'By three methods we may learn wisdom:
First, by noble reflection, which is the noblest;
Second, by imitation, which is the easiest;
and third, by experience, which is the bitterest.'
Every year we become a little wiser. The quote above, by Confucius, sums up succinctly how we acquire this wisdom. How much easier life would be if we had that wisdom at the very beginning of our adult life or our careers. This got me thinking. What words of wisdom would I tell my younger self?
This week, my fellow Novel Points of View contributors and I share the life lesson we would like our younger self to know at the start of our writing careers.
Although it is possible to be an overnight success as a writer, this is not the normal path for most authors. Becoming a published author can take years. Once you are published it can take many more years (and books) to become a successful, established author with a firm fan-base. If I understood the long journey ahead of me at the beginning, I would have viewed each part of the process as a step forward towards my goal and not allow the setbacks to sap my confidence. I would tell the younger Victoria -
You are not alone, the majority of authors have travelled the same long journey and those who experience overnight success with their first novel are very lucky, but not the norm.
Things I would tell my younger self about writing? There are two quotes I recommend you print out and keep within view every time you sit down to write.
The first is from J.K.Rowling (if only she’d been around when I first started out!)
‘Perseverance is absolutely essential, not just to produce all those words,
but to survive rejection and criticism’.
Rejection is a nine letter word that hurts far more than any old four letter word when it is hurled in your direction. It knocks any self-esteem you may happen to have managed to acquire right out of the picture. Rejection happens more than anyone expects and is very hard to deal with in the beginning. You have to deal with it and move on.
The other quote is from a sign I have on my office wall:
‘You never fail until you stop trying’. That says it all really - both for writing and life.’
And while you’re Trying and not Failing remember the following and have a good life:
I have learnt so much on my writing journey and still have plenty to master, but the tip I wish I could pass on to my younger self would save me months of both time and heartache. It would be to
give up on perfectionism and simply get the first draft written.
To keep striving forwards, rather than refining and editing paragraphs and scenes that may not even make the final cut. To understand, and accept, that there will be time to revise and edit, once I know my characters better and have worked out where my story is going and what it’s really about.
I love collecting quotes that remind to push on. Here are a few of my favourites…
I’m writing a first draft and reminding myself I’m shovelling sand into a box so that later I can build castles
Don’t think about making art, just get it done
The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt
Now back to creating that first draft…
I wish I’d known, way back then when my dad was alive and I began to get short stories published, that I’d go on to be a novelist. My dad was ever my staunchest ally – my mother used to say: ‘The higher you ride, the further you fall’ if ever I went to her with news of a success of some sort. But dad was different. People would say to him, ‘You must be so proud of Linda’ whenever I passed an exam or won a prize but he always said, ‘No, not proud, I’m not a proud man. But I am very, very pleased for her.’ And so he was.
Before he died he read all the short stories I’d had published in national magazines to date (although no surprises that my mother never did) and when I said I wondered if I could write a novel one day he uttered his other oft-used phrase – ‘You can do it, kid.’
Well, Dad, I did but too late for you to pick up my book with my name on it and with my dedication to you for all your support. So, the crux of the tale is that if we even begin to think we might do things then we must. If only I could wind back time ....
If I knew then what I know now…what kind of theme is that for a blog post? It’s more the title for a 100,000 word memoir. And, let’s face it — I’m still learning, so my ninety-year old self will probably still have plenty of advice for me, if I could only hear it.
There are so many areas that I could look at, so many things I would have done differently. But because this is a writing blog, it’s probably wisest to confine myself to writing. And although again I could subdivide this into a number of different topics, I think I’m again going to narrow it down to one.
Writing is a craft. I didn't realise that when I was younger. I knew I could string words together and create characters who did interesting things, and I thought that was enough. It isn’t. There are conventions (not rules) in writing and they’re there because they work, either absolutely or in terms of expectations of your readers at any given point in time or any particular genre. If you don’t satisfy them, then you fall short.
So what I would have said to my younger self is this.
Talent is only a part of it. You can’t write without it, but it isn't enough. Writing is hard, hard work — but it’s worth it.
Life is a journey, with many forks, twists, up and downs. Each step will teach us something about ourselves and the world around us. We can pass on the lessons we learn and seek out the experience of others, but ultimately it is a journey we have to navigate ourselves ... as no one can do it for us.
What would you like to tell your younger self?