To my past self: don’t tell.

In 2010’s first semester my process was too radical
and difficult to maintain for a newbie. Of course I wasn’t just a newbie of the craft; I was a newbie in the language I chose to write in. But the only problem was I saw it as a problem, when it was just a fact. I believed it was a fact I had to compensate quickly; work double writing shifts to be as good as all native writers doing the same thing and being naturals at it.

I’d set myself to read all library books on creative writing (I’ve read almost 30 by now) and write every working day to the target of 2000 words a day. That would surely do it, right? This wasn’t easy and it brought more stress than I could grasp at the time. I pushed and pushed, the word count kept rising, until I managed to write 2000/day for a week, and then steadied on around 1000-1500 words/day. This could have worked well if I haven’t done the mistake of spoiling every good effort I made by showing or talking about my novel in progress with my husband, my friends and a few others that turned out to not be friends at all.

Showing, or even just talking, about a project that was so new to me, obliged me to answer the same questions in an annoying loop, every day: When will you finish it? What is it about? Can I read it? How do you plan to write in english and sound like a native? How many pages have you written so far? You’re going to sent it to me as soon as you finish it, right?

I’ve learned people do repeat questions they already know the answer (they’ve done it for 10 months now). I learned that people are not ashamed to ask for the manuscript when, if they respected what you’re doing, they would be buying it from a bookstore instead, when published. I learned that human beings aren’t the least ashamed of asking the same questions every-freaking-time they see you and still believe they are being supportive.

The fact is, from what I’ve experienced, most people believe that being supportive is a synonym for being nosy about a writer’s personal daily life. They can ask whatever they want and as often as they want. It’s as if we, writers, have to be immensely grateful they are even asking about our novel-in-progress, and we should bow our heads and offer detailed reports on our progress.

Do they even stop to wonder how would they feel if we asked them for a report on everything they did on their jobs, each day? How many tasks did they finish? When will they get a raise? When did they actually start working and for how many hours did they actually get some work done?

Supportive people who know nothing about writing are usually not supportive at all and only know how to insist on the following:

–       pressure you with questions you’re not suppose to know or think about yet (when will it be published?);

–       give unsolicited advice (which becomes hilarious when they don’t know the first thing about writing!);

–       tell you all the reasons why what you’re doing is so difficult and everything that’s in your way (as if you didn’t already thought about all of that before you decided to write a full-length novel);

–       and, after all that, still think they are very supportive of what you’re doing but can’t drop the subject without asking “when will you get back to a real job?”.

In the past, I thought I could handle it all. I even thought that my husband’s opinions on the plot itself and how everything should be more sci-fi (the tech explained in detail), would somehow be beneficial to me. Well, it wasn’t. It weakened my stamina as off the first week; it made me think and re-think everything I wrote; it broke my heart even though I made it thick and said that it was for the better. “I should get used to some criticism from the beginning,” I told myself. But I was just starting and my husband doesn’t even read books (on anything!), so why show it do him?

Now, after 10 months at it, I’m running on empty. It was all stress (to get it done fast) and no fun; I’m tired and often feel I have to pick myself up to carry on.

It’s hard to admit our failures when we insisted on the same mistakes for almost a year. Crazy enough, the only thing that gives me some peace of mind is having the kitchen timer as my boss and the knowledge that as off 2011 I’ll apply for a paid job and write with the clean conscience that I’m putting some money in. Doing my part and earning my space in society. (It’s sad that a writer may feel like this forever.) And I’m shutting every-freaking-supportive-people off, especially the ones who only see the world in two colors.

And that’s the reality of being an adult. If you don’t have small kids to take care of and you’re not a millionaire, few people will get why you would choose to stay at home to work on your dream for a year. If I could send a letter to my past self, I would tell her to close the curtains and carry on  nonetheless. A year will go by faster than you can imagine and, looking back, one year will be just a heartbeat and a smile.

Then, you’ll get a job, wasn’t that the plan already? Why rush everything? But you’ll not do it because a couple with no kids needs the extra cash. You’ll get it because it’s important to be a part of that society.

You may know a lot of written english but you are getting weaker in actual beer-chat. You will get more quieter every time, not know what to say, think about your novel while others laugh and drink and you’ll end up wondering if you’ve become timid all of a sudden. And let me remind you that beer is important for the well-being of the soul and it tastes a lot better with others around. Just don’t think about work.

