Let me tell you a little story about a young, naïve girl who wanted to be a writer. She had been writing a lot throughout her childhood, creating stories mostly for her own enjoyment, but with that inevitable dream of one day making that into a career. If you haven’t figured it out already, that girl was me.
Writing a novel is insanely hard, I realised. The years went on, and many unfinished projects eventually became one finished. I was eighteen, fresh out of high school with the intellectual and emotional maturity of a teenager – and the apparent self-confidence of five adults. With support from my mum and one teacher I sent my manuscript off to the publishers. Naturally, it was rejected.
It was a devastating blow for me. My confidence broke down completely and I stopped writing for quite some time. It took me years to realise that I wasn’t in fact a bad writer. I was just an immature one.
As a teenager, everything needs to happen quickly – there’s no patience for any slow-paced development. I would dive head first into any skill that I wanted to learn, and I wanted to master it immediately. At fifteen, I wanted to start sewing my own clothes, so I got a sewing machine and enough fabric to make me a dress. I was completely overwhelmed and never finished the project. A bit later I had a similar experience with oil painting, and the huge canvas gathered dust in my room for years before I eventually threw it out. Judging by this, it was hardly suprising to anyone that I also wanted to be a published author before turning twenty.
It doesn’t work that way. I had made a habit of rushing into things that I wasn’t ready for, and even worse, expecting to be brilliant at without a learning curve. Starting small was out of the question, what sort of achievement would that be? In retrospect, I needed the wake-up call that was the rejection of my book.
So, I took some years off in regards to my writing ambition. I started working, moved to another country, began studies at uni and filled my life with new experiences, travelling and adventures. I also learned some hard lessons of grief, poverty, heartbreak and what to do in desperate situations. I guess the hardest lesson of them all is that you don’t know what you’re capable of until you’ve really suffered, and managed to fix it all on your own. (That is an achievement to be proud of.)
In five days time I’ll be turning twenty-nine. It has been ten years since my first manuscript was rejected. A little while back, I finished the first draft of a new novel. It took me six months, and will most likely take even longer to edit – and I’m ok with that.
With self-publishing becoming more and more popular, teenage writers now have the opportunity that I didn’t ten years ago – to publish their books themselves, traditional publishers be damned. I’m not saying that maturity is required to be a writer. But I think most writers would agree with me in that it’s very hard to be a convincing writer before you’ve actually lived a little (and of course, there are always exceptions).
I might be stepping on some toes here, but it’s just my opinion based on my own experience. If anyone feels differently, I have nothing against a healthy, respectful discussion.