Write at Your Own Pace
By Sierra Slaugh
Ever since I was a child, my plan was to be a published author. For my entire life, writing has been a keystone of who I am and what I do. I’ve been competing in NaNoWriMo since I was 12 and have completed two messy first drafts and written numerous short stories and fanfictions that will hopefully never see the light of day. Writing has always been a fun creative outlet for me but recently things have started to shift. Suddenly, seemingly overnight, all of my writer friends were starting revisions on their millionth draft, querying literary agents, and even signing book deals. I realized very quickly that I was ‘behind’. My favorite author, Alice Oseman, got her literary agent at 17 and her first book, Solitaire, hit the market when she was just 19. What am I doing at 19? Well, I like to think I can make a pretty good latte and I can guess any modern musical theatre song within hearing the first three seconds, so those have to count for something. But writing-wise, I feel like I’m falling flat.
I spent a lot of time over the summer agonizing over my draft, watching my friends move into the industry while I couldn’t make this book work no matter how hard I tried. I was excited for them, I still am, but there was that nagging voice in the back of my head screaming you are not doing enough. I became very frustrated with writing. At one point, I even resented it. Don’t fear, this story has an optimistic ending, but there was a time when I would flip through the pages of my messy first draft that I used to be so proud of and hated every word of it. Writing, the thing that had kept me afloat for years, became the bane of my existence. There was a point in my life when writing was the thing that brought me peace but over the summer I would sit down to write and feel nothing but dread. How could I ever compete with the amazing people who were already
in the industry? The starving artist market is already saturated enough, why am I trying to force my way into it? Unfortunately, I stopped writing for a while.
Over winter break, I discovered the masterpiece that is tick…tick…BOOM. I have been a RENT fan since I was about 12 and knew close to nothing about its composer, Jonathan Larson. So, when I had the opportunity to learn about Larson’s life through tick…tick…BOOM, I was immediately inspired. I could write an entire dissertation about the different facets of Larson’s life and all of his amazing works, but I wanted to talk about the one quote that has changed the way I view writing. This quote appears in many variations throughout Larson’s work. In tick…tick… BOOM, Michael asks Jonathan “Are you living your life in fear right now or in love”, when Mimi tells Roger in RENT “Give into love or live in fear,” or during the final number of tick…tick… BOOM when Jonathan sings “fear or love baby don’t say the answer.”
Fear or love? I worry about almost everything, it's just who I am. When I really sat down to think about it, didn’t hate writing, I was afraid. I was afraid that this eclectic, silly book I was writing would never sell. Why am I pouring my time and soul into something that will never get published? I was afraid that I would never live up to my goals or be able to join my friends in the publishing industry. Upon hearing this quote, I suddenly realized a lot of the roadblocks I had encountered when trying to tell this story were created by the fears I had. I didn’t have writer's block, I was afraid to spend my time on something I didn’t know was going to do well on the market. This is the most limiting belief that a writer can have.
When I realized this, I decided to completely shift the way I viewed writing. I stopped thinking about it in the future tense, something that I would send off to agents or see as a book in Barnes & Noble. Instead, I started thinking of this story about this muddled first draft in the form it is now. It’s messy and I couldn’t bear to share it with anyone in the stage it’s in, but I love it so much. I have poured my soul into this project because I am passionate about it. I like to think that I’ve created something that offers a fresh perspective on the world we’re living in, something that hasn’t been done before. This story and these characters have been living in my head for years and I am finally doing them justice. When I looked past all the fear, there was so much love. During my final year of high school, I spent three months pouring my soul into this story. For those three months with these characters, all I felt was love. I wasn’t worried about whether this book would be able to financially support me in the future or whether or not it was even good enough to be seen by anyone's eyes except my own. The only thing I felt was love.
I still spend a lot of time stressed that I’m falling behind and that everything I write is garbage; it's just who I am. But I also try to remind myself to live my life in love and not in fear. When I was in kindergarten writing stories about puppies or when I was 12 writing Harry Potter fanfiction, I wasn’t writing because I wanted to make the NYT Bestsellers list, I was writing because I loved it. To any other writers out there who are watching their role models and friends soar through the publishing industry while you have nothing but jumbled words on a page, remind yourself that you are writing because you love it. Once you step back from the fear and focus on all the love, it becomes so much easier (and more fun) to tell stories. Instead of spending your time worrying about the future, focus on today with your story. Remind yourself why you love it and I promise that, in time, the love will become louder than the fear.