When I was a kid, I had talent and was a promising young author. I won awards. I still have them.
When I was a teenager, I stopped writing. I had too much other shit to do. Becoming a person, for starters, and balancing a life I had jumped into without thinking things through; an alcoholic husband and a cross-country move later, and I was in a whole new world, where everything was shiny and dramatic.
I never completely gave it up. I played in Mushes and Muds, which were the text-based version of video games (and.. I totally dated myself.) I would start stories, get four chapters in, and twirl off to another adventure.
Do you know what happens when you don’t exercise your talent? When you take it for granted that it will always be around? It atrophies.
I had no training, no discipline, and I was writing at a high school senior grade education. (I’ve had college training, but not in English.) I was frustrated. I didn’t want to write anymore. I abandoned my talent to the wolves.
Fortunately, my talent learned how to climb up on the wolves’ backs and ride ‘em. It found a spear and howled and refused to die.
When my life swirled out of my crazy twenties and into my slightly-more-settled thirties, my talent was ready and waiting. When I opened the door to look for it, it bowled me over and took off running. There was no negotiation, no slow integration. Getting back into writing was like being flung into the sea.
I wasn’t prepared for how fast my ability grew, trying to make up for lost time. I am still in no way a polished professional, but I never wanted to be a polished professional. I want to drag people along for the ride, and have everyone enjoy themselves. I’m a writer; I don’t rise above life and watch at a distance. I experience it and share it.
I have a friend who is finding her own voice. She didn’t stop writing for as long as I did, but she’s rediscovering her inner fire, and watching that makes me smile.
I have another friend who is working on his first finished manuscript. He figured if I could do it, he could do it. He could have done it before me, but he didn’t believe it until he saw it.
My point is, it’s never too late. You can’t kill your talent through neglect, although you can atrophy it. Don’t let the fact that you haven’t done it in a while stop you. Talent, the given abilities that we possess, do not possess an expiration date. Talent is a gift, and it is given to us to be used. Talent differentiates us in a positive way. Feed it, nurture it. It is a piece of yourself, and it deserves attention.
A friend of my mother in law’s recently said, “There are three rules to writing a novel. Unfortunately, no one can agree on what they are.” Her words ring true with me. There is a library full of books simply on the art of writing. How to write, what to write, how often to write, how not to go crazy writing (I don’t recommend that one, it doesn’t work.) and of course, How To Write The Next Big Thing.
I have not written the next big thing, but what I have done is managed to find the one thing in life that I care about that comes from inside of me. That might seem harsh, but I’m a people pleaser at heart and my best things in life fall in the category of my son, my husband, and then my family, and friends. Writing is something that springs from my mind and my heart, and I spent many years pretending like it wasn’t important. The spark caught, though, and now I spend my time writing, instead of contemplating writing.
At least, that’s what I tell myself. I did have a big contemplation today, on my rules for writing. (Because really, you’re not a writer until you have them.) My rules for writing thus far include:
1) Have a Support Team. Friends, family, your cat.. assuming your cat is literate.. can all have a huge impact on your self esteem. And, let’s face it, a writer’s self-esteem is usually in short supply to begin with. Especially regarding their work. I have seen so many writer friends of mine, as well as myself, go weak at the knees when they get positive feedback on their work. A support structure is essential to good writing.
2) Have an Ego Assassin. This is a *much* harder position to fill, but essential. Surrounding yourself with positive energy is great, but sometimes this can lead to a writer believing their own press. A writer’s self-esteem may be in short supply, but without someone there to temper the hoo-rah’s, you may be tempted to believe you’re the next Stephen King and your rough draft needs to be published out of the box. Your ego assassin is there to slap some reason into you and remind you that even Stephen King has an editor.
3) Dabble in Classes. Whether or not you have a Harvard degree in Creative Writing, classes are a great way to meet people in your community who understand you. It can lead to joining a writing group, or just get you in touch with a few people who want to bandy words with you. Beyond that, choose classes that are interesting and create growth. Writing is a growth exercise. Push yourself!
4) Make a Time. The best intentioned novels have never been written because those who would create them don’t take the time. Novel writing is something that takes hours, days, weeks, months, years. There is always something to be done in the writing cycle, from creating the world to deciding the ending of the book. It is only when you commit, sit, and type (or talk, thank you Dragon NaturallySpeaking) that the book will get done.
5) Befriend Writers. This is the most dangerous rule of all the rules. Other writers are The Enemy, competition and well, frankly, completely mentally unstable. On the other hand, they’re the only ones who have the stamina to read your work, even if the only reason for it is so that you will read theirs. Writers are loners by trade, but work cannot exist in a vacuum.
I’m sure there are more rules, but I haven’t discovered them yet. When I do I will gladly add them to my list, just so I can remember where I learned them.