A letter to my 41-year-old self.
I know the thing lately is to write to your 16-year-old self and provide sage advice harvested from years of experience. You might still do that but, let’s be honest, if anyone needs your sage advice, it’s you right now. I know we’re running the risk of a bootstrap paradox but it’s worth it.
My advice to you is this: stop being a schmuck. No, really. Knock it off. I know writing is hard. I know there are times you sit at the keyboard, paralyzed with the inability to write. It doesn’t help when your Twitter feed is filled with people saying things like, “Knocked off 4, 876,114 words today. Taking a break and then going back to write more!!!” (Me, it’s totally OK to hate those people. Name evil characters after them. Then kill those characters in the most gruesome manner possible. That’s very cathartic.) Getting stuck happens to everyone.
You went through three years of an MFA program, a large portion of which was designed to help you figure out your process. Thankfully, as a result, you’ve got a pretty good handle on the optimal conditions that help you write.
So, why do you ignore it?
Why do you stare blankly at the laptop screen, determined to finish a scene/chapter that isn’t going anywhere? Especially when you know a scene that happens later in the book. Skip ahead. I give you permission. You used to understand that. You used to give yourself permission to do whatever it took to work around a blockage. Nowadays? Not so much. I don’t know where you skipped a track. But you’ve suddenly reset to factory settings and you’re using methods/techniques that didn’t work twenty years ago for you and don’t work now.
I hear you giving yourself permission to write a horrible first draft. I hear you reminding yourself to just write something with the knowledge that you can fix it later. Those work sometimes but not always. Mostly, you laze around, wallowing in self-doubt. Knock. It. Off. If the scene isn’t working, skip to the bit you know.
Recently, you started skipping. Congrats. Do you see how much more productive you’ve become? Two weeks and not a single word. Suddenly, you skip ahead and you’ve pounded out fourteen pages in two days. You’re feeling energized again. You feel like you’re accomplishing something. There might be hope for this book after all. Does this guarantee that when you’ve written every scene you know that you’ll instantly know how to handle the stuff you skipped over? Nope. Nothing’s guaranteed. But I’ll be willing to bet you figure it out. Because that’s what’s happened in the past. You skipped ahead, saw the big picture, and worked backwards.
It’s part of your process and you should know that. More than that, you should embrace it. Ignore what works for other people. You know what works for you, so do it.
Are we good to go? Got a handle on things? Super. Now, let’s grab a time machine and scare the crap out of 16-year-old us.