Two decades ago I found myself walking around the campus of Goucher College, located in Towson, MD. I was a freshman, and I had two lofty goals at the time: become President of the United States before age 40, and write a novel. Sadly, with my 40th birthday coming up all too quickly I have to admit that I probably won’t be elected President in the next election.
I’m much closer to my second goal. Although I still have some significant hurdles before me (finding an agent, for instance), I will have finished – at least for now – editing my first novel within the next couple of weeks and I’ll be free to work on my query letter. But still…20 years? What the heck happened? What took so long? At least with the President thing I was prevented from being elected because the Constitution says that I had to be at least 35. I had no choice but to wait a decade and a half before trying. Oh, and I may have been born in Kenya…looking for my birth certificate now to make sure.
But back to my question. I’ve known that I wanted to be a writer since High School. I’ve been decent at it for most of my life, and I love reading. So what gives? The reason is a tragic belief I held that as a young writer I had nothing worth writing about. I blame this on nature and the epic stories I dreamt of telling.
I’m infatuated with mountains and oceans. I attribute this to growing up in the Ohio Valley, where the most significant geographic features are the Ohio River and a smattering of lakes. My early adult years were about as vanilla as they come. So when I felt the first stirrings of a desire to write, I found myself constrained by the fact that I hadn’t really experienced real mountains, and my memories of the ocean were confined to childhood memories of beach vacations. I remember vividly in college wondering “how in the world could I write sincerely and convincingly of great mountain ranges and endless oceans” if I never climbed a real mountain? Now, while there is some truth to this, I’ve come to recognize this thinking as mostly an excuse not to write.
Don’t fall for this. It’s a reasonable sounding cop-out. I’m not suggesting at all that life experience has nothing to do with the richness of an author’s writing. Since my college years I’ve lived a life that is, in my humble opinion, bursting with stories now. But you don’t have to go to war to write something compelling and emotional. Don’t try to be something you’re not. If you have a passion for writing, write what you do know, and the rest will eventually fall in line. You might be turned off because you can’t match Tom Clancy for his seemingly endless military insight, or Stephen King’s ability to paint word pictures as complex as any painting in a museum. But the fact of the matter is you will never mature as a writer if you don’t start somewhere. Don’t try to be a Tom Clancy; one of them is plenty. Be yourself, develop your own voice, and as you mature you’ll eventually write what you were meant to.
So who cares what you write? You’ll never know until you write it. Get it on paper, and simply acknowledge that your writing will grow with you. And hopefully it doesn’t take you 20 years to get there.