“The mind of a writer can be a truly terrifying thing: isolated, neurotic, caffeine-addled, crippled by procrastination and consumed by feelings of panic, self-loathing and soul-crushing inadequacy. And that’s on a good day.”
Robert DeNiro said these words in 2014 on stage at the Oscars. He was introducing the award for best screen writing. But he could've been talking about me.
Like most authors, I spend an inordinate amount of time sitting alone in front of my computer, drinking way too much coffee and obsessing over my imaginary friends. When my characters aren’t behaving or doing what I want them to, I procrastinate with social media as my more-than-willing partner in crime. So yes, all of what DeNiro said feels insightful on a scary soul-searching level.
Like, oh my god, he’s REALLY talking about ME.
On the other hand, the feelings of “soul-crushing inadequacy” are the very things that make writers so introspective, analyzing the minutiae of everyday life and emotion to find what’s real and put it on paper. We search for Truth and make readers stare it in the face.
My own soul-crushing insecurities made me put off my writing dreams for twenty years.
Like so many authors, I caught the writing bug early. In second grade I knew I wanted to write books and be the one standing at the front of the line in bookstores, smiling as I signed my name. My favorite book for years was The Girl Who Owned a City, by O.T. Nelson. Dystopian YA before they named it as a category. I wanted to write a book like that.
When I graduated college with my BA in English literature, I told my dad I wanted to write for children and teens, to inspire the same love of words and reading that had supported and comforted me through my life. He laughed and told me to find a real job.
My first "real" post-college job, entry level at a Boston advertising agency, came with computer access. I started my first real post-college novel on a floppy disc on my lunch hours. It was Bright Lights, Big City meets Brave New World. New Adult before it was even a category. I had over 80,000 soul-searching words written before a large metal stapler literally crushed my dreams by landing on the disc hidden in my desk drawer.
A computer-savvy friend retrieved some of the words – broken phrases and paragraphs from the corrupted data. Mostly little squares in rows where the words should’ve been. Soul-crushing.
I was still writing - press releases for different public relations jobs, articles for local magazines about my roommate’s comedy troupe, short stories for children’s magazines, finally landing a reporting position at the local newspaper… but every time I sat down to write my novel, I froze. The words wouldn’t come, stuck in the neverworld of computer Purgatory. Writing fiction sank to the bottom of the to-do list.
Fast forward 18 years… that same computer-savvy friend dragged me to his writing class. The other adults in the class pooh-poohed writing for teens and urged me to tackle more adult subject matter.
I did. And I got published. But. My heart remained mired in Young Adult fiction.
I finally indulged in my secret desire to write for tweens and early teens, but chose to write about mermaids before they became popular. Everyone wanted vampires. Then angels and demons. Rejection after rejection filled my inbox. “No one wants mermaids,” wrote one agent.
The third book in my mermaid series released at the end of 2017, and I've been busy promoting it this summer, with at least one event every week. I've met actual fans in person, teens who've read the first book and are eager for more and eager to talk about the characters. And it feels really, really good.
I always wanted to write YA, but kept putting it off. Listening to other people. Letting other people tell me what would be a better use of my time. I didn’t have the courage or confidence to pursue my dream until it was almost too late.
But it’s never too late.
And it’s never too early. If you have a dream, go for it. Don’t let other people tell you what you want to do. Write what you love. Follow your dreams. Suck up those soul-crushing feelings of inadequacy and just go for it.
And keep the stapler on the other side of the room.