Sunday, March 11, 2012

The Hard Times

On the first day of my Magazine Writing class, we were told to get into pairs with someone we didn't know and interview each other. One of the questions I had to answer was "If your life was made into a movie, what part would you want to leave out?"

Phrased differently, the question was "What is your biggest regret?"

Now, I don't have a perfect life. I make plenty of mistakes. I think back on certain things I've done, some purchases I've made, and want to smack myself for the stupidity. But whenever people ask me my regrets, I honestly answer that I have none. Yes, at nationals this year, I would have preferred to enter the 100 breaststroke instead of the 200 backstroke, but that experience happened, taught me stuff, and disappeared.

Part of this is because I quite like the person I am today. In today's society, I think too many people don't like themselves and work too hard to become someone else. You're never going to be happy with who you will be when you become that person, until you are happy being who you are in the present.

Reworded: You need to be happy with who you are today in order to be who you want to be tomorrow, because tomorrow will soon be today.

This philosophy has defined my journey to publication. It's easy to get caught up in I NEED AN AGENT NOW, to feel like every rejection declares worthlessness, even though we know it's not the truth.

On this blog, I usually have a very peppy tone, a very happy-go-lucky approach to writing. Usually, it does represent what's actually happening, because I choose not to dwell on what's been hard. Well, what has been hard?

Here's what.

I was a precocious child, a prodigy, in every aspect of my life. I was 5'3 when I was ten years old, I had skipped a grade by age 9, and I was swimming as one of the top girls in the nation for children under ten. Everything came easy. I could read a hundred books in a month if I so chose--in 6th grade, we had a reading competition amongst the four homeroom classes, and I outread everyone else...combined. (6th grade was probably the year I've read the most books ever.)

I knew from fifth grade that I wanted to be a writer, nothing else. Coaching was an option, but only as a back up plan. But as I was a good student, someone to whom studying came naturally,  I was expected to be a lawyer, a doctor, an engineer. To do something with my life, not waste it making up stories.

Surely, if I was any good, I would have been published by high school, right? After all, I'd been writing for five years by the time I was 14. "Are you published?" "Where can I buy your book?"

As a compulsive liar, these were not good questions to hear. I answered vaguely, incompletely. THEY didn't understand publication. And that's when I realized, neither did I. Posting a crap story on fictionpress meant absolutely nothing.

It wasn't until 16 that I became serious. Also at that time, I began looking at colleges. Because I was a swimmer, there was no question I would go to a traditional four year school because I wasn't ready to quit, and wasn't serious enough to go pro.

Still, I'd had "don't major in creative writing" drilled into my head enough that I never looked for a school with it. I looked for an English major (which every school has), even though I didn't want to take those boring classes. Renaissance Lit? Modern Poetry? Ewww. I didn't embrace my dream because no one else would.

Is it a regret?

No. Because if I hadn't spent that time looking, searching, scouring the world for other career options, I wouldn't work so hard to work in publishing. I would always wonder "what else could I do?"

I still get those looks, those questions, those feelings. I'm staying with a friend for spring break right now, and we were at a friend of the family's house.

Friend's Mom: Yeah, Taryn's going to California
Family Friend: Oh? Why?
Me: To visit some friends
Friend's Mom: Oh, tell the truth! You're going for a writing conference. Taryn writes!

And the way she said it was so light, as if it is just a little hobby. Because until someone holds my book in their hands, there is no difference between agented and unpublished. Between contracted and unpublished. Between querying and unpublished.

But we writers know that it's about the journey. Every manuscript in the drawer--every The End, but also every false start--every blog followed, every conference attended. Those are hours of experience, like an unpaid internship. And those hours are way more rewarding because you weren't forced. They're entirely self-motivated. So go you. Go us.

What hard times have you had as a writer? What gets you through them?


  1. I skipped third grade, finished high school by 16, but hated school in general. Or at least hated memorizing what schools wanted me to know, rather than learning for the joy of learning--that part I had down, with the aid of wide reading interests.

    And I continue to disappoint my parents by wasting my talents on writing that hasn't paid--but especially after some health issues, I know I would have more regrets if I'd shoehorned myself into a job I hated, than I will have regrets about writing.

    1. Thanks for your view on this, Angelica!

  2. Yes, if you don't like yourself, it smacks of trouble and insecurity. I noticed that when I traveled in South Korea there was a national obsession with plastic surgery. No kidding.

    1. It's always interesting to look at other cultures and their views of self-esteem!

  3. Great advice, Taryn--for all of life, really. Once in a while, I also get bogged down in thinking about whatever the next big thing is. The next hurdle to cross, project to complete, book to write, etc... But then I remind myself that the only way to be happy is to live in the moment.

    1. Thanks Katie! Live in the moment, and have a great support system; those have helped me the most :)

  4. Taryn, this is beautiful. I'm not sure if I have any major regrets, but I do get caught up in wanting to have an agent NOW. Wanting to sell a book now so that I can justify my life as a writer. But the truth is, as you so eloquently put, our lives aren't so very different. Published or unpublished...we write.

    1. Thanks Em. Can't wait to see you! Also, you should email me back, mk? <3

  5. Well-said, T!! Very good advice. Thank you. Go us!

    BTW can I request something? When I read your blog on my Kindle I don't know why but I can't comment through Google. Can you please add a a "name" option under your comments section. Right now the only options you have are places you need to log in to.


    Love this:
    Those are hours of experience, like an unpaid internship. And those hours are way more rewarding because you weren't forced. They're entirely self-motivated. So go you. Go us.

    1. I think I fixed it! Thanks for letting me know, and glad you enjoyed the post :)

  6. Ugh... every day feels hard, honestly. My biggest regret is not starting earlier (like you!). All those hours I wasted in high school and college and even when I was teaching fifth grade before my daughter was born, I could have been writing, logging hours of experience. Now I've got a family and it feels like I'm scrambling for writing time. That's extra frustrating when I had loads of it before and totally took advantage of it.

    Anyway, enough rambling, Katy. :)

  7. Can I just say DITTO to everything Katy said? I wish I had started earlier. I wish I didn't go out every night in college. I wish I didn't waste years talking myself out of doing what I really wanted to do all for the sake of having a 'real career.' And now I feel like I'm playing catch-up. As a mom and a wife, there are never enough hours in the day...but that just means I've gotten really good at becoming a night owl. ;)

    Thank you for your post!

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