Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Letter to a young writer

Shimmer Magazine, which publishes lovely short fiction, and has a great blog, has a "Letter to a Young Writer" post up today. I really like the post, and as you might be able to guess from the title of this entry, have decided to steal the idea, and use it for my own.

Although it is weird, just a bit, to write this. There were so many years where I didn't write at all, not fiction anyway, certain that being a writer really wasn't a possibility for me. So I'm not sure at what age I am writing to myself at. Though who knows - perhaps through some TARDIS-like magic, this message got to my past self at exactly the moment I needed it to.


Dear younger Kat, who wasn't yet called Kat, except in her secret heart.

You were very young when you first started writing stories, and it was easy for you then. It was easy, and you got praise and recognition for it. Those are things you will always want, though, thankfully, there will come a point where you will no longer let their lack stop you from trying.

For a while, writing will continue to be easy. You will win Young Authors' contests, and essay competitions, and the English Scholarship to your high school. You will become so used to this, people telling you that you have a talent for writing will no longer surprise you. You will also stop thinking of writing as a talent you have, you will just think of it as something you are supposed to be good at. Winning an award will feel like the thing you are expected to do, and any result other than winning will feel like abject failure.

This is bad, because you are going to fail a lot. I mean, really a lot. You will never publish anything in your high school literary magazine. You will try, every year, with the maximum number of poems and short stories. And every year, they will all be returned to you. Your teachers will tell you you should submit something, and ask why you didn't, and you will smile, and say thank you, and say "Maybe I will next year." 

You will never publish anything in your college literary magazine, either. And this is the place where you do stop trying, because you will get a note, scrawled across the top of a page: "No one wants to read this kind of thing." You believe it, because it is obviously true.

You try to write again in law school. You are told you are wasting your time, and so you slide the project into a drawer. But then your academic writing will start to win awards. This will help you make the decision to leave the law for literature. This will be one of the smarter goodbyes you ever say in your life. 

You will find friends, and fairy godmothers, and people who believe in you enough that you will begin to believe in yourself again. You will pick up your pen, and stories will come out of it. You will get in to Clarion, and while you are there, you will begin to suspect that people do, indeed, want to read the kind of thing you write. You will also decide that no one is ever going to stop you from writing again.

You will write. You will publish. You will sell enough stories to qualify as a professional in the eyes of your peers. 

And one night, you will be standing in line for the bathroom in a theatre on Broadway, where you've just heard a story of yours be read. A woman will walk up to you, her face wet, tears still in her eyes. She will give you a hug, and say, "Thank you," and walk away.

Pick up your pen. You are writing for her, too.




  1. This made me teary. I suspect your younger self would be glad at how things turned out. Sometimes, it's the detours that help to make us who we are.

    And, Kat -- your stories are most definitely something people want to read. Beautiful post. ~Ali

  2. I do believe that it is the detours - the entire sum of our lives - that go into making us who we are at any given moment. It's why I've never been into playing the game of "if you could change one thing about your life, what would it be." I'm happy to be who I am now.

    And thanks.

  3. I feel the same way. If I changed one thing, even something small, I think I'd be a different person. My past, good or bad, isn't solely who I am -- but it is part of me.

    Again, great post. Thoughtful as always.