Since no one wants to see me blather for twelve paragraphs on a single response in a long Q&A, I generally offer something pithy and concise and only moderately useful.
You want the real answer?
I have to tell a story.
When I was 23, I went to Venezuela to teach English. It’s the sort of thing you do when you’re young and crazy with a freshly baked college degree and more wanderlust than money or common sense.
|Hiking in the Andes mountains.|
I was there for almost 5 months, and when I wasn’t in the classroom, I was traveling around the country. I backpacked through the Amazon. I climbed in the Andes. I swam in the Caribbean.
I was also robbed at gunpoint in a remote beach town. I contracted a weird intestinal parasite. I came this close to being bitten by a mapanare while hiking in a jungle so isolated it took several days to reach the spot on foot and in a dugout canoe. I was detained along the Colombian border in the middle of the night by two guards who ushered everyone off the bus except me and a friend, and then questioned us while holding machine guns inches from our heads.
Writing those things just now gave me goosebumps. At 36, I look back at my 23 year old self and shake my head at my own youthful naïveté.
Did I even have health insurance? Would I have made it home safely without the money stuffed secretly in my bra when I was robbed? If I’d been bitten by that snake, is there even a remote chance I would have survived with no medical care nearby and no way to phone for help?
The answer to all those things is “probably not.”
But I look back on those experiences now as some of the most exhilarating and educational moments of my life. I was hopeful. I was brave. I was too young and fearless to consider all the scary things that could happen.
Those are the same feelings I had when I started writing fiction. I believed success was just around the corner. I hadn’t yet experienced the sting of my first rejection letter or the niggling fear I might be writing a long damn time before I landed a book deal. I got to enjoy the exhilaration of spreading my wings without the knowledge that a strong wind or a powerline or a kid with a slingshot might knock me out of the sky.
What I want to say to new writers is this: slow down. Don’t fill your head with fears about querying agents or building a platform or the possibility you might die from an infected papercut obtained from your 2000th rejection letter.
Enjoy your early efforts. Just write for the pleasure of writing, and know that you’ll have plenty of time later to fret about the things that might go wrong. Don’t worry that you don’t know enough about plotting or publishing or branding strategies. That comes later. For now, enjoy your own goofy, hopeful, deliriously dopey moments as a new writer.
I know I wouldn’t trade them for anything.