved if someone had told me that it was okay if I couldn’t write for a month… that it didn’t make me less of a writer and didn’t mean I’d never be able to be a professional writer.
      I also think that the advent of blogging, and so many different ways for young writers to get their voices out there can help with this. It’s a reason I love when I stumble across the blog of a high school student, or early college student and am able to read and comment on their work — lending support where I can to help encourage them as they grow (also, often some great content!)

      Liked by 1 person

  6. This is a wonderful post! I’m sharing a link to it on my Bold New Worlds facebook page and blog. I started a short story contest for high schoolers last year under that name because I want to encourage young writers while being open and honest about the reality of becoming a writer. As a teen I thought it would be easy. Then life kind of happened and I didn’t come back to writing until my mid 30s. What a roller coaster it’s been since then! I’ve had to learn to trust myself and forget some of the things I “learned” in my first few years of blogging and writing.

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    1. Thank you!
      I love hearing about anything that helps to encourage young writers. One of my favorite moments (ever) was when some of the kids I worked with at a Boys and Girls Club discovered what power came with writing, and how helpful and freeing it could be. But also, that it wasn’t always easy. We were doing NaNoWriMo Young Writers Program, and one of them REALLY wanted to win the prize… and set a huge goal for herself. And she wrote and wrote and wrote to make sure she could meet the goal, even when she wanted to be doing something else. It was very cool to see, and to see how proud she was of the end result (and how she came back over the next months to keep working on other stories).

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  7. My advice would be to listen to your heart, your gut instinct. Take all advice and critique with a grain of salt. Only you know what paths or what methods are right for you. Don’t be afraid to pursue your dream. You can get there in your own way and in your own time.

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  8. I was horribly insecure in h.s. Don’t want to go back to that time. Ever. But sure I’ve had insecurities in my writing career. The support of friends–with their well-meaning kicks in the pants–has helped me get back on track. So here’s a virtual kick. 🙂 I hope it helps. Good luck!

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    1. Harness it! You can! And totally should! It’s just finding the grown-up ways that you can… I have a job where it’s okay for me to wear my green-eggs-and-ham sneakers (with my professional attire), for instance.

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    1. Heh, nice that your younger self wouldn’t have listened. I was fearless in some things, but always sure that anyone with more success than me must have the key to it all. Sadly, I ignored a lot more of the mechanics advice… working to remedy that part now!

      Liked by 1 person

  9. I was the editor of my award winning high school paper and thought the world was my oyster until a horribly bitter and rough college writing professor at NYU stomped on my fledgling hopes and dreams. I took every scathing criticism to heart (as did the rest of the students unlucky enough to have her as their first semester teacher). It took me 20 years to get over it and admit she was just an unhappy bitch. I know this sounds harsh, but your true post reminded me of that terrible experience and how unnecessary it was. Why trash young people–or anyone for that matter?

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    1. I think sometimes individuals tear apart another’s work because they think it will help them. Assist them in developing a thicker skin? Or the point that someone made for me once — my teacher was more critical of my work because they knew I could achieve more. However, there are helpful ways of going about that and unhelpful ways.
      And, of course, there are always those people who just are unhappy with where they are and going to tear another down, just because. 😦

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      1. Yes, pushing someone harder is one thing, destroying an entire freshman class is another. It was VERY toxic, but I’ve had lots of helpful people along the way too. You can’t let the bad apples ruin things.

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  10. Excellent post, Alli! It brought back many memories of my early attempts at writing, and some crushing experiences I had with my first English professor. Later on I had some awesome encouragement from wonderful professors and mentors.

    I taught very young writers throughout my teaching career, and I know how easy it is to crush young writers. You have to walk the fine line between helping students improve and being too hard. My solution was always to look for the strengths in a piece and to help my little writers build on them. All writers, authors or not, want to have their unique voice appreciated.

    I have written a lot throughout my life, but it has been mostly for work and not for me. I have had a very complicated personal life, and it got in the way of my writing. I wish I hadn’t allowed that to happen. Now I’m retired, I’m following those writing dreams.

    Don’t let anything get in your way. Listen to your inner voice and go for it ~ Something I think you are already doing!

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    1. That fine line can be hard.. but I think you’ve got it. From my experience working with young writers (or not so young writers) I agree… finding good things to encourage them to keep building on, and then pointing out places that they could use even more development. I think even something that they are weak in could be pointed out as a place to grow — especially if it’s wrapped up with a few points that they’re doing well with.

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