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Letters to My Future Self

August 7th, 2018

Dear me,

You almost gave in today. You almost gave up. The stress and frustrations finally got to the point where quitting was an option. But you didn’t. You kept going and kept fighting. And most importantly, you kept writing.

This is nothing like you thought it would be. It’s hard work and time consuming. It’s thought provoking and inspiring. It’s a real job. You don’t have time. You have a job, and responsibilities, and friends, and family. You can’t keep doing this.

Every time you think those thoughts just remember today. Today you hot a wall and broke through. You saw another wall and kept pushing forward. There will always be a wall, something you can’t avoid, something you don’t think you will overcome. Look behind you. Every single one of the walls that you have passed was an obstacle you never thought you would overcome, and you did.

You fought to get where you are now and to give it up is an insult to me, your past self, and you, my future self. If you didn’t want to do this, you would have never started. You love this, and you hate it. Just like the rest of you there are good and bad parts, but the important thing is that you feel something when you write. Writing is no good without emotions, good or bad. Even the days you hate writing, your anger and hurt and frustration will paint a vivid picture.

If you ever get to a day where you pick up a pen, or sit in front of a laptop and start writing and you feel nothing, then it is time to quit. You will never write anything good or anything important like that. If you can’t feel anything then neither will your readers.

Find things that inspire you, or frighten you. You aren’t the only one and people will want to read that. Think about why you read your last book, what kept you reading. Think about what you wish you would see in a bookstore. And then think about everything you know that went into every one of the books that you overlooked.

It’s crazy that people sit and write for months and years to write a book that you will never read. All the joy and tears that are wasted on you. They still wrote the book. Everyone will not like everything you write and that is ok. You’re not writing for them. You’re writing for the ones that are reading your book.

First and foremost, write. Write often, write badly, just write. The rest will come when it needs to. Just remember how much you love writing. And how much you hate it. Then pick up a pen and let your emotions paint the page.

Distractions

Life is overwhelming at times. Jobs, partners, pets, family, all of these things have a space in your life and take up time. Then of course there’s the time you need for yourself. Taking a long shower or reading a book should have a space in your calendar as well. But how do you know how much time and when to use it?

There is no right answer. Everyone is different and everyone has different needs. I may need longer to recharge myself than someone that was at the same event as me yesterday. I know that I have different ways of recharging than other people, and even those change from time to time. Sometimes I need a book and a coffee, other times I need to blow things up in an online game.

Recently I’ve been asking myself how I can fit all of this in my life and have any time for anything else. How can I add to this without detracting from another part of my life? Life is not always a zero-sum game. That doesn’t mean that it isn’t, it just means that it varies at different points in our lives.

I have added writing to my long list of things I need to do over the course of the day, week, month. That takes time. Sometimes a lot of time. I need to make sure that I block out periods of time where there are no distractions so I can sit an just write without being interrupted by the outside world.  I can honestly say that I have failed  epically in that regard. My life is a tornado that touches down when and where it wants to.

I work around the chaos that is my life. I redefine what it means to write. I write in my head. I take quick notes. I walk through a storyline or flesh out a character’s traits. I do all of this before I ever sit down to write one word. I do this because then I can prioritize what I need to write with the time that I have, even if it’s just a few minutes.

Every blog that I post goes through a similar process. I think about a possible idea, what is going on in my life, and then I think about how it affects me. I make broad observations and then I sit down and write. It never comes out the way I thought it would, but that part is irrelevant. Writing something that isn’t what I planned on is still better than not writing my next great idea. I can always go back and fix what I’ve written, but a unwritten page will never be written by anyone. Including myself.

Rain, Rain, Don’t Go Away

It’s raining today. It’s the perfect day to sit at home bundled up on the couch watching Netflix. My natural instinct is to be unproductive, stay home, and just lsten to the rainfall.

Rain is also a good time for me to think. Rain for me is both reflective and imaginative. I can think about all the things I have done in the rain or all the things I still want to do. Youd be surprised how long the list is.

When I was a kid I used to walk along the beach in the rain. There was no purpose, just a walk to clear my head an organize my thoughts. I haven’t been able to do that walk for a while. Not for lack of rain, but for lack of an appropriate beach. It can’t be just any beach you happen to be passing. It has to be quiet, at night, with a single gull crying out to break the silence.

