Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Dear Self of October 31, 2013

There’s a shelf in your house, crammed with old writings—all those relics from before you learned to love the feel of keys beneath your fingers.  And there’s that massive cardboard box in your closet, too, so ratty it’s spilling its papery guts.  Of course, you covered it with sweaters to conceal the carnage of your failures.  All those hundreds of stories you started but never finished.  They were your children—and you abandoned them.  Each one you started with breathless wonder, but after the spark died and the actual work began...they just weren’t good enough for you anymore.  True, maybe they have faces that only a mother could love, but you never gave them the chance to be otherwise.  Shame on you.  You’ve sealed a thousand souls to their doom because they lacked perfection, because you got bored, because you reached for other, starrier horizons. 

Yeah, you never did like to think of yourself as a quitter, but the evidence is overwhelming.  When it gets hard, you give up.  When you get tired, you move on.  Days pass in a futile progression of endings with no beginnings to follow.  You do nothing more than dream.  Still, you need to write to sort through the happenings and the undoings of your existence.  Meanwhile every library you enter and every book you touch and every printed page you read mocks you.  You know inside yourself that you will never be as great as all the others. 

Sometimes you imagine your not-so-distant future, flipping burgers to support your meager, hand-to-mouth existence while you repeat the same old phrases like a broken record.  Another year and I’ll have it done—I’ll have finished.  Another year and I’ll be rich, I’ll be famous.  One more year.  That’s all I need.  But despite the constant flurry of beginnings your mind generates as it panics—those last few flails of a drowning person—nothing marvelous happens.  Oblivion is when your most cherished thoughts are forever lost to the world. 

You have lived this way since you were an enterprising seven-year old.  You’ve tasted dreams and spouted dreams and dreamed dreams—you have stumbled along roads paved with yearnings, and you have walked amidst a flurry of print. 

Sometime next month you’re going to realize something.  You’ll be sitting on a couch, drinking coffee, tapping away at yet another novel, and you’ll see the years ahead of you—you’ll see yourself living to be an old woman full of regrets, and you’ll note how that would make an excellent book.  And that’s when you’ll realize that stupid, simple something.  You have deluded yourself.  Years have passed as you sat at the computer, waiting for genius to come, waiting for that one strong caffeine jolt to send fire through your veins—for that one hot hour when you type like mad and churn out an entire masterpiece and seven sequels.  You’ve expected success to be quick and easy with no muss, no fuss, no mess. 

But during this month, this National Novel Writing Month, make yourself write even when you hate every moment of it, even when the spark dies after the third day and your cynical side tells you there is nothing to do but cut your losses and move on.  Be stubborn.  Just this once, I’m giving you permission to deny your better judgment.  By December 1st you’ll have 160K words of junk—pure and utter junk.  Those scenes you loved while you wrote them, even they will read like the discombobulated ramblings of a five-year old.  You will review your work and wonder if it was all for nothing, if you’ve come this far only to fail now.  Promise me this though—promise me you’ll set your teeth and roll up your sleeves and dig into that dirt-pile anyway.  Because I happen to know that you’ll cut everything and you’ll rewrite everything and you’ll obsess over everything.  When you get your MS back from your mom and D., well, you’ll slaughter it all over again.  It will hurt.  I won’t lie to you.  But listen to me when I say that it will be worth it—all those gut-wrenching, heart-aching moments will be worth it.  Even if no one ever grabs your book from a store shelf and catches a light in their eyes.  Because you need this.  You.  Need.  This.  You need to know that you’re more than just a quitter, that you won’t go through life always giving up when it gets hard.  Life is hard. 

Stop waiting for someday.  You won’t suddenly wake up with a finished novel waiting in a box beneath your Christmas tree.  It won’t be a lark.  It is work.  It is terrible, soul-breaking work, and I can’t even tell you how miserable it will make you half the time, how you will habitually avoid your laptop because you won’t always be able to stand what you see on that page.  Again and again you’ll have to face how inadequate you are, how nothing of your supposed genius stands up to scrutiny.  If you had known this when you were younger, you would have chosen a safer job, like weapons manufacture.  But now that you’ve come this far, there will be no escape.  You’re stuck, honey.  Make the most of it. 

Best Wishes,

Your 2014 Self. 

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