Letter to a Young Writer

Dear Young Writer,

I see you there, poised over the keys of your Smith Corona typewriter. Pause for a moment and read this, if you would. I know, I know, you have a lot yet to write for that English class–and I know, too, about the extra credit assignment you’re stressing over for your history class. (You’ll need a new typewriter ribbon before you begin that one.)

The stress won’t ease for a long time to come, but you will find you enjoy it. Eventually. You will like deadlines–not merely for their whooshing sound; you will like having goals. Someday, you will discover you work well enough without them, too, because the work simply bleeds from your fingers. Some days, you won’t be able to stop the words; cherish these days, because they will be balanced by others, where it seems you can’t latch onto a single word and make it do anything worthwhile.

I know you think you can’t find your way, that everything is essays and reports at this point, but take heart that you will find joy in even these. Just wait until you read Lysistrata for the first time. You will discover something you can’t even imagine. You will discover exactly what words can do and will start playing with them yourself. When friends say “you could write better than this,” you actually dare to believe them–and commit words to paper.

Your first submission will be horribly mis-sent. Do you really think the audience of Seventeen wants to read about a young girl who survives a nuclear war? Regardless, make the submission, enter the contest, and keep watching your mailbox for a reply. It’s going to be the pattern for the years to come. Write, submit, and do it all over again. The shape of the replies will change–you will actually learn how to target markets and send them to appropriate editors. You will make a blunder with your first book–ah, the arrogance of the eighteen year old who thinks she knows everything about publishing–but no worries. You will learn from this, and carry on. And wait until the advent of email…

The rejections will grow deep. People will tell you to throw them away, but I wouldn’t. I would keep them, in a folder, in your file drawer. Some years down the road, you will look at them fondly (and the way MZB scribbles “doorknob!” on your manuscript–ah, keep that one, for it is a lesson you never forget!). Don’t resent them. Each one is a step along the path. Stephen King got rejections. J.K. Rowling, too. I know, you don’t yet know that last name, but trust me, you will.

You’re going to be in a terrible accident later this year; it will change the path your life takes. Take advantage of the time you spend at home healing to write and to read. Read everything. You will be faced with a tutor, which seems a terrible thing, but this tutor will introduce you to Japanese poetry. Hold to it. It will bring you one of your best stories.

As for the extra credit piece you’re going to write about the museum rats that come to life after dark… No worries–you get an A+, and you spook your teacher enough that he asks you to read the piece to the entire class. You will hate that part–you are ever the introvert–but you do love the looks on their faces, and the way the story affects them. That you will never forget.



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