I’m not good at taking advice that’s said over me. I’m sure I’m not the only one, though. When I was around the age of 17 or 18, my best friend’s mother told me that I should “never say never.” This was in context to me talking about dating a boy – you can imagine I was on the opposing end. When she said “never say never,” I remember recoiling. If someone used to talk to me in that manner (even well-intentioned and polite as she was), I was 50 times more likely to do exactly what I said just in spite of the situation.
I’m starting to realize that I need to stop talking about the future as if I understand it at all.
If you blacked out almost three or four months ago, and just came to, I hope you’re doing better! But you might have also missed me talking about NaNoWriMo here. I started writing my first novel. It’s my first because it’s the first project that’s meant this much.
I remember when I was much, much younger I had an idea for a fantasy book. I maybe got all of three chapters in before I forgot about it, but I do remember the exhilaration I felt as I wrote. I discovered my desire for journalism when I was a sophomore in high school. My focus then quickly turned to understanding AP style, succinct writing and getting a pat on the back from my fellow student-editor. As I moved into college, my want to write a fantasy book fell even further by the waste side (as did the fuel I had received from JRR Tolkien on the matter). I started focusing on design, writing articles even more with purpose, and dreaming of working with Rolling Stone Magazine. (If any editors from RS are reading, what’s up? Give me a call.)
Actual photo, already edited this way, found in the pits of an old Photobucket. I was totally cool in high school, shut up.
The more comfortable I became in this new role with writing, and how quickly I fell in love with creative nonfiction essays, I would often say “I’m not a novelist”. It didn’t even matter if it was true or not back then, I had determined that I knew my limits, and they fell into the article and short-essay range. I never looked down on novelists. Obviously I love to read, but I had made myself believe I could never do it, and I’m not entirely sure why.
Perhaps my attention span was low, and I didn’t use my Matilda-inspired brain powers for wanting to focus on anything for longer than 10 graphs at a time. Perhaps I was just completely uninspired in that particular area. Point is, I shouldn’t have tried to tell the future.
Hey, hi. It’s me, Jennifer. I’m about to tell you something so utterly fascinating and mind-blowing that you may not recover. Are you ready? Okay.
Young you is stupid and probably always going to be wrong about something. Because you’re stupid. And young. Which aren’t mutually exclusive, but for this particular situation they totally are. Hi past me, how ya’ doing?
Yeah, take a second to take that in. “I’ll never do that,” is the dumbest phrase I could have ever uttered in writing.
We have a propensity for pompousness when we’re English majors in college. It’s something that’s bred in those departments, despite the best efforts of professors who will try to whip it out of you. It isn’t until we often leave those hallowed halls – which I miss dearly, don’t misunderstand me – that we realize that we were quick to box ourselves in or assume anything about ourselves, the world or our writing for both. We forget that our schooling isn’t meant to define our paths, but define our stances and understandings of how we can use what we know. Our paths can split off at any point, and as much as the skill set I’ve acquired and honed from my degree has helped me in my current job, I wouldn’t exactly say I saw this as a possible career path. But I’m glad I’m here.
I know some students who never face that fear of limitation or misunderstanding their purpose. They go into college with already some unique understanding of who they are – as if they lived 20 years longer than you – and their writing and their posture are built on much stronger ground. I was just thinking today that as I am here, I have a million ideas for long essays and off-shoot feature profiles and articles, and I never felt like I had the freedom to explore the topics in school. My professors tried to tell me, but I let myself try to fit into a space that was never meant for me.
Twelve year old me was much wiser in some ways. I was willing to try anything, even if I was too afraid to show it off to the world, I still tried. Occasionally some of those efforts were posted on Fanfiction.net – then found later as a 20-year-old and gawked at like a monkey in a zoo – but for that girl who was sitting at her Windows XP desktop computer I owe her a great deal, because those memories are what I look back on as I sit at the computer today with a document open typing away as if I’m her.
Look at that melodramatic, middle school action shot. Ooh yeah.
Last year, right after visiting family in Georgia for a funeral, I wrote half a chapter while sitting on an air mattress, with very finnicky WiFi, by the way. I did this thinking that the idea I had would be easy to communicate, but maybe not always easy to write. I forgot about that half a chapter – sorta – until I was reading Talking As Fast As I Can by Lauren Graham tonight. In the book, she writes a lot about writing her other book, this book and future books. She writes about the opportunities she didn’t expect, the opportunities she wanted and didn’t get, and the opportunities she took a risk on that ended up being more fruitful than she anticipated. I’ve always loved Lauren Graham, but now I think I respect even more as a writer, as someone who gets it.
Nothing I’m doing now in my professional life or in my writing is familiar or like what I thought it was going to be, and I couldn’t be more thrilled.
This year I have two novels I want to finish and hopefully one day have published. But instead of trying to predict what’s going to happen, I’m going to take my own advice and just say, “Tonight I have two documents open, one for each novel I’m working on. That’s so cool.”
“I still find that, in general, having a plan is, well, a good plan. But when my carefully laid plan laughed at me, rather than clutch at it too tightly I just made a new one, even if it was one that didn’t immediately make sense. In blindly trying a different path, I accidentally found one that worked better. So don’t let your plan have the last laugh, but laugh last when your plan laughs, and when your plan has the last laugh, laugh back, laughing!”
― Lauren Graham, Talking as Fast as I Can: From Gilmore Girls to Gilmore Girls, and Everything in Between