A professional writer's love/hate relationship with writing chronicled in a collection of letters to her younger self.
Dear Little Abby,
You love to fill the white pages of a blank hardback book with imaginative stories. And lucky girl, when you grow up, you can be a writer! Just like how dad’s an engineer and mom’s a teacher.
Alas, beware. Following your dreams is risky territory.
The reality, Little Abby, is that after you grow out your bangs, survive teenagehood and graduate from journalism school at Ohio University, you’re going to wear a green apron at Starbucks and struggle to find any job related to your field. College, basically, failed you. You’ll question how qualified you are for, actually, anything (a job, boyfriend, cooking dinner) and continue to guzzle eight shots of espresso by 8 a.m. as the early, early shift barista at Starbucks.
When your kindergarten teacher asks, “What do you want to be when you grow up, Abby?” … “a writer” is the wrong answer. And John Lennon was wrong too. No, you definitely don’t want to be happy when you grow up. You want to be something that provides a good steady income with job growth potential and career stability in an in-demand industry.
Cynical Professional Writer
Dear Miss Journalism Major,
Still following through with this writing thing, huh? Keep in mind dear Bobcat, not all OU journalism majors graduate and move to the big city to write a sex column for a newspaper or work at a big magazine publication, ala Carrie Bradshaw or Lauren Conrad (“Laguna Beach” and “The Hills” become your generational guilty pleasure). And I know that’s what you envision.
Stark realities: For one, by your fourth year of college, you’ll be 10 pounds heavier than your freshman 15. Moving to and living in New York City is outside your nonexistent budget and sagacious personality. Journalism will become highly digitized. You’re too close to your family to ever live far from them. The financial crisis of 2008 will turn you into an immobile, unemployed millenial blogging cynic who dreams of urban life and an amour with a dark and disturbed artist type.
I Destroy Dreams
Dear Entry Level Writer,
It’s not Vogue and New York City, but your first job at an online women’s website serves as a great experience for a young 20-something digital media novice and newbie to Scottsdale, Ariz. At your first job, you’ll meet Allison with whom you’ll share plenty of unforgettable laughs and too many office eye rolls. But then because of the Great Recession, you’ll learn what it feels like to get fired from your job and be asked to quickly shut down your computer and abruptly leave the office. It. Doesn’t. Feel. Good.
Yes, you’re bitter and discouraged, but moving to Phoenix will transform your life in unbelievable ways, starting with this brief job that launched your professional life, as a former small-town midwesterner. Plus, while unemployed, you’re able to explore your deeply creative self and share enthralling anecdotes on your prolific blog like this:
Saturday night I asked this guy what he keeps in his colorfully striped crossbody man bag slung around his shoulder (as I freely peeked inside). Quick to respond, he asked me if I eat dog.
Oh, Asian jokes.
Fair enough, I said.
Everything happens for a reason. And plus, you did rebound. (It just took nine months.)
Lesson to learn: Professional resilience will be never-ending, because so will your hardships.
Those Were The Days, Really
Dear Novice Freelancer,
The more you write, the better. Write at your full-time copywriting job. Write for your digital content marketing company. Write a blog. Write Facebook statuses. Write emails. Write iMessages. Write on your forehead.
Write to live. Write for free. Write as expression. Write for your soul.
Find your voice. Find your strengths. And freelance.
Freelance well and often to develop your personal brand and build your career. But if you’re getting paid to write as a freelancer, pay attention here: Don’t ignore your tax responsibilities. Save enough for tax payments on your freelance income and make proper tax deductions. Why should I care? (Abby would ask.) Becauuuuuse, you don’t even know. You’ll want to die during tax season when you have to pay for a colossal tax bill that’s more than what you earned in 12 months of freelancing (ahem, WomensForum.com 2013 #1099 #writerssalary #meltdown).
Yes, you’ll hate writing. You’ll question yourself as a writer. You’ll want to give up. You’ll second-guess yourself—from word choices and ideas to your career and future. (What is the meaning of my life?!)
Expect highs and lows. Take the successes and believe the praise. Accept the failures and learn from each criticism. Writing makes you feel accomplished and proud, yet vulnerable, defensive, frustrated, even lost. You wonder, why would you ever want to grow up and write. Why? Why?!?! WHY.
Because you can’t not write. Because writing is in every fabric of your being. Because you’re (certainly) not in it for the money, nor the glamour. Because Abby, you’re not a high-profile, highly paid writer for a well-known publication living in a trendy loft in a cool city. You have no Twitter following. You don’t attend rooftop dinner parties. And you’re not entangled in a dysfunctional romance with an emotionally unavailable bad boy. You’re extraordinarily mediocre, which, shock, isn’t such a tragedy.
Dreams do come true, albeit not how you may have precisely visualized. You use words, creativity and research to tell stories every day. At your content marketing job, you’ll meet the love of your life, Jim, who’s more and better than you ever imagined in someone with whom to share your heart. You’ll work within an innovative environment surrounded by unique, creative individuals who have evolved from co-workers and team members into family. Virginia, your obvious best friend forever co-writer, will even accept how you refer to writer’s block as “octopus brain” and describe feeling burned out as “zombie brain,” which is truly the absolute worst, am I right, Virgie?
You’re in it for the highs and lows—moments when you feel like you’re a creative wordsmith genius who just wrote a literary masterpiece to moments when you feel like the most talentless, worthless living being on the planet. (What is the meaning of my life?!)
You’ll continue to hate writing. You’ll always second guess what you create, and present it to the universe with the utmost vulnerability. The challenge, raw exposure and even defeat experienced with writing is what makes you ultimately love it. Because the ability to fiercely love and hate something so intensely is passion. With authentic blind passion, love is hate and hate is love. And if passion is part of your life, part of your existence, part of why you wake up every single morning, then you’re doing something right. So, Abby, don’t you dare ever quit.
Your Future Self
What would you tell your younger self? Do tell by commenting below.