A few years ago, I started writing a book. And several years later, I’ve realized that book is not very good. But I also knew how I could make it better.
So I made a very tough decision. In order to tell these characters’ stories in the best way possible, I was going to have to scrap nearly the entire thing and start over from the very beginning.
You know. The thing all writers fear they are going to have to do, and pray they never will.
It wasn’t that I didn’t like the story or think it was a decent start. But the longer I sat back and thought about it, the more I realized the story didn’t quite go deep enough. It was the kind of story I probably would have written 10, maybe even five years ago — dark, but safe. Sad, but somehow emotionally shallow.
The story lacked a kind of maturity I was fully capable of applying to it. I simply hadn’t.
So what went wrong? Nothing. I started out writing a story that felt comfortable and familiar, and realized — maybe a little too late into the process, but whatever — that I could do better than that. Not just because I had grown as a writer, but because I had grown as a human.
I’d been through things. Survived things. I had a deeper understanding of what it meant to value yourself, how it felt to love another person. I had gotten to a point where I was no longer severely limited by my own viewpoints, my own sheltered segment of the world.
This is what happens when you live and work in real places with real people in real environments, not the controlled bubbles many of us are raised and educated in (myself included). I used to roll my eyes when my parents would tell me I didn’t know much about the world. Looking back, I realize how right they were. (Yes, I was a bratty, thought-I-knew-it-all teen just like all of us were. I grew.)
And all that comes with the ability to tell fictional stories (and depending on the medium, sometimes real ones) based on reality, not simply stories based on other fictional stories you’ve read or watched or listened to.
The more you mature, the more you develop empathy, and the understanding that just because it is or was one way for you doesn’t mean it is, was, or should be that way for everyone else.
The stories you tell change as you do, and often that means they also mature as you do. With age comes experience, and with experience comes growth. There is a reason the story a teenager tells is different than a story a 30-something writes. It’s not that one is better than the other. One simply has the benefit of time. The longer you’re here, the more you learn. The more you learn, the better you’re able to tell relatable, realistic stories.
Writing is a progressive skill that develops over many years due to many different factors. In the case of this book, for example, it took paying attention to a few key ongoing news stories, reading a whole bunch of books, and watching a family member and our loved ones deal with a terminal illness for me to form the foundation for a good story. When I was younger, I didn’t pay attention to the news. I admittedly read a lot of “fluff” fiction (I have nothing against the light and fluffy for younger teens!) And I’d never lost anyone close to me or watched real suffering.
I couldn’t have written the story I’m writing now way back then. I hadn’t seen or heard or felt enough of the world. That wasn’t anyone’s fault. That was just the course my life took. Once I graduated and launched myself out of my small hometown, I followed my curiosity, met new people, learned how the world worked, and I’m a better writer — and a much better human being — because of that.
Of course, you can grow up and tell any stories you want to. Not everything you write has to speak to a current political issue or anything like that. But there’s always going to be deeper meaning in anything you write. The more mature you are, and the more of the world you absorb, the easier it becomes to tie real issues and messages into your stories in creative and meaningful ways.
(And there absolutely IS a reason I say “mature” and not “older.” If you spend any time on the internet you know there are plenty of older folks who act like children, and I’m not at all hesitant to call people out on that. Wisdom comes with experience, not age. Which also means there are plenty of (!!!!) younger people out there who are much wiser than I am, for example.)
Growing up, in whatever capacity you want to consider it, really isn’t so bad. I’m proud of the stories I’ve been telling the past few years. And while the ones I wrote when I was younger were okay, a lot of them were about things I didn’t understand. I’m glad they’ll remain part of my journey. I appreciate what I learned from them.
But I’m definitely ready to take my storytelling many steps further, and dare to go deep, and remind myself that no one is going to judge me for that. As a writer, it’s my job to tell relatable stories, whether people want to use them to escape or to cope. I can do that better now than I’ve ever been able to before. And I look forward to what I can do with this “superpower” time and experience has granted me.
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.