This winter, I attended my first Winter Workshop as a staff member. I always enjoy this special week aimed at my fellow older writers of the One Year Adventure Novel (OYAN) community. We were thrilled to host many first-time attendees this year along with our “regulars.” Seeing all those new 18- and 19-year-olds around the retreat center gave me an acute feeling of nostalgia, as I was 18 years old when I first entered a small, second-story classroom of a local church to attend this writing class called “One Year Adventure Novel.” Now here I am seven years down the road—going on eight this August—as a member of a vibrant community of eager, young storytellers—a community that is stronger and larger than ever.
The saying goes that hindsight is 20/20, and I’ve certainly had moments of discovery that I wish I could pass back to my younger self. Alas, I am without a functioning time-travel device, hence I wrote up this open letter of sorts instead. I shared it at the Winter Workshop, and I wanted to share it here as well, in the hopes that my reflections might encourage you, my fellow writers, wherever you are on your writing journey, whether you’re 13, 18, or 52.
So here is “Things I Would Say to My 18-Year- Old Self”:
What a grand adventure you are about to set out on. It may say “One Year Adventure” on the title page, but what you learn is going to start you on a longer, more wonderful journey than you ever could have imagined. You will never read books or view movies the same way again. OYAN will open your eyes to the marvelous, rich depths you can plumb in the waters of words and ideas. You’re going to love it.
Now, I hate to break it to you, but it’s going to take seven years before you hit on your first really good story idea. I’m sorry for the frustration this will cause. You are not a horrible writer. You are not stupid. You are just a slow writer. No, that is not meant as a slight either. It is a revelation…one which you will also take seven years to come to. Ruminating is one of your strengths. It’s okay that you can’t always produce words as quickly as you would like. You’re going to discover this great book by Louise de Salvo called The Art of Slow Writing and it’s going to change your perspective.
Well, you’re not on Facebook at this point, but I know you’re already aware that our world moves very quickly, and everyone expects content to be produced quickly—to be available instantaneously. It’s easy to fall into that way of thinking, what with instant communication like texts and emails and social media. But books don’t have to be formed in this lightning-speed way. In fact, as de Salvo points out, respected writers like Virginia Woolf and John Steinbeck took several years to craft their novels. (There’s also this fantastic, beautiful novel you are going to love called All the Light we Cannot See, and that took Anthony Doerr ten years…just saying.) How I wish I could stem the panic you will feel when you find you can’t finish any stories after the OYAN class! Don’t panic. You just need to live a bit more life: stretch, mature, hurt, laugh, break, grow, read, oh and write more.
The point is: you can take your time. I know you have an inkling of your future at this point, but yes, you’re going to spend the next four years of your life refining your piano skills at a music conservatory. By the time you finish college, you will have spent fifteen years of your life at the piano bench. Fifteen. How’s that for some perspective? You need to figure out your rhythm, to carry the music analogy a bit farther, because what works for you will be different from what works for others.
Speaking of others, it turns out that OYAN is more than just a curriculum. It’s also a community, where you’ll meet lots of cool writers around your age. Even more than that, you’ll be blessed to become friends with several of them. Some of these talented persons will walk beside you on this journey; some will be further down the path. Don’t envy the ones ahead. Do learn from them. Don’t beat yourself up for “not being like them.” Do enjoy them. Each of us has something important to say, in a way that is unique to the individuals that we are. So hear what your friends have to say. And in return, share your insights with them.
Though OYAN will teach you lots, don’t limit yourself to a particular circle. Be open to learning from all sorts of places. If you’re willing to search them out, there are so many fascinating people in your local community, whether at church, your other social circles, school, or even the grocery store. God is more creative than you think, so keep your eyes, ears, and heart open.
If nothing else, my dear fearful eighteen-year- old self, if there’s one thing I wish I could go back in time and impress upon you: You. Are. Not. Alone. You are not alone.
I know how much the doubt will shriek in your head when words are not flowing. I know the fear of failure will cripple your resolve. But you are not alone. Look up and look around. You would be surprised to see the number of others who limp along the stretch of road you’re puffing down. All it can take is a brave word, a vulnerable moment. I know that terrifies you—the thought of doing that, of reaching out—but believe me, it is worth it.
Yes, you run the risk of people letting you down, and again, I hate to say it, but that is also in your future. But you know who else stands in your past, your present, and your future? You do know.
“He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces, he was despised, and we esteemed him not.” (Isaiah 53:3)
Whatever you can think of, Jesus went through it: betrayal, exhaustion, loneliness, rejection, physical pain, mental anguish. He is one “acquainted with grief.” So when those critiques hit a little hard, or you can’t get the nagging voices out of your head that you’re a failure, and none of the “cool” OYANers pay attention to you, or the words won’t come out of your fingers, or you feel as though no one else understands, talk to Him. Lay it before the man of sorrows. Nothing is too stupid, too small, or too dark for him. Have courage, dear heart.
Your Future Self
What would you tell your younger self if you had the chance?
Music and Story have been a part of Sarah’s soul since childhood. She had the rare chance to take The One Year Adventure Novel live, in 2009, as part of the “Brightoneers” class. In 2014, she graduated from the UMKC Conservatory of Music and Dance with a Bachelor of Music in Piano Performance. Currently, Sarah is blessed to work in both the music and writing fields, as a freelance accompanist and a staff member at The One Year Adventure Novel. Her few spare hours are filled with handicrafts, nerdy TV shows, reading, and writing her steampunk novel.