I was cleaning the garage last weekend (because even proto-famous authors have help around the house) and I ran across a box labeled “Old MS.” Upon later examination, this box proved to be somewhat misleading, as it should have been labeled “Really Old MS,” as in “as old as they get.”
I started writing in the tenth grade. My brother announced one evening that he was going to write a story for his own enjoyment. I said, “I’ll write one, too!” All these years later, I have no idea why, except probably it was sibling rivalry. That sibling rivalry changed the entire course of my life. My brother wrote his story and moved on to other pursuits. I wrote mine and moved on to writing other stories. I had the bug. Eventually, my English teacher got wind of my project and asked to read it. I gave it to her, and she returned it with 100 extra credit points–which I didn’t need, because I had a 4.0 GPA in high school English. I’ll never forget her announcing, “Brian has written a novel and I gave him 100 extra credit points. If anyone wants to write a novel, I’ll give them the same.” Problem? It was three weeks before the end of the school year–and NaNoWriMo hadn’t been invented. I don’t think anyone took her up on her offer. Me, I kept writing and started submitting to magazines the following year.
Fast forward to last weekend. I opened the “Old MS” box, and there was that “novel.” In fact, there was the handwritten version preceding the typed version my teacher read. Cue OMG moment. And that’s not all. In this box I found over a dozen stories I thought had been lost the ages, including the first I ever submitted and a bunch more I couldn’t even remember. (You’ve heard of hysterical amnesia.) And I found the piece de resistance, what I believe was my first rejection. OMG indeed.
Now, I have not had the courage to re-read most of this…stuff…and what I have re-read is quite enough. But in its sheer amateurishness, I found joy and encouragement: It showed me just how far I have come. In truth, the mere fact that I can skim over the material so cursorily, and yet detect instantly where I had gone wrong, shows how far I have come. Writing is not about immediately putting the right words on the page, it’s about knowing which words belong before it leaves your hands.
And this is very valuable stuff. It doesn’t matter if you have success, as I’ve said before, writers are harder on themselves than anyone else is. But when I am most down on myself because I haven’t written enough, or sold enough, I think back on that teenager who wrote these Conan rip-offs (trying at the same time not to be writing Conan rip-offs), and I look at myself now through his eyes. I’ve sold almost 20 short stories. Do you know what that kid would have thought of someone who had sold nearly 20 short stories? He’d think that author resided on the (lower) slopes of Mount Olympus. He would look at that man and feel a yearning to make his heart burst, a yearning to be that man. And he would be, someday. And if he heard that man bemoaning the lack of production or the lack of sales, he’d say, “Are you kidding me? Do you have any idea what I’d give to be in your shoes? You’re published! You go to parties where the man across the table is allowing you to admire his Nebula award while the man next to you says, ‘Yeah, it’s prettier than mine’! What the hell’s wrong with you?”
Without enumerating all the possible answers to his question, I’d have to admit he’s right. For most of my life, I would have thought my position as a writer today was pretty sweet.
What a great thing perspective can be. And who would have thought a fifteen-year-old kid would be the one to provide it?