Letter to a Lost Writer
Dear Sixteen-Year-Old Nichelle,
I could use this opportunity to warn you about the boys in your future who will inevitably break your heart, or I could give you a hint on how to pass your driver’s license test the first time. Instead, I want to speak to you about your present situation, from one writer to another.
There were once times I stayed up too late on school nights, tucked into my comfortable bed with only a small reading light to brighten the room enough so I could see the computer on my lap. The two AM silence was filled by the rapid clicking of my keyboard because I would not dare to stop writing, in fear I would lose the story once I shut my eyes. There were nights that I spent hours convincing myself to sleep, only to turn my light on every hour or so because I could not get a story out of my head. Those nights, I became obsessed with the art of writing, and I found myself thinking about it in every waking second. I am sure you remember those nights, too. Do you wish you had the same energy as you used to?
At fifteen years old, you finished writing a novel. For the past year, you have obsessed about publishing it, spending all your time editing that one novel, but you are tired of reading the same work over and over. I know you are incredibly proud of writing a 130,000-word manuscript while in high school, and you love the characters and storyline more than you value your sanity. Your family and friends tell you to move on to a new manuscript, but you are determined to publish this book, filled with all your blood, sweat, and tears, and all the other overused metaphors you put in your writing. You swear that you will get this book published, and you will never give up on it.
I hate to tell you this, but we were wrong. Do not get discouraged now; I have the secrets that will unlock all the answers for which you are searching. That book, no matter how much you long to see it sit on the shelf at Barnes & Noble, does not hold the key, but your energy does.
In high school, I told people I was not really a writer yet because I had not met my goals. Now I would say I was not really a writer because I had not written something new that sparked my creative energy since the end of my freshman year. I determined that being a writer was a goal; it became a destination that, if I just worked hard and long enough at, I would eventually be able to find. I would declare myself a writer after reaching publication, after reaching the light at the end of the dark tunnel of editing that manuscript. I forced my creativity away because I was so set on publishing this specific story. I did not consciously realize I had suppressed my writing abilities until I was able to break down my barriers and begin another manuscript. When I finally moved on from the story that I spent four years writing and editing, I had to tune out your screams that we could still get it published.
I also hate to tell you, but I am now twenty-one years old, ready to graduate with a bachelor’s degree in five months, and I still have not published a novel. In your head, you think you are a failure if you do not get a novel published before you graduate high school because everyone told you they thought you could. Other people dismiss your dreams because most authors do not get published until later in life. I understand why you are upset; I want to be published, too.
However, since graduating from high school, I have been able to find something more meaningful than being a published author. I have found comfort in my creativity and a new, safe space for me to explore it without the need for that crazy ambition that kept me chained to a manuscript that had the life beaten out of it.
Through my journey of writing in college, I found that being a writer is not a goal to meet; it is an identity. I can identify myself as a writer whether I have been published, whether I have met my goals. Being a writer is a state of mind, and my creativity has improved without having the hardcover book as proof of my identity.
There are nights that I dream about my books again. I spend my days working and studying, but I use every free moment possible to let my writing take over. I write short stories and poetry, the things you never wasted your time with because that took your eye off the prize, but that is what you needed. The prize is a goal that will keep you off track to becoming a real writer. Success is defined in many ways, and it is right around the corner.
Guess what? You will publish a short story at twenty years old.
In the last year, I have been able to let my creativity soar, and my hobby has once again become enjoyable instead of my obligatory obsession. That is what makes me a better writer, by allowing myself freedom in exploring something new, letting my mind roam wild. I had normalized keeping my creativity locked inside a cage, trying to tame it so I could be driven to success. Our stories are not meant to be safe, though. They are meant to lead us away into a world where the impossible happens.
With that in mind, I do not want you to lose your ambition; we need that in this life. Instead, I want you to learn to relax and let your heart guide you out of this rut. Do not let the idea of publication possess you into someone you are not. We will get there some day. For now, just enjoy being a writer.
Though I remember those anxiety-filled days well, I am not worried about you. You will figure it out. At twenty-one years old, you will break through your barriers and remember why you were passionate about writing to begin with. The creativity will fill you up, and you will not let it leave you this time. You will hold on tight.