Ok, maybe that isn’t my life, but it could be the opening of a story, or the closing. Its an idea, one that I didn’t have before the rain. That’s all that matters.

I don’t have the same thoughts about snow, or any other type of weather. There’s just something relaxing about watching the rain fall with a cup of coffee on your porch.

Maybe I’ll go off and write an amazing story today with all the ideas in my head. Maybe I’ll just write pages of random ideas strung together by force of will. The important thing is that I write. An idea in your head stays an idea that no one will ever see. I idea that is written down has a chance to grow and evolve and become what you see in your head.

So I’m going to listen to the rain, drink my cup of coffee, probably watch something on Netflix, but I’ll be ready to sit down and write the most unorganized set of words I’ve ever written. And then I will watch how the rain makes them grow.

New Experiences

I always talk about doing something new as a way to write about something new. I’m following my own advice, like it or not. This is the first time I’ve been alone. I’ve lived in cities where I don’t know anyone and been to places where things were unfamiliar, but this is different. It’s me, an empty apartment, and a laptop, in a city I’m passingly familiar with hoping to churn out ideas and write the next great American novel. Ok, maybe not the novel part, but I feel like a cloistered nun. I’m used to noise and constant activity. I’m used to arguments and invitations. I’m used to bars and parties. Here I am getting none of that.

Let me be clear: I put this on myself. I chose to come here knowing what it would entail and knowing it would likely be uncomfortable. If you’re not uncomfortable, you’re not growing. This is a new life experience, good or bad, and will only add depth to anything that comes to my mind.

I may sound idealistic saying this, but I know that when I write about something I have experienced versus something I have heard about, you can tell the difference. A conversation between people is always better than one I came up with in my head. A smell I remember from my childhood is better than the YouTube video I just watched. The world around me has enough information and inspiration to keep me writing about new things until the day I die. There’s no reason to go beyond that.

That doesn’t mean I won’t write about something I don’t know. It just means it won’t be as good, at least in my mind. I have written and will write many things that I have never experienced first hand, and in some cases made up on the spot. That doesn’t make it less real. I know what I would do if I was in a house on fire. It’s never happened to me, and I hope it never does, but I know how I would react, what I would try to save, who I would call. I know these things because I know myself.

In the same way I know my characters. I know their desires and fears. What they love and hate. I know they only call their mother on Tuesdays and the burger place down the street is a secret indulgence. I know he has a crush on the temp that was just hired, but will forget about her a week after she leaves. None of these things may ever make it into the story I am writing,  but my character does not exist in a story, the story exists because of my character. My character is a person, just like you or me, and they have an entire life that just hasn’t been written yet.

Go Out and Play

Things can change in the blink of an eye. And they do. One day you’re sitting at your laptop writing an blog post with a cup of coffee to the side of you, and the next you’re being interrupted by people and things that want your attention that weren’t there five minutes ago. You get so upset trying to write and making time for all of this, and sometimes you ignore them. You ignore the pleas for attention and try to continue to work. They can wait.

You finally finish your writing and you turn around to see that you are alone. All of the things that once interrupted you are now gone. There is no one there to ask you questions about what you are working on. There is no dog that needs desperately to go outside. There is no trash that needs to be taken out or emails to return or voicemails to listen to. There is just you and the laptop. Sometimes I wonder if that is enough.

I write for the people that read my writing. I write for the people around me. I write BECAUSE of the people around me. They are bits and pieces of characters and settings. They are overheard conversations and catchphrases. They are in the flowing hair of the protagonist and the smirk of the evil villain. They are also the annoying dog barking next door and the cat that hates people. Without the people and things interrupting my life, I would have nothing to write about.

I love my friends and family. I love the dogs I see everyday and the cats that avoid me on my daily walks. I love the sounds that the birds make in the morning, even if they sound like they’re laughing at me. I love it because this is my life. This is the base for every story I will write for the rest of my life. That doesn’t mean I can’t write science fiction or historical fiction. It just means I start with what I know and build on it.

Some people say that you just need to sit down and write and ideas will come to you. I say that you need to live life so you know what is possible. Watch people react to different situations. Listen to the way they phrase that compliment they don’t mean. See the look in their eyes when they try a new dessert, or an old one.

