A few days ago, I read the book, "Dear Me: A Letter to My Sixteen-Year-Old Self," edited by Joseph Galliano. Celebrities from Alan Rickman (Snape, Harry Potter movies) to financial guru Suze Orman weighed in with what they wanted their younger selves to know.
That book literally crackled with ideas and hope. In fact, I thought the concept was such a good idea that I decided to look back across time and write a letter to myself, a letter that I would have been thrilled to receive when I was that age.
I've taken out some of the embarrassingly personal parts, but I've left in the advice for me as a young writer. Maybe it will help someone else out there who's struggling to make a living from words. If not, at least writing it was very cathartic. Here goes...
Dear 16-year-old Debra,
You're smiling in this picture, but I can still see the sadness in your eyes and the hurt in your heart. I know you are being horribly, methodically bullied. I also know that the next 24 months will leave you broken, exhausted, and wondering if there is any point to going on.
Don't give into those feelings of despair, child. I'm living proof that you make it through the hard tmes and come out on the other side...
...And you will live your lifelong dream of becoming a self-supporting writer. No, not writing lurid novels like the ones you like to read now--though never forget, a pseudonym is a wonderful thing--but you will be best known for your nonfiction. Your work will appear on the Internet (you'll find out what that is later) and in print.
And because I feel like I'm supposed to be the voice of wisdom here, or something, I've put together a few tips to help you along the way. I don't expect you to listen to me. Most of this shit (yeah, we curse now) is stuff you'll have to figure out as you make your own way. Then you can slap a hand to your forehead and say, "You know what? That crazy lady was right!" Anyway, here goes.
- Read as much as you can from high literature to pure trash. All of it will teach you something about writing.
- Stop trying to imitate the styles of your favorite authors. The world doesn't need another Stephen King or Anne Rice. It needs a Debra Stang, though it may not know it yet.
- Make time to write every single day, whether you feel like it or not.
- Pay closer attention in English. Those grammar rules turn out to matter.
- Don't be so shy and serious. You're just a very tiny speck in a very big universe.
- Embrace the world. Enjoy all it has to offer. Write love letters to it.
- The hurt and embarrassment that is making you suicidal today won't mean anything two weeks from now. I promise.
- Don't wait so long to come out of the closet. Everyone else already knows, anyway. Besides, if you embrace labels like "lesbian," "dyke," and "queer," they can no longer be used to hurt you.
- Encourage creativity in everyone you meet. It's good karma.
- Don't eat your feelings. Learn to write them instead.
- Learn to say no.
- Learn to say yes.
- Don't fear rejection. It's all part of being a writer. Learn what you can from it and move on.
- You won't please all of the people all of the time, so don't even try.
- True friendship is based on mutual love and respect. If someone who calls herself your friend treats you badly, walk away...fast.
- Stop procrastinating. It's a habit that will, at times, make your writing life miserable.
- Take care of your body and your mind now, and they will take good care of you later.
- Your mood swings are not a "normal" part of growing up. They are caused by a disease called bipolar disorder (you may have heard of it as manic-depression). Whatever you call it, get help for it now because it will only get worse.
- Travel recharges your mind and gives you new things to see and write about. Take at least one trip every year whether you think you can afford it or not.
- Love and respect others, always, but love and respect yourself as well. If you don't treat yourself well, other people will not treat you well either.
And that's all I can think of. I'm sure that's not really "it." There's so much I want you to know and do.
But mostly I want to give you a big hug right now and say thank you. Thank you for somehow surviving when there wasn't a single molecule in your body that wanted to do so. Thank you for never giving up. Thank you for making the choices that allowed this dream of being a writer to come true.
Love and Respect to You Forever,
Debra at age 44
P.S. This letter has now been posted at DearMe.org. I hope all of you go there and take some time to look around. It truly is an amazing site!