Last week I gave a talk at Cal Poly Pomona about creativity and finding one's inner artist. So the talk was going pretty well, with a number of young people sharing their love of photography, game design or music composition. I told my story about becoming a novelist in my 5th decade, in part to encourage them to try new things and to not let your inner-critic tell you that you can't do something. So there I was being all inspiring and stuff, and feeling pretty cool about myself. And then it all went sideways.
There was this cute, young woman sitting next to me, and as we spoke she looked sadder and sadder. I finally turned to her and said, "We haven't heard from you. yet" She pulled her knees up to her chest and wrapped her arms around her legs and told us she'd made a mistake. She didn't belong in this group. So I questioned her a little bit. Here's her story:
In High School she liked to write and eventually won a short story contest. She felt pretty great about that and decided to write a novel. Naturally she shared her idea and passion with her friends. Her friends started advising her- the old "you should do this" or "you should do that" kinda thing. Before she knew it she'd lost control of her novel and was writing all kinds of crap, depending upon what people around her wanted. So she quit writing. And then she quit reading. Egads! And as she told the story she started to cry. So there she is, feeling all crappy and everyone else is like, "What the hell just happened?"
A lot of things happened that are neither here nor there, but I think she was suffering from a kind of crisis of confidence and maybe even PTSDish stuff. She'd let her friends take something away from her that was important to her and she felt victimized by her friends and by herself. The experience had traumatized her.
I really admire all the young people out there trying to write anything. But one of the problems with being young is that people think they can tell you things. And young people listen. Maybe we all do.
My favorite writing vlogger, Jenna Moreci, has a post where she describes the kinds of haters you'll meet as a writer. Haters will tell you your idea is stupid. They'll tell you that you can't do it. They'll make stupid comparisons and miss the point. The thing is, some of the "haters" are going to be your friends and loved ones. Only they won't seem like haters so you won't notice they're fucking up your shit.
I'm here to tell you to NOT LISTEN to people who tell you what you should write.. I don't mean, don't listen to your beta readers or your editors. Once you've written your thing you'll have to seek outside opinions. But WRITE THE THING FIRST. Give yourself permission to write the story YOU want to write. Give yourself permission to believe in yourself. If all your friends have writing ideas, let them write their own damn books. No one is going to understand the interior life of your writing like you, so you know best.