When I was in college, I took a night class for creative writing. And one evening, on my way into the room, a woman stopped me and asked a few questions about the course. After chatting for a bit, I suggested that she sit in on a class to see if she’d be interested in signing up the following semester. That’s when she told me, “Oh, no, it’s just that my son really wants to be a writer and I’m not sure if I should encourage him.” She didn’t say as much, but I think she meant to say that it’s kind of a pipe dream. And I’m not really here to say that it isn’t. Growing up, when I told people I wanted to write, the response was usually “Okay. And what else?”
So, standing outside of this classroom, years before I would write and publish my own novel, I felt a kind of sympathy for this woman who clearly cared about her son. I think about this woman sometimes, and her son, who I’m sure is well into his wondrous formative years by now. Because the truth is that no mother’s protection and love can stop a writer from being a writer. I’ve seen the parents who discourage creativity, and the effect is like shaking a 2 liter bottle of soda. You can hear the bubbles fizzing around in there, you can sense an explosion, and in a way you even crave it.
There is also no “wanting” to be a writer. There’s wanting to be published, sure, and there’s wanting to be better. But if this is your path, then in all probability, there comes a day in which you reach the awareness that you just ARE a writer. You wake up in the morning, and the awareness is swimming in your brain. You sit in a classroom at a desk identical to those around you, and you have this secret. Maybe you’re even smug about it. It doesn’t even matter if you write things down. It doesn’t matter if the stories begin in your head with bold, certain lines, and then taper off like sand where the ideas cease to continue. It’s there or it isn’t there. It can’t be helped.
If you’re a writer that wants to be published, it gets increasingly hard to be timid. Your work will be emailed to agents, emailed to publishers. It will probably not stand out in some piles, and if you’re lucky, it will glow among at least one stack of other manuscripts. It will be discussed. It will be analyzed. It will be given a monetary value… and you’ll probably gag and maybe throw up in your mouth a little, whatever that value is.
Your work will be given a name, given a cover. The cover will be alien to you, but it will forever be a part of what readers will see. Your work will be discussed again. It will be praised, adored. It will be loathed, prompt disgust. It will be tossed aside in a malaise of someone’s cynicism. Your picture will be on the internet. People will ask you about your favorite TV shows and you’ll wonder how this is relevant. You’ll become a sort of character–strangers will use your work to justify points you never considered, much less intended. And then you, not your work, will be praised, adored, and loathed.
Individual experiences may vary, but the above is the norm. So you must be certain of your words. You must be proud of them. They will be your only shield. You’ll be judged for what’s on the page, and those words, printed in a font of your publisher’s choosing, will speak for you. It’s inevitable and unavoidable that those words will piss somebody off. They’ll also cause a lot of discussions, for which you won’t be present. Your book will wind up in places you’ll never visit. People will glorify you, and others will think the worst of you. You’re a genius; you’re a hack; you’re too arrogant; you’re too shy; you show instead of tell; your work is a lovechild of Sebold and Shakespeare; your agent must have been high to sign you.
Be unapologetic. I can’t say this enough. Write what’s there in your head, in your blood. Tell the story the way it’s meant to be told, because you are the only one who can tell it. There are so many people in this world. Forget what the population surveys say, there are too many people to be counted. So few of those people will have their words printed. If you have that opportunity, don’t take it lightly. Don’t waste your pages trying to fit a genre or to profit or to abate fears. If your characters run down dark alleys, follow them. Hide behind a dumpster and watch what unfolds. Tell the whole story. This is your only legacy. One day you’ll be gone and it will be all that’s left. Someone will find it in a garage sale and your twitter account will be a hundred years deactivated, so make sure it’s all there, bound and glued–everything you wanted to say.
Do not ever, do not ever, say you’re sorry.