Last night I went out with (as I think of her) my Young Writer friend. My favorite barista at my beloved but now defunct cafe, she has stars in her eyes about writing, and is applying to MFA programs all over the country. We ate sushi and talked about writing, and I remembered myself in her.
When I was 25 — her age — I packed up my tiny Ford Festiva with its roller-skate wheels and headed to Mills for my MFA. I was going to light the world on fire with my prose. Or at least, I was going to write. And I lit a lot of things on fire, namely the cigarettes I was still smoking back then. I was giving myself two years in the ivory tower, two years to really focus on craft.
Then, for those two years, I avoided writing as much as possible. I did the bare minimum, because that’s what we do sometimes, when it comes to what we love most, right?
Artists don’t draw. Musicians don’t play. Writers don’t write. If we write, we fail (because when we’re learning something, DOING anything at all, we fail. Just part of the process). And as artists, we strive for perfection and failing is really not ideal.
So we don’t write. I managed my 150 pages of a terrible novel for my thesis. I took an amazing dialogue class in which we read a book famous for dialogue every week and then wrote a three page scene in the voice of that writer (that did more for my skill with dialogue than anything else). I took a poetry class which almost killed me.
Then I graduated and spent the next ten years also avoiding failure by not writing. Not writing = safe! Not writing = dreaming about the perfect words you’d string together if you just had time.
What I didn’t realize was this:
Not writing was the biggest failure of all.
No matter how spectacularly I screwed up in the writing itself (which I did! Still do! Spectacularly!), when I finally started to write everyday (thanks, NaNoWriMo 2006), I was succeeding!
And seven years (JEESH!) later, I’m still writing, all the time. Every day. Even when I fail, I win.
The job has gotten harder the more I learn. A rank amateur says LOOK I WROTE A BOOK YOU SHOULD READ IT OMG — a writer who’s spent years actively learning how to craft emotion out of words says, Well, you don’t have to read it. It’s the best I could do but it’s still not as good as Murakami. Maybe someday. *kicks rock* (Also known as the Dunning-Kruger effect *see below.)
I’ve been both of those people. (Admission: I’ve been both of those people this WEEK.)
But now, after publishing six books with two more on their way to shelves, I know I can do it. And I’ve changed my website a little bit because I want y’all to see that book up there to the left with its quotes and overview and all that because I’m proud of it and I’m excited for it.
Pack Up the Moon. It’s literally the book of my heart, and it’s available for preorder right now. I’ll be releasing excerpts and reasons for you to preorder at my website, yarnagogo (gifts! prizes! kisses on the mouth if I see you IRL and you want one!) but the real truth is this: It’s a good book. It will make you cry, and then–I hope–it will help heal you a little bit. And maybe it will encourage you to write that book you have been wanting to write.
I love the stars in my Young Writer friend’s eyes. The funny thing is I still have them, too.
* “The Dunning–Kruger effect is a cognitive bias in which unskilled individuals suffer from illusory superiority mistakenly rating their ability much higher than average . . . Actual competence may weaken self-confidence, as competent individuals may falsely assume that others have an equivalent understanding.”