In college, I felt an unnecessary pressure to publish a book.
No one expected me to – my professors didn’t know me or my work well enough to even present it as a probable event before I graduated. My friends knew I liked to write, but it’s highly unusual, at least where I grew up and as a private university student, for a young person to sign with an agent.
So I made a lot of sacrifices. I knew, logically, I didn’t need to make them. But I wanted to badly to finally achieve a long-standing dream that all my priorities fell out of line.
Sleep? Nah. Straight A’s? Been there, couldn’t do that. Friends? Sure, if I have time. Exercise? Meh.
The more sacrifices I made for the sake of writing a novel good enough for publishing, the harder it became to write a novel good enough for publishing.
I did a lot of writing over those four years – literary analyses and half-finished books, articles, blog posts, poetry that tried too hard to sound like a poet wrote it – and essays. Lots of essays that were supposed to help me justify why my whole life was falling apart.
I suppose I figured writing was the only thing that could hold everything together, though the more I tried to use my words to make sense of everything that was going wrong, the worse it all became.
This didn’t end after I dragged myself across a stage, of course. It never does. I still tried pushing myself as hard as I could to get to some kind of end goal that had to do with writing. Forget sleep, forget friends and boyfriends and student debt. The more time I spent writing, the more my writing would pay off. I knew this. I was determined to prove the theory right.
And I’m not saying it’s wrong. Hard work always pays off somehow, sometime. But I gave up a lot of things I really wanted, simply because I thought writing mattered more.
I’ve made many mistakes in the last six years. Most of them due to a lack of focus and misused productivity. All of them because I could never seem to figure out that in your life you have decades of time to build a career. The friends you make when you’re in your late teens/early twenties, how you do or don’t take care of yourself – everything you do, and don’t do – is just as important as how many people are or aren’t reading your blog posts.
I haven’t even lived a quarter of a century yet – I do not know much about many things. But I do know enough about sacrifice, at least to tell you that writing may be a very important part of your life, and you should embrace and take advantage of that as best you can … but there’s no way it can be worth shoving everything else aside just to have your name on a book or under a headline or whatever before you turn 21.
Write. Write like this is what you want, like this is a reward you desperately want to earn. But also sleep a lot, and laugh sometimes. Go for walks when it’s sunny out and when it’s raining. Let people in. Experience things you may or may not incorporate into a story later. Be bold, but don’t be dangerously stupid. Think before you open your mouth or pick up a pen or hit publish.
I think having the opportunity to create magic through storytelling is amazing, and I wouldn’t give that up for anything. I’ll tell stories every day for the rest of my life and won’t ever get tired of it. But that can never replace creating a long, fulfilling life in the real world.
Yeah, I still have plenty of time to figure real life out. At this point, I do wish I would have done it the other way around – build up a good start to this whole adulting thing, then write about it on the side. But they do say everything always works out the way it’s supposed to in the end, and I choose to believe they’re right.
Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a freelance writer and a nine-time NaNoWriMo winner with work published in Teen Ink, Success Story, Lifehack and USA TODAY College. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.