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Writing advice for my twelve-year-old self.

I’m at that stage in life when my childhood friends have cool jobs. We all reach this stage. A lot of my friends have grown into teachers. I’m not sure why exactly. What it means for me is a couple of opportunities to sit in front of a middle school class and talk about writing.

I have another one coming up. The last time I did this, I failed to plan for it. I figured I could just wing it. It turned out pretty well, I guess, but I think it could have been a little better.

This time, I decided to think about it a little bit. It may prove misspent energy, on account of exactly how poor my brain works on a weekday afternoon. Thought I’d give it a go, anyway.

I have asked myself, hey, self (that’s what I call myself) hey, self: what would you have been glad to hear at twelve that would have been encouraging? What kind of pearl of wisdom would twelve-year-old Oliver have been glad to hear that would have made writing feel attractive? I was writing at twelve, so in theory the thought is straightforward.

I have arrived at three thoughts that might work. What do you think about them?

Thought one: write messy.

When I was a kid, I got in my way a lot because I worried about how much fun it was to read my first drafts. The trouble was, I hadn’t actually learned about the concept of “drafts” yet. Now that I know, I know that messes are damned fun to spill across notebooks. Ninety percent of what I write turns out to be stuff that even I don’t read.

This turns out to be, for me, a practical answer to the implied question in the old piece of writing advice “finish stuff.” Because if I’m cool with writing a lot of sloppy stuff, then I end up finishing more stuff. Worrying less makes finishing easier, see. Cool, right?

Thought two: someone out there is looking for your story.

Nobody will ever ask anyone to write a story they haven’t heard yet. Which is actually kind of paralyzing to young writers, because they come up with a story, and before they write the story they (we) need to conjure the courage to have the energy to write the story. The trouble is, in the meantime, no one will ever ask you to write the story.

It sounds discouraging, but it isn’t. It isn’t because the people out there who love to read are hungry for their next favorite story. There is someone, at least one someone, out there who’s hungrily waiting for your story. They don’t know it yet, though. So you need to write it so they can find their new favorite story.

It’s pretty good.

Thought three: read.

Something I would have liked to hear as a kid is this: if I’m ever having trouble writing, read something. It’s served me well during this stage of my life.

Bonus: there are jobs for writers.

I never knew it when I was still in school, but I have learned in my professional life that I can make a living as a writer, on account of having a profession as a writer. It’s been a bit of a surprise.

I now know how to look for jobs as a writer. The fact is that part hasn’t been hard to figure out. Once I knew there was such a thing as jobs for writers, I discovered there’s a flood of jobs for writers.

The key that I needed to know was that there are jobs for writers. It seems intuitive in retrospect, but I’m not in retrospect now.

I think those are some okay ideas. What you think?

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