I have never skydived, but I can write about it. I’ve never been to China, but I can write about it. I can picture it in my head, I can hear the sights and smell the sounds. I can put words to what I am feeling, but it will not be the same as someone who has experienced it. I know the way that saltwater tastes different from tears. I know how the cold winter rain different from a summer shower. These I have lived and can describe in ways that speak from experience.

Neither way is good or bad. I will never be able to experience everything and that shouldn’t limit what I write. I need to live life and experience everything I can. I need to talk with people and pet dogs. I need to go on hikes and watch movies. I need to laugh and cry and be alone. But first I need to finish writing this one thing and then I can go out and play.

Procrastinate Much?

I finally started my assignments for school. Not that I’m rushing, I just don’t want to procrastinate. Coincidentally, one of the books I am reading for my class is about procrastination. I don’t know one writer who hasn’t procrastinated on some project they are working on. It’s almost like it’s attached to the gene that says we must write. It’s also the most ironic oxymoron: I must write, but not today. Maybe tomorrow.

I fall in the same category. Even just looking at the dates my blogs posted will show you that I don’t have a routine down, but that’s part of the process. Come up with a plan, ignore the plan, and just write. Advice that I have received from every author of any genre that I know is that writing ANYTHING down is the hardest part. Once you get past that, the rest is easy. We can all see grammar issues and we can recognize dangling modifiers, and every other writing faux pas that there is, but can you judge a story’s pacing, or tell what is making a character come alive? That is what makes a writer and editor.

So here I am sitting in front of my computer, writing. There is no point other than to get my thoughts out and maybe inspire someone else to do the same. I have plenty of things to write about, that is never the problem. I just need to sit down and do it. The movie I’m dying to watch can wait an hour. I really don’t need to reread that book. The email I put off for a week can wait one more day. And yes I realize that is just procrastinating other tasks, but some tasks are harder than others. I have to do laundry whether I like it or not. I won’t be wearing dirty clothes. I’m going to have to take the trash out and clean the bathroom. Those are all things that I will do, because i know that I have to and because I can’t function if I don’t. Writing is not like them.

I was reminded today of something that many people in larger cities do. We all talk about all of the amazing things to see and places to go in our cities. Sometimes we even see and go to these places. More often than not, we ignore them. Not because they aren’t interesting and not because we don’t want to see them. We ignore them because they are right there, and they will be right there tomorrow. And the day after that. That is what writing is like. It’s always going to be there.

The problem with writing is that there will be a point when it won’t be there. That great idea for a story gets forgotten. You lose interest in the topic you were working on. You hit a block and you’re not sure how to fix it. You will always be able to pick up a pen and write a story, no matter where you are or who you are. With all the different technologies we have today, you don’t even need to find a pen. Memories fade and the brilliant sunrise isn’t the same if you never see it.

I should be writing right now, or at least writing something more productive than this blog. I have a stack of papers that I need to read through and a equal stack of books to read before I officially “start” my master’s program in July. I’ve been so busy moving and adjusting that I have managed to ignore the stack of work waiting for me. Well, that ends today, or maybe Monday. No good wasting a perfectly good weekend.

I write about what is around me – my friends, family, neighborhood – whatever catches my mind at the moment. What I write about most, of course, is me. I use my own experiences, conversations, dreams, fantasies, to make up the majority of my stories. That doesn’t mean that my stories are true, just that they COULD be true. An alternate universe is being created every time I write a story where an unwalked path is given light. Sometimes it’s good and sometimes it’s bad, but it’s always a possibility.

I’ve written stories about 9/11, and funerals. I’ve written about falling in love and losing a love. I’ve written about moving to a new place and coming home again. These are all things that we have, or will, go through in our lives, things that we all have in common. Even if we haven’t experienced them, we know someone that has or we have an idea of what it is like. I think of my stories as a safe way to walk down those possible paths and see what it is like.

Moving to Maine is a new experience for me. Hopefully this will prompt some of my characters into new scenes and new stories. I don’t have anything in mind yet, but it’s only been a few weeks. It’s like trying on a new shoe when you get home. You have to give them some time to get comfortable before they become the shoes you wore to that job interview, or the ones you wore on that date. The time will come, but that day is not today.

For now I’m getting comfortable in my own home. My new place. Eventually I’ll have the time to create memories and write new stories.