Why Teenage-Me Was A Lot Better Writer

When I was a little, I had this picture in my head of what it  meant to be a grown-up, full-time writer.

It involved a lot of cozy sweaters and turtlenecks, a lovely office with a big desk and giant windows that looked out over the mountains because, of course, it would be set in a lovely secluded cabin in the woods.

Not to be confused with THIS cabin in the woods.

And in this image that my child-mind projected, my grown-up, full-time-writer self sat at her desk – poised, pulled-together – and simply typed her stories out, printed them off in pristine black-and-white beauty, and mailed them off to New York. (My child-mind did not account for leaps in digital technology, obviously.)

Basically, if you ever saw the film adaptation of Wonder Boys, it looked a lot like that scene of Michael Douglas at the veeeeeery end in his posh office with a black turtleneck on.

I have to confess to feeling a bit nostalgic lately for Little!Becca’s vision of what being an author would be like. Just write with confidence, send it away, get it back in book form. Simple, pure authorship.

Of course that’s a terribly naive image. It was never going to survive once I had a legitimate (or so I thought at the time) book under my belt and started looking into the actual industry just after college. With that exploration came the knowledge that, for the majority of authors, that vision is a fantasy. The reality is – these days more than ever, I feel like – an author has to be savvy and involved, an active participant in building a career that has the potential to bring in money. You can’t just know writing anymore; you have to know marketing and social media and networking and you sure as hell better understand your contracts. It’s a business and has to be understood like a business in case you’re already independently wealthy and just horsing around for funsies (which most of us aren’t).

For someone like me – let’s say, a writer on the verge – who hasn’t picked a publication path yet, you pile onto that the overwhelming volume of opinions and rhetoric regarding whether one should go with traditional publishing or indie/self-publishing.

Let’s be clear: I know and love people on both sides of the line. I respect agents and editors, and I have a great many traditionally published friends who are so fabulous I would never stop hugging them if it weren’t so damn awkward. On the flip side, I have boundless respect for my copy editing clients and every other independent author who decides to take their career into their own hands. I want to buy them all drinks and tell them that I adore them for being ballsy and talented as shit.

But having friends on both sides of the line means that, more often than not, articles on self-publishing vs. traditional publishing are exhausting as shit.

If I had a dollar for every article written on this topic that manages to tackle it without – subtly or blatantly – denigrating the other side, I would have…well, maybe about ten dollars. Generally, all I’m seeing is this: One side comes out with data or an argument. The other side responds by saying that argument is bullshit. The first side then responds saying that the argument against their argument is bullshit.

Repeat ad nauseum.

And I know the advice that’s coming: “Just stop reading about it. Forget about the industry and just write.”

But I’m sorry, that’s just not practical. It’s a lovely idea, but it drives me up the freaking wall because it’s just not possible. You’re too late. The Pandora’s box is already fucking open. I can’t write as if the industry isn’t there because it is and because I want to make a career in it. I want to make a knowledgeable, educated career in it, which means staying on top of developments and analysis of those developments. No matter what path I choose, being an author these days is a form of entrepreneurship, and you’d never tell an entrepreneur to start a business without researching the market.

I am trying to read them less, especially when my anxiety is already flaring up or when I’m drafting and just need to keep my head down. I am trying to stay in the present instead of projecting into the future all the time. I am trying to find this balance between knowing enough and knowing way too fucking much ohmygodeveryoneshutup.

But I guess what it comes down to is that, this week, I’m really just missing fifteen-year-old me scribbling ridiculous original stories and fanfiction in the back of her high school auditorium. She knew nothing of the industry; she only knew about the pure joy of writing, and she was a lot more free because of it.

7 thoughts on “Why Teenage-Me Was A Lot Better Writer

  1. 15 yo Becca sounds awesome. 😀 And she is still in there. In those moments when you forget the world and the words flow like honey. Little Becca is there loving every minute of it, sitting all cozy in her turtleneck, looking out over the mountains from her cabin perched amongst the trees. She isn’t lost at all. 😀

  2. I wrote my stories during my English class, because listening to my teacher was like watching water boil.

    And I cannot tell you how many times I’ve thought “maybe I DO wanna indie publish”, then I read something and do an instant about-face to ” what was I thinking, of course I wanna go the traditional route”. Then something else comes along, or someone I know and respect says this or that, and we’re back to the maybes. You aren’t alone in the madness, or being affected by it. This sums up what so many of us are feeling, even if we aren’t as brave as you to say so.

  3. This is actually the reason I still write fanfiction when I’m frustrated with the “business” side of writing. Both paths have great aspects to them, and it’s maddening when one puts down the other. They’re equally valid options!

  4. I’ve been feeling this a lot lately. Even though I’m pleased with the path I’ve chosen for my current series, I miss that happy abandon and keep wishing I could shut off the business side of writing and just enjoy putting words down.
    And YES, what the eff is up with all these stats and jabs? I want to be a hybrid someday, but seriously. This shit is confusing.

  5. First off, Cabin in the Woods!

    Learning to turn off the publishing side of my brain was very difficult for me once I picked a publishing path, and especially after I published. I definitely understand and think about 15 year old me scribbling in her notebook a lot. I’ve spent the past year or so working to get back there. The good news that I have for you, is that it IS possible. I still have my days, but I am able to let it go and emerge myself in stories. Personally, I’ve had to draw some big lines to make it work, but it was worth it. Artist first. That doesn’t mean that publishing isn’t important, but that chronologically, the writing has to happen first anyway, so it all falls apart without that.

    I hope you find a way to separate the publishing and writer parts of your mind so you can find the naive teenage writer. I bet she’s more likely to write daring stories that push your brain further 🙂

  6. I think the important question here is not, “What is the correct publishing path?” but “What is the correct publishing path FOR ME?” That answer might be different at different times in your life. Ten years ago, I couldn’t have self-pubbed. Now, I’m excited about being an entrepreneur. But at some point, I’ll get sick of it, I’m sure, and want to leave all the non-writing parts to someone else. When I start outsourcing more than I do, that’s when I’ll know it’s time for a change.

    I’m sure you’ll figure it out, one way or another. 🙂 It’s not an easy choice, and whatever any of us pick is going to be a long, difficult road. It’s just–What difficulties do you want to put up with? Are they fun ones or sucky ones?

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