How Writing Personal Essays As a Teenager Shaped My Future Writing Career

I have no regrets. Here’s why.

Like most 14-year-olds, I thought I knew everything.

And thinking I knew everything obviously meant that I had to use my “talents” as a writer to share my wisdom with the world.

I wrote a lot of personal essays in my 3.5 years of high school. I published several before I started a blog. Looking back, these were not great essays. I did not know as much about the world as I thought I did. I hadn’t quite learned that not every experience needed to be shared for the sake of composing an autobiographical essay about it.

But I don’t regret writing or publishing any of those essays. And even though I have the power to delete many of them, I won’t.

If it weren’t for those opportunities I created for myself to reflect on what I was learning and who I was becoming as I struggled and triumphed (as all high school kids do), I don’t know if I would have gained the confidence necessary to continue my education, keep writing, or decide my own career path.

Because of those essays, I started calling myself a writer. And that alone started to help me believe I really could become one. At that time, I needed to believe in a brighter future for myself. I needed, more than anything, to believe in myself.

Maybe the lessons I was learning were small. And maybe they didn’t always reflect what I really knew on a large scale about the real world, and wouldn’t be that helpful to anyone else who stumbled upon them.

But I grew as a writer in those years because I didn’t allow myself to hold anything back. I taught myself to be brave. To accept that not everyone was going to agree with me, support me, or praise me. I learned, possibly earlier on in my life than most, that you have to write for yourself before you can write for anyone else. It’s a process. And it always starts with telling stories from your own perspective. Because at first, that’s really all you know.

Ten years later, as a professional with a job and a following and dare I say a reputation (no matter how small and seemingly insignificant), I obviously have to be more selective about the stories I tell. And I’ll never publish an essay that isn’t primarily for someone else’s benefit — though, in all honesty, everything we write allows a bit of self-reflection. It’s how we personalize things, and make them relatable.

Sometimes I miss the years I had the freedom to open up about everything going on in my personal life. Maybe, along the way, I really did help a few people at least feel like they weren’t alone. But I’m much happier being able to reflect on all I learned. On how much I grew.

At some point as I wrote those essays — were there dozens? Hundreds? — I stopped being a kid, and became an adult.

I don’t believe everyone needs to publish everything personal online. But in some cases, it can change your whole life. I pursued a career in writing because I was able to prove to myself that my words could make a difference, even a small one.

Whatever your reason for getting personal, make it count. First and foremost, it might be about you. But if you have stories to tell, share them for the sake of members of an audience who might really need to hear what you have to say.

You don’t have to be 14 to embark on a journey of growth and self-reflection. It can happen anywhere, anytime. Even if you never publish them. Even if they’re just for you. Why not here? Why not now?

Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a staff writer with The Cheat Sheet, a freelance editor and writer, and a 10-time NaNoWriMo winner. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.

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2 thoughts on “How Writing Personal Essays As a Teenager Shaped My Future Writing Career

  1. So true – you don’t have to be 14 to share a story of growth. Sometimes what you have to say may actually help one person and that will make it worth writing, even if that person is yourself. Thank you

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