No matter how hard you want to fight it and see yourself as a loner (and even like the idea), your job is what represents you in society. It glues to your image like chewing gum and it’s hard to drive everyone off when you say your full-time job is writing. They become curious as crows over a dying body. How many full-time jobs drive friends, and even complete strangers, to question everything you do and how much you’ve progressed, on a daily basis?

Learn to get used to it, learn to acknowledge it, but most of all: learn to change the subject. (It’s easier to do it when people are merry, so socialize in bars and beer will be your best friend, again.)

We learn. Looking back, I’m disappointed at me for wasting almost a year giving attention to other people and finding ways to justify what I was doing. It breaks creativity; it takes the will out of it, because it ceases to be our thing, to be ‘THE ODD THING ABOUT YOU’ in everyone’s mind. It’s become the subject for conversation when someone spots me in a bar, and it can go on for hours if I let it. If you’re not working, you don’t have to talk about work: see anyone else doing it? That’s the point of going out and talk with friends. Let them sulk in the beginning, they’ll get use to it. If they insist, tell them to talk about their work.

My advice is to remember Bill Cosby’s:

“I don’t know the key to success, but the key to failure is trying to please everybody.”

The good thing is, and you’ll like this part the best, even after all the crap I still feel my plot breathing. The other day I even discovered I have several different plots inside me and that I’m creative enough to write them all. I wrote a detailed list of synopsis for possible short stories and was amazed with all I came up with.

So the magic is still here, inside me, but it can never be part of someone else while in progress, because that disrupts me ( and although the magic is not disrupted it still needs you to actually write it down on the page). You must remember to reply to nosy people like a writer character I once saw in an episode of House. Asked about her protagonist’s next actions, she only answered: “I don’t talk about work”.

Full Stop.

Not to strangers of this business anyway. It’s annoying and frustrating to be the guinea pig of everyone who doesn’t know the first thing about writing and is not inclined to read about it or ever do it himself or herself. BUT are suddenly overwhelmed with curiosity about what you’re doing at any given moment; how much you’ve written and if you’re still coping with writing in a second language. Isn’t it odd?

This has proven that some things are better unspoken and left as a secret until they are ready to venture the World. If I could send a message through time to my past self, like in the movie Deja Vú, I would write DON’T TELL with the fridge magnet letters.

So don’t.


6 thoughts on “To my past self: don’t tell.

  1. V., some very perceptive insights there which show me how serious you are in this.
    I knew you were dedicated, (I mean you took a year off work for crying out loud! I can’t even imagine trying that one, lol) but I didn’t know you were so serious about it.

    “most people believe that being supportive is a synonym for being nosy about a writer’s personal daily life.”
    It’s an observation of the highest order but it also shows that your friends know that you’re involved in your work, living it almost and it’s their bridge to you.
    Be cool V., smile and tell them what they want to hear; I realise you don’t suffer fools gladly but 90% of the world’s population are foolish so you’ll have to, lol.

    (I don’t know if you noticed but my wife’s PMS makes me a preachy bitch, lol )

    • LOL

      I’ve been cool, very cool, believe me.
      The other day I went to the bar (and emailed you afterwords) I swallowed my pride one more time to continue to act cool to another brilliant comment.

      Friend 1:”I’ll buy your book Vanessa, absolutely!”

      Me: “Oh, Thanks! That’s very nice of you!”

      Friend 1: “Yeah, no problem. And then if I don’t like it you’ll give me my money back. Okay?”


      The night-out previous to that one:

      Friend 2: “Hey, Vanessa, how many words do you have now?”

      Me: “Oh, I don’t know anymore. I’m writing in different files now, each time.”

      Friend 2: “Yeah, I know. Now you’re just adding bull, right?”

      • Brilliant !!
        That first one’s the better of the two though, lol.
        Some people really do not think things through before they speak, (that said, I’m the same sometimes).

        What did you actually say to the first guy?
        “Yeah, of course I will!” or was it more of a wan smile, the kind that says the same thing as rolling your eyes?

        • To the first:
          “Yeah, of course I will!”

          (Don’t think he got I was being ironic though…)


          To the second one I said:
          “First by the book, then we’ll see if you still believe it has any bull on it.”


          I’ve got a lot of moments like this. I believe it’s because I always reply to every query, good or bad, and I give specifics… (the Friend 2 came up strong like that because he wasn’t expecting I’d stop telling him my word count. Well, too bad.)

          But it’s my fault.
          I’m living proof of the old saying: ‘You teach people how to treat you’

          So far, I’ve always managed to smile to everyone.

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