Let’s be totally, brutally honest here. Saying you want to be a writer is a bit like saying you want to be a professional athlete: Everyone wants to do it and few people actually succeed. So as you’re sitting there, clanging away at the keyboard, these little seeds of self-doubt start to manifest.
Maybe you type a line of dialog and a little voice in your head says, “That’s no good.”
Or you think of a funny scene and your inner critic says, “Who would laugh at that?’
Or you wake up in the morning and think of that other writer who, at age 22, debuted at number six on the New York Times Bestseller List. And all you can think about is, “Shoot. When I was 22, I was going to fraternity parties. Not writing best-selling novels. Have I lost an entire (almost) decade?”
Or you read a glorious book in your genre and think, “I will never write a story as awesome as this one, who am I kidding?”
If you’ve felt that–and I’m guessing many, if not all, writers have–here is what you should do. 1.) Have a freak-out session with your writing friends. They will talk you off the ledge. 2.) Sleep on it. You might just feel better in the morning and 3.) Have a little faith in yourself. If you don’t water the self-doubt seeds, they can’t grow. Starve them.
In case you need a little more help (read: because I need a little more help), I thought I’d share some inspirational nuggets I picked up at a YA Lit conference.
Starving the “Am I too old to be starting this…” seed:
Paul Volponi, who wrote the books Crossing Lines, Rikers High, and Black and White was 36 years old when he wrote his first novel. He said he wanted to wait until he had something to say. As it turns out, he had a lot of important things to say and his books reflect his life experience.
Starving the “Who am I to be writing this book…” seed:
Anna Perera, author of Guantanamo Boy said she had this very same seed of doubt. Her novel explores the very real and very questionable methods of torture used in prisons, like Guantanamo Bay. While her story is fictional, it was based on actual events. She said if she hadn’t attended a certain event on a certain day and heard the story of juveniles being tortured, she wouldn’t have written this book. But suddenly she knew she had to. With enough conviction, you can too. Whatever your message.
Starving the “Is this EVER going to happen…” seed:
Sharon M. Draper, author of Out of My Mind said the biggest piece of advice she would offer to students and aspiring writers, “It takes 25 years to become an overnight success.”
It might seem like all these other writers are doing it instantly, but that’s only the story we hear. What about the years they spent writing novels that weren’t ready? What about the time they spent learning craft? What about the days when their debut book sat on a shelf because no one had heard of them, but they slowly built a following? And even when things happen early–like for a teenage phenom–the work put into it is the same. Everyone is different. And the how and the when and the age and the time don’t matter. Just the story matters.
Starving the “How will I ever learn to do this properly…” seed:
Jacqueline Woodson, author of Beneath a Meth Moon, After Tupac and D Foster, The Dear One, and The Other Side, suggested reading poetry and children’s books. Poems and children’s books have limited space to convey story and meaning, so their writers need to use words precisely. All writers should use words precisely. Hence why poems make good study material. (She specifically recommended the collection of poems by Cornelius Eady called You Don’t Miss Your Water, poems by Robert Frost, and the picture book Owl Moon by Jane Yolen.)
Starving the “Can I do this even one more day…” seed:
Lisa McMann, author of the Wake trilogy and The Unwanteds series, said, “You are gifted with creativity. Maybe today is the day.” She left the statement open. Maybe today is the day you finish the book. Maybe today is the day you are published. Maybe today is the day you paint a picture. Maybe today is the day you write a poem. Maybe today is the day you invent something amazing. Maybe today is the day you run a mile (or a marathon). Maybe today is the day you do something great. Maybe today is the day.
Watering seeds of encouragement:
“You have to do the thing you can’t stop doing.” ~Torrey Maldonado (author of Secret Saturdays)
“The key to great writing is you rip your heart out, take the blood, and smear it on the page. Put your DNA in it.” ~Torrey Maldonado
“A book is a little piece of magic waiting on a library shelf or in a bookstore. A book can take you on a journey.” ~Patrick Carman (author of Floors)
“There is no magic better than chapter 1, page 1 of a book you want to read.” ~Mike Lupica (author of Travel Team)
“The problem with a good idea is once it gets in your head, it’s impossible to get out.” ~Mike Lupica