You know that thing your parents tell you when you're young and you don't understand something? What is it they say? Oh, yeah. One day when you're older, you'll understand.
That's the thing.
Recently I unearthed a few manuscripts that I wrote when I was younger. The most recent of them was written when I was 21. The oldest, 18. I flipped through them, and I noticed that my twenty-one-year-old self had a penchant for writing long, textured sentences, but couldn't put a story together to save his life. That's expected -- you figure those things out the more you do them.
But when I looked at the book I wrote when I was eighteen, I was appalled. I'm quite glad nobody saw that manuscript. If they had, and I'd asked for advice, the only reasonable thing they might have told me was:
Stop writing. Stop right now. Figure out something else to do with your life.
I laughed when I read some of the sentences that I constructed. Here's a particularly awful one:
Harry agreed to meet me for lunch before the two o’clock appointment with Stephen Drake so that we could discuss the impending meeting that served as the axis on which my life at present turned.
Beautiful, right? Just rolls right off the tongue.
Here's another gem:
His continual explanation of all things pointless brought to mind that question that all people have at one time or another wondered. Why are some people so incredibly dense, and why are these people so blind to their own density? Jeff’s entire existence seemed to serve no purpose, to have no point. He was a very sharp and dangerous person, and yet he had no point. I find it odd how some of us feel obligated to humor people like him simply because of the connections they possess. This simply depressed me a bit more than I had been less than a moment ago.
Clearly I had an agenda, and some prejudices. I seemed to see myself as a great contributor to the world stage, a teenage novelist with great wisdom to impart. I also seemed to have little patience with anybody who wasn't making something of their own.
I sat alone in the corner, my table divided by dim light streaming through the darkly colored glass of a stained window and by the shadows cast down by the plant above. I tapped my boots on the hardwood – hardwood! – floor, restlessly spreading open a notebook and staring at the blank pages therein with apprehension. I chewed the tip of a pencil and considered a story other than the one that had been building in length yet dwindling in intensity in my mind. The conception of a new story was always difficult, yet beyond the first page it became second nature, as involuntary as breathing.
When I was eighteen years old, I was about as good at setting a scene as a text-based adventure game. You are in a room. There is a table. Above the table is a plant. Behind the table is a window. Light is streaming through the window. The plant casts a shadow on the table.
What would you like to do? __
My eighteen-year-old self would probably be appalled that his thirty-four-year-old future self is dissecting his novel on a blog and laughing at its contents. But this is a healthy exercise, I think. When I was eighteen, I had one goal: to work a job until I could be a full-time writer.
Not a terrible goal, but I'd set some rather unrealistic parameters up there as well. I wanted to write full-time by age twenty-five. In fact, I think the way I put it on some ancient blog was:
At age 25 I will retire from the rat race and write novels for the rest of my life.
I've never seen a rat race.
Many years have passed, obviously, and for several of those years I was frustrated at having missed my goal. Writing stopped being enjoyable, and became a thing I could do that nobody knew about. The only way anybody would ever read one of my novels was if they got published, and that wasn't actually going to happen. My dream felt pretty shitty.
I'm thirty-four now, and I'm deeply thankful that I wasn't published during the last fifteen or sixteen years. I wasn't good, and more than that, I wasn't ready for it. I had unrealistic expectations, which I blame on the movies, who always construct these beautiful lifestyles for author character. Even in modern movies, if you're an author, you can expect book release parties, and long lines at book signings, and grand lectures where people listen, rapt, to every word you say. You probably live in a house or an apartment with huge wood floors, or maybe it's immaculate and white instead. You're great friends with your editor, and you take walks in the park together, and your publisher is a stodgy old man who also loves everything about you, and your readers are either passionate writers themselves, or are so moved by your words that they want to sex you.
How much further from reality could that be? These days you can follow writers on social media, and they're accessible, open, and perfectly willing to let you in on a dream-shattering little secret: They live in neighborhoods just like yours. They take the kids to school, and they do laundry, and if they have a swimming pool then it's probably got leaves in it.
They're people. And writing is just one job that people do.
So I'm pretty grateful that nobody discovered me then. I wasn't good, and I wouldn't have been satisfied with a realistic career. I'd have wanted Hollywood's idea of my career. I'm happy that none of that happened.
However, I still want to be discovered.
It's just that now I'd rather it be by readers. In my little fantasies, I don't think I thought about the readers even once. That's not the case now. I'm grateful for each person who buys one of my books. Thanks! Thanks for waiting nearly twenty years to give me your attention. I'm sure we'll both be glad that you did.