This particular box was filled with binders and notebooks from my high school years. In one of these notebooks, I had written a list of things I intended to accomplish before thirty. I turned thirty-four yesterday and have only (kind of) accomplished one. I was certain I’d have a novel published by thirty. I didn’t make it. The novel I co-wrote with Andrez Bergen (Black Sails, Disco Inferno) didn’t come out until I was thirty-two, and even then, co-writing versus writing seems an important distinction. I also planned to “own property for profit” which implies I thought that first novel was going to be a best seller. And/or that I didn’t know anything about real estate when I made my list of goals.
I didn’t know much about writing as a career, either. I wrote constantly, compulsivley, sometimes to the detriment of other school work. The box also contained two novels I’d written before I graduated high school, hundreds of lists, poems, lyrics, a play, and half assed journal entries. Writing was my entire life. But I had no idea how to write a short story. I’d never attempted one. I had no idea what length a novel was expected to be (the third one I wrote was as long as the first two together). I didn’t understand anything about the business and managed to go years - frustrating, painful years - without learning it. To complicate it all more (and eventually save my ass) the internet happened in the midst of all of this.
The joke is that now I know what a query letter is, I know how to submit short stories and what to look for in a contract, I know that one novel isn’t going to turn me into a real estate tycoon - but the time and energy to write like a compulsive teenager overflowing with a desire to create is hard won. Real life hasn’t come as easy as school work did, and the kid requires a lot more attention than the dog I had growing up.
I’m not saying I’m disappointed - all the other shit I did before thirty (and it was a lot) gave me so much more to believe in, and in turn, write about. I actually did a lot of insane shit between writing that list and turning thirty. I joined the Marine Corps during war time, moved across country, got married, got divorced, and got married again. I had a kid, bought a house, travelled, made a life in the desert, and then left it behind again. Since thirty, I’ve learned how to write nonfiction, published short stories, did a script for a comic book, and saw my name on the cover of a novel I was proud of. I learned how to edit nonfiction and mentored writers, and a ton of other stuff. Stuff in the writing world teenage me didn’t even know existed.
And I’m working on that novel that will have my name on the cover - alone. If I start feeling like I disappointed teenage me too much, I’ll just remind myself that, according to all available evidence, teenage me wrote some really shitty novels, because teenage me didn’t understand a whole hell of a lot about how the world works.