letters to a young writer - crissa-jean chappell
"I believe in writing with secrets..."
The words belong to Sadie—a young writer from a high school in New England. When I received her first letter this winter, I was impressed with her wise and thoughtful reflections on creativity (Sadie plans on directing films someday). She had read my debut novel, Total Constant Order, and wanted to know: How did you start writing?
I remember sitting at my desk in class, longing for escape. I wrote stories in my notebook like a spy. I always wanted to be somewhere else.
"In class, I tend to shut the world out," Sadie tells me. "I put headphones in if it's a class where I can do so, or I write. Or I read under the desk until I get yelled at."
Just like Sadie, I used to get in trouble for reading my favorite books during Geometry class. Music and words were my escape from the dull hum of school.
"Sometimes I scroll really far down on my Twitter when I need inspiration and reread tweets which sparks the memory of what it was about," she writes. "Or go through all the pictures on my phone. Or reread old notes. Or clean my room because I always find the weirdest things, like pictures I've drawn or painted, or notebooks full of quotes."
If my teenage self could've jumped in a time machine, I might've written the same letter. Now I'm staring backward into the future:
"I noticed in your writing that you write with a lot of detail. But not the boring kind. The 'hi, I'm shy but I notice everything' kind. I do too."
I hope that Sadie never loses her special way of looking at the world. It's hard when you're a quiet observer, the sort of person who sees things differently. It can be your Kryptonoite. But if you're a storyteller, it's also your superpower.
After selling three books, I've learned that it doesn't get any easier. The business of writing for publication can be brutal. Sometimes I need to remember the pure joy in crafting stories, as Sadie so perfectly describes:
"I write because I love writing. I love having the control of my stories when I feel like I have no control over anything in my life. I love forgetting the world while all I focus on for the time being is the characters and the conflict."
Her letters remind me that we long to be heard. We tell stories to make sense of the world. And we hope that somebody is there to listen.
"I think that writers write to an audience that at some point, was a vacant stare into the dark nothing in the peak of the night. I think we want to be noticed by the universe. And not in a weird, attention seeking way. I think writers write because they have a story to tell and they can channel it into something beautiful without making eye contact or revealing themselves totally. I think we want to be heard."
Thank you, Sadie, for your elegant thoughts on writing. I look forward to hearing your stories someday.
—photo by Sadie