Dear Aspiring Author Me

Dear Aspiring Author Me:

The first thing you need to know is this: Finish what you start. You will begin your first YA novel when you are 20 years old and a junior at Northwestern. Rather than stop writing it as soon as your Creative Writing class ends, finish it. Then realize it’s a piece of crap and start over. But finish it so that you know this for sure. Do not stop and start your writing career over the next years and let things slide. Keep going. No one ever walked across the finish line with a published book in her hands by wandering away from the race. And yes, I know you will say that if you wait, that any day now there will be this wonderful thing called the Internet and this other wonderful thing called a laptop that will make it all so much easier in many ways. Don’t make excuses. Just keep at it.

In the meantime, please know that you are doing one thing right: You are living as big a life as you can and you are watching every moment of it as carefully as you can. That is good. You will use these things, even – perhaps especially—the pain and the bad stuff. It is good that you have a dark and ironic sense of humor and that you understand the whimsy of the universe. Okay, understand is not the right word. You acknowledge it. That’s good. Don’t let anyone lead you away from these things. You need them to form your ideas, to understand how you see this little world of ours. But don’t get complacent. Honestly, you should travel more, explore more, do more things that scare you (but not the really bad ones). Do not settle. Ever.

I would tell you that perhaps you should also move to New York for at least one year to see if you can do it. I know that you do not even have the tiniest of inklings that this is something you should or could do. I truly wish there was someone in your world who would tell you it is. But I know there is not. So I will also tell you this: Finding mentors who really get you is important. You won’t have many of them until much later and it would be so much easier if you had them now. Pick your friends wisely, aspiring author self. At least some of them should be dreamers like you. But not all of them. You need some practical grounding.

I should tell you many other things, but you will probably ignore most of it, so let me end with these: Read voraciously. Live voraciously. Write as though your life depended on it. Stop to fill the well as often as you can. You will have moments where you judge your career by the successes of others. Don’t dwell on them.  When you get ten wonderful reviews, don’t obsess over the less wonderful one. Stay humble. Say thank you.

Rinse and repeat, aspiring author.
And enjoy the ride.


  1. Great post, Joy! I especially like your advice about stopping to fill the well as often as you can. As life gets more complicated, it's one that a lot of creative types forget to do.

    1. It never occurred to me that when you work at home, you have to learn to end the work day! :)

  2. FINISH WHAT YOU START. I need to tell that to young writer me, too.

  3. Joy, as usual, we are right in sync. Find mentors, I think this is the best advice to give any young writer (well and finish what you start). And don’t obsess over bad reviews. Still working on that one!


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