As I’m coming up on my five-year mark since having graduated college, and realizing I’ve officially been out longer than I was in, it has me thinking about school and learning in general. I was an English major, creative writing. Makes sense, right? I was one of those kids that knew she wanted to be a writer since she could hold a pencil. I didn’t really have to think about what I wanted to do, or how I would get there, because you just sit down and you write. Right?
Oh, how naive I was. I trusted the system, trusted my creative writing program to teach me how to write, how to edit, how to get published. I didn’t even know you needed a literary agent to get traditionally published until around the time of GRADUATION senior year. That’s messed up.
I went to a small, liberal arts college. Any professors that had been published there were through small, independent presses, and I don’t think a single one wrote fiction. And that’s fine, but my dream has always been to walk into a bookstore and see my book sitting there on the shelf. That’s rare with small, indy presses. And no one could tell me the process for the other way.
This was back in 2009. Twitter was relatively new, so I hope young writers these days are finding more access to information than I was. The writing community on there is full of so much information, and so supportive. But I didn’t find that until 2011.
Someone told me in order to find an agent, I had to consult this GIANT TOMB of agencies and publishers. I can’t even remember now, what it was called. And sure, maybe that was how it worked before the internet, but this was 2009! Most agencies had websites, with a lot more accurate information listed on them than in that year-old reference book. But I did as I was instructed and went to the library and I took notes.
And that’s when my education really began.
I have learned more in the five years since leaving college than I did in the four years I was in it. And I’m starting to realize something kind of awesome. I don’t know if this is true for everyone, but for me, the “real world” is sort of a constant independent study, just without the term papers. I get to research what I want, when I want, and I’m realizing that I’m a lot more curious about things than I ever thought.
Among these lessons, the hardest one was probably how to self-edit. Some of my creative writing classes were workshops, classes where one person’s short story or poem got critiqued by the class each week, and then the writer was supposed to take that feedback and use it to edit their work.
Now, maybe things would’ve been different in a larger school with a more intensive creative writing program, I don’t know. For better or worse (probably worse) I was a big fish in a small pond. I was one of the few in these classes that took writing seriously. I was there to learn how to be a writer, not just filling an English requirement. And so, I was always one of the best. My critique day consisted of people being really impressed and complimentary. Which, great for my ego, not so much for the writing. How was I supposed to edit something that was already PERFECT? I was hot stuff. I was going to graduate and get published that summer and never have to worry about getting a “real job”. I was going to show all those people who kept telling me I would have to do something to support myself. I would show them.
Sometimes those people are right. And that's okay. It doesn't mean you've failed.
I’m not saying that you should give up on your dreams. Never! Dreams are the stuff of our souls! But they take hard work and sweat to accomplish them, and it's delusion to think otherwise. You have to kill your darlings, find your voice, sometimes forgo sleep to find the time, grow a dragon hide to wear against rejection, and still somehow keep going.
I don't resent the lies. I told myself most of them. And I think I needed to. I needed to be able to dream, and big, without reservation. Maybe I should've done my own research sooner. But I got there eventually. We all do, if it means enough to us. And there's no expiration date on dreams.
So whatever your dream, keep at it. Keep learning, keep pushing yourself, keep growing. We all know the saying. The only difference between a published and unpublished writer is that one of them didn’t give up. It takes a kind of inherent bravery to write a book, to dream that big. So even if you're just starting out - ESPECIALLY if you're just starting out - be proud. And let yourself dream big.