Dear 22-Year-Old Me:
After getting over the shock of discovering your older self is, in fact, a man, and hairier, smellier, and grubbier than you currently are, I expect you might be a tiny bit disappointed. (But not with the impressively groomed facial stubble.) I know that you didn’t expect your life to be like this, thirteen years in the future. I think you expected to be a university professor by this time (ha ha), rather than some dude who works part time as an adjunct. I think you also expected yourself to have written and published a few novels by now, and might look on this scruffy character — who will be you — as something of a failure. Not only is he one short bastard, and not only has he not even finished a single novel, he does not even give two shits about writing novels anymore. He has all these — novellas and short stories — just simmering away on his mental burners. But what does he really have to show for those thirteen years’ time, creatively speaking?
Well, young one. You will get the shit beat out of you by life. You will transition, you will endure economic instability and major mental and physical health issues. You will doubt the career you’ve chosen, you will doubt the fact you got an MA in creative writing, you will spend so much time and energy punishing yourself for leaving the UK, for believing your life had gone off track then, and if you could just go back in time you could fix it. You will have to learn to forgive yourself and to let go of what you thought was a mistake. You’ll have to learn to accept what you have, and where you are. You will have to learn to live with and love yourself as you are, because if it you don’t people will treat you like you treat yourself — like shit. And you’ll have to learn how to get up in the mornings even when you don’t want to, and go for a run.
Basically you will have to stop being a self absorbed twenty-something and start being a grown up. Get your shit together. It doesn’t matter where or how or what you do with it, just get your shit together.
There. You got your shit together? Sort of? Ish? Fine. Good. Whatever.
You know what that means when you have your shit together? And you no longer have to deal with all this crap clogging up your life and suffocating you? It means you have space and energy to create. Let that sink in. It’s not until you hit 31 that things really get better. It’s not until you hit 31 that you can begin to realize our creative potential. Because we have our shit together enough that we’ve both time and space to create.
Crazy, right? You’ve been writing since you were ten, you think you’re pretty talented because everyone tells you so, and you got into a really good graduate school. But you don’t have the space inside yourself, or the energy, to be ready for some things as a writer. You have determination and ambition and imagination, certainly. You have all the raw material of a good writer. But you don’t have the space inside. And you don’t have the hunger.
Now, that hunger, that’s something that can only be a product of being broke and feeling like a total failure. It’s the product of seeing your peers pass you — getting book deals, publishing, winning awards — while you’re still trying to figure out what the fuck you are doing, creatively. You might think the hunger is wanting to show people “what you’re made of”. But it’s not. It’s the product of realizing, over time, you don’t want or need accolades just for the sake of accolades. They won’t make you happy. And over time, you realize too, you just really want to be a good writer. You will want to be the best writer you possibly can be. You will begin to write not because you can render an impressive turn of phrase. You’ll begin writing to prove something to yourself, rather than others.
This state of grace is a state of desperate hunger. Of wanting to be the best and knowing you can do better. Of looking for the next adventure. Of being humbled by what you don’t know, and excited to learn.
And from this place you can make goals. Real, lasting, measurable ones. Which you can’t do right now, because you haven’t a clue. But someday, someday, you will sit down and start writing a cracking good novella (if I do say so, but I am biased). You will know it’s going to take time, and discipline, and damn hard work, but you will finish what you’ve set out to do. Because you have time and space to create, you’ve got hunger — a fire in your belly to do the best work you can — and now you’ve got the goals to achieve what you want.
Can I talk to you about hard work too?
You work hard. You have always worked hard. But the hardest work, my dear, will come after graduate school. Not only on yourself, but on your art and your craft. Graduate school was nothing compared to the work you will be doing after that. You won’t care how tired you are at the end of the day when you sit down to write. You won’t care if you don’t feel like it. You won’t make excuses. You will sit down and write. You will work. And you will love it. Because it will be joyous work, the work of your heart, and you will love it even though it’s hard. You will know that it’s worthwhile because it’s hard.
As your (now) favorite athlete, Shoma Uno, says: “Practice never lies.”* You might not always get the result you wanted, but you still worked hard and gave it everything you had. And that is everything in a field were people fall like flies when it gets too hard.
Chin up, shoulders squared. The future awaits you, and it won’t be easy. But that doesn’t mean it won’t be rewarding, either.
Note: Why yes, that is Shoma with full game face and fight stance in the featured image.
* Yes, you have a favorite athlete! Who would have thought.