A letter to my 18-year-old writer self

I’ve just been asked to write a piece for the new Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook, which pleases me greatly, for various reasons. Not least because I can vividly remember being eighteen and spending a whole dull summer in my parents’ conservatory, poring over my copy of it (I spent a book token on it I think) while scribbling away at my terrible juvenile novel ideas (lots of estranged children and spooky Gothic houses). Owning a copy made me feel like a real writer, someone who was taking it seriously. But somehow, in the decade that followed, I lost that confidence, that joy in learning, that ability to just try and dream and hope, even for something seemingly unobtainable. Because there is a real joy in taking yourself seriously, believe me. So if I could send a message back in time to my eighteen year old self, reading that book – if I could somehow engrave some words of wisdom in those hallowed pages – here’s what I would say.

  1. It is totally cool that you spent the summer reading and writing instead of getting a part-time job in a petrol station. There aren’t many jobs in an Irish village and one day you will earn MONEY from this. Do it more, for God’s sake. Turn off Without a Trace and write more.
  2. No, you are not a very good writer at this point. But you are not that bad either. You’ll get better. Spend even more time doing it instead of moping about.
  3. When you go to university, for God’s sake go to some writing classes, and join some societies, and meet other people who write. There is no shame in saying you want to do this. You’re only 18 – could you even be published at this point?
  4. After university, why don’t you actually do an MA? It will be a better use of your time and money than all those courses in other things, like philosophy and development studies. You know you want to do this, so why not get on with actually doing it?
  5. I’ll say that again. You know you want to do this. You knew when you were nine. So why not get on with DOING IT?
  6. Buy some nicer stationery. Those old exercise books are OK for hipsters (you’ll find out what this is in a few years) but you need the big guns.
  7. Why not get a laptop when you go to uni? A lot of other people will have them. MSN messenger will totally be a thing. It’s all part of investing in yourself. Plus it’s really not fair on your tutors trying to decipher that handwriting of yours.
  8. Just because something is hard, and everyone tells you so, doesn’t mean you can’t and won’t do it.
  9. You will go to writing class where they try to convince you to write poetry. DO NOT GIVE IN. You don’t need to write poetry if you already know you have no aptitude for it. For some reason people think it’s fine to spend time learning to write poetry, but not commercial novels.
  10. You are totally going to write commercial novels. Look at what you read! This is OK and to be embraced not evaded. Practice standing up for genre.
  11. Biggest tip I can give you – it’s OK that you don’t know what happens next in that book you’re writing. This is normal. Just write today’s words, and tomorrow you will know what to write then. Don’t just stop writing it! Again.

That’s got to be a good mantra for everything, right? If you know you want to do it, get on and do it. You’ll enjoy the getting there part as well. Masterclasses


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