What Would Your Twenty-Year-Old Self Say?

I have, over the years, haphazardly written many beginnings of stories and ideas, even had a few outlines (something I rarely work from) and also tried expanding a short story (which is actually coming together nicely). But I kept coming back to when I first began writing in long form and the energy and excitement I had as a very young and inexperienced writer. I could never recapture that energy and excitement. I knew I had lost something along the way that really effected how I approached my writing. It was more than apathy. It was something much, much deeper.

What most people don't know is that I began writing science fiction, specifically, dystopian stories. And I must admit, I had more enthusiasm than talent, more pure idealistic energy than realistic goals. But it was a form and a genre that I enjoyed writing. I couldn't stay away from the manuscript and spent late nights pounding out (and I do mean pounding out) the manuscript on my old manual typewriter. It didn't matter who would read it. It didn't matter if it was published. It was the sheer act of writing that I enjoyed. The sequences falling into place, the characters coming to life and the movement of pages piling up telling a story that was the accomplishment.

But then life got in the way. I was suddenly a single parent going through a nasty divorce and the rejection slips kept piling up and I lost faith. I lost faith in the process. I lost faith in the energy and the simple act of being a writer. But mostly I lost faith in myself.

So how do you get faith back in yourself as a writer? I would remember those fearless days of writing when I didn't second guess myself; when I didn't worry about being judged or publicly facebooked or Goodreaded with abusive tirades from readers thinking all those years of effort deserved only one star for whatever frivolous reason they could come up with?

It's odd sometimes what can spark you. I was bored. I was burned out from reading to write reviews, or analyzing stories to prep for student lectures. I was especially burned out from four years of reading pieces for consideration for publication in the literary journals, which I loved working for, but suddenly all of my reading had become work. Work I enjoyed but work non-the-less. I simply wanted to read again just to read. To fold myself so deeply into a book that the whole world fell away like when I was younger and would  stay up all night because I didn't want to leave the characters, the stories or the world they inhabited.

So I did just that. I began to read for the sheer joy of it. For fun. And halfway through a trilogy, which pulled me in so completely that I read all three books in one sitting each, that thing in me that had been asleep for so long suddenly woke up. Twenty year old me said, What is wrong with you? You can do this. You've always been able to do this. What are you afraid of?

And then I remembered the quote from my patron Saint: I am not afraid. I was born to do this.

Okay, so I'm not saying this was a religious experience or anything. And my affinity with Joan of Arc goes well beyond my catholic beginnings for so many reasons. Mostly as a symbol of a courageous woman who, even in face of death, wholeheartedly believed in and had the ultimate faith in herself. This was the thing I had lost over the years. I had lost faith in myself so far down into the events of my life that my inspiration and creativity were draped in nothing but sadness and loss.

But whatever it was, sleep deprivation, inspiration from another writer or even the muse from my patron saint; something broke through for me at three AM during a marathon reading session and reminded me of who I had left behind: that young idealistic twenty-year-old writer that believed, above all else, that she could do it.

So many times we think of what we would tell our younger selves if we could: stay away from this or make that other choice or don't go down this road or this will happen. But we rarely think about what our younger self would think of the people we have become. What would they think of the talent we wasted or the chances we let slip by? Would they be disappointed in how we turned out, moved away from or failed the many things they thought we would accomplish?

So take a minute, or an hour, or a month; whatever it takes and try to see what your twenty-year-old self would say to you. Mine kicked me in the ass in the middle of the night and was just a bit disappointed in the things I had let go, or forgotten, or thought were no longer important. Can I get any of those back? I don't know. But I have a feeling twenty-year-old Joannie is not going to let me forget again any time soon